The dog ate my gremlin

The scene is out of a movie. A Tupperware lid, chewed up, a bottle of hand lotion, open and dripping, a box of tissue, shredded and a scattering of cough drops litter my office rug. At the center of it, shredded black threads, rhinestones glittering through a morass of cotton webbing strewn across the room. It’s a murder scene. No two ways about it. It’s Sheila.

This little blinged-up Day of the Dead doll represented my gremlin since coaching school. I’ve carried her with me through four jobs and three moves, as a reminder of what it means to face your gremlin, to befriend her, to fight her. She symbolized my inner struggle to accept myself – this small, ghoulish skeleton working so hard to be pretty, to be included in what the rest of the world called beautiful and acceptable. Sheila forced me to look at why I was driven to work harder, be smarter, act more confident and competent to compensate for outer packaging that I felt was lacking.

It’s been good work. Hard work. Painful work. But Sheila has been there to help me push through it. Showing me different faces of my fear, forcing me to look closely at each one and dismantle the untruths I had been telling myself. And accepting the truths that simply were.

Kuma the gremlin-killer

So, my first thought is, honestly: my dog is an asshole. He will chew up anything. Remote controls, the bottom stair of my staircase, my decorative bamboo sticks in a giant vase, 300 pages of Dickens and a self-help book that he apparently decided I didn’t need anyway…  Once even a canvas painting of him that I did at one of those “paint your pet” nights. I’m no artist, but I didn’t think it was that awful…

Only this morning, she is gutted on the floor.

My second thought is: what do I do without Sheila? I feel the loss of something important. It is funny to think that I rely on my gremlin. I know she’s there to protect me, to help me see things even though sometimes she triggers reactions that are entirely inappropriate. Well, she is a gremlin after all.  But for the past several years, this little doll was a tool I used to help me manage me.

My third thought is: there is a karmic message in this!  I am done with gremlins! Yay!

This is quickly followed by my fourth thought: give me a break. Involuntary eyeroll included.

My fifth thought is a question: do I replace Sheila?

Sheila the gremlin

I text a girlfriend. “My dog ate my gremlin. Karmic message or asshole dog?”

She replies, “There is a message in this. You have shifted radically recently. Maybe you just have a different gremlin now?”

Ah… now there’s a sixth thought. Interesting.

If I were to create a representation of my gremlin today, would I buy another Day of the Dead doll, thinking my prettiness – or lack thereof – was somehow not enough for the world? 


This is not at all what I wrestle with today.

Just last week, I told a coaching client that our gremlins move and grow with us. Once we’ve conquered one fear or anxiety, they find a new way to poke at us, to stir up the insecurities so that we want to crawl into our protective shells. That’s their job. And they’re good at it. Our job is to keep an eye out for those shifts and deal with them as they come.

It’s just as true for me. My gremlin has shifted her attention. We’re focused on some other things right now. So, perhaps it is the right time to let go of Sheila. Perhaps it’s time to be thinking about my inner work, my current gremlin, a little differently.

I feel a little sad, picking up the stringy bits of Sheila and her cotton stuffing. We were together a long time. Goodbye to an old friend, an old nemesis, goodbye to an era.

So, my dog ate my gremlin.  And it was time.

This article first appeared in Elephant Journal, September 24, 2019.

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