When You’re No Longer At Home In Your Own Skin

It was a snake that first taught me that growth is uncomfortable.

It was a Kenyan sand boa, a small and docile breed, that found its way into my life over twenty years ago. The gentle creature seemed to enjoy being handled and even was tolerant of the inquisitive sniffs and snorts of my over-enthusiastic pug.

All that changed one day when he acquired a defensive posture when I reached into his enclosure to refill his water. Startled, I pulled my hand back and examined him through the safety of the glass. I immediately noticed that his eyes were clouded and his normally striking patterns seemed muted.

I soon realized that the young snake had outgrown his own skin and was making preparations  to shed his restrictive covering. Curious and with a front-row seat of the process, I watched him over the next couple weeks.

And I learned that growth is uncomfortable.

 

The snake’s discomfort was clear. Instead of moving around his enclosure, he alternated between hiding under some debris and attempting to force the old skin off with the help of a rough branch. He refused to eat and he became irritable when stimulated. The translucent eye caps meant that he retained some sense of light and shadow, but he struggled to orient with his compromised vision.

Watching him, I alternated between awe at nature’s solution to a growing body in an inflexible skin and dread that this creature had to endure this experience throughout its life. Growth was inevitable, and with it, discomfort.

Early one morning, I was elated to see the old skin lying across the branch, which apparently had eventually been of assistance. The newly-unencumbered snake was luxuriated on his heat rock; he seemed drawn to the warmth more than usual as his new and fragile skin was forming. Later that day, he gladly accepted the offered food, ready to embrace life again.

 

The snake left my life as abruptly as it had entered and I didn’t think of for many years. Until one day, some weeks after my ex left, when I suddenly felt constricted within my own life. I had grown accustomed to labels and roles that no longer applied. I existed within limitations that had become self-imposed.

At first, I tried to make it work, to try to force myself back to who I was.

But it didn’t work.

I was uncomfortable, fighting against the inevitable and resisting in an attempt to regain some sense of power and control over my life. I found myself continually drawn back towards my old ways of doing things, wanting to turn away from the fear and the pain.

I attempted to avoid the discomfort, to give it a wide birth and fill my sightline with distractions.

But it didn’t work.

I wanted to lash out. I wanted to hide. I wanted to be anywhere but where I was. Anyone but who I was.

I tried to tell myself to snap out of it, to move on already.

But it didn’t work.

And that’s when the image of the snake filled me with understanding. The growth was unescapable and so was the discomfort. Relief was to found not in an attempt to hold onto my ill-fitting skin in desperation, but in finding the courage to let it go.

And the willingness to embrace what came next.

 

 

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