Just to be clear… I hate snakes.
I am appalled that I am even writing about this, and that I spent a bunch of time researching snakes and looking at pictures of snakes… *shudder* The things we do for art.
Since I have subjected myself to this ghastly topic, I now must force you to endure it as well. Although I’ll admit, I have gained a bit more of an appreciation for snakes now. (Which I will promptly forget the SECOND I see one slithering anywhere. GET BEHIND ME, SATAN!)
It is pretty common knowledge that snakes shed their skin. Unlike mammals, reptile skin does not expand… as they grow, their skin gets stretched and becomes constricting and if they do not shed it, they cannot grow any further. It also helps them remove parasites that have attached to the skin’s surface.
There’s quite a bit of prep work that has to happen first though. The old skin can’t come off until the new skin underneath is ready. During the final stage of the new growth, the snake secretes a sticky substance between the new and old layers of skin, to help loosen the old skin. Its colors dull to a grayish-blue, its pattern fades, and the eyes get cloudy (they do not have eyelids so even the outer protective layer of the eye is shed).
A snake in this condition is called “opaque” and it is very fragile. If the outer skin gets damaged and the new skin is exposed before it is ready, it could be detrimental. After a few days, the snake returns to its original color and the next stage can begin.
To remove the old skin, the snake has to create a tear… they do this by rubbing their face on a rock or a log to create friction and rip the skin by their nose. They can then begin the slow process of inching out, turning the old skin inside out as it is removed.
Dehydration can prevent the skin from fully shedding; sometimes the snake has to retreat to a higher humidity environment to help. If the protective cover over the eye is not removed, it can result in blindness. If the skin is not fully shed from the tail, it can cut off circulation and that part of the tail will eventually fall off.
But if all goes well… the new skin is more vibrant in color than the old skin. The snake is healthy, and whole, and can continue to grow and thrive. If a snake’s skin is ever injured, they will shed more frequently as part of the healing process.
Yay knowledge! The more you know…
Since this is not a herpetology blog (that’s the fancy word for the study of reptiles), you can probably guess where I’m going to go with this…
Growth requires serious effort, and snakes give us such a great illustration of it.
There’s always, ALWAYS sacrifice involved. We cannot grow beyond where we’re at without leaving something behind. Holding onto the past or toxic relationships or bad habits will constrict us and keep us stuck where we are. And we don’t like to admit it, but we probably all have some parasitic relationships that have attached themselves to us and we’re the only one who can remedy that situation…
TIME TO SHED.
Here’s the part I really love though. We have to give ourselves time… we have to be ready. We have to do the prep work and change on the inside first. And that requires a period of being pretty dull and vulnerable.
We’re going to lose our color; we aren’t going to look the same. BUT IT’S TEMPORARY. What’s going on inside is much more important than what’s going on outside. If we’re too hasty and impatient, we may cause more damage. We need to wait it out, do the work on the inside, and be kind and gentle to ourselves while we’re in this fragile state.
(Quick tangent… be kind to the people you encounter who seem like they might be in this “dull” stage of life. You don’t know what may be going on inside them.)
When we’re ready to move on, we’ll know it. Who we’ve become on the inside will be aching to come out. The old life will no longer fit us, and we’ll want out of it so bad that we’ll intentionally cause friction to rip ourselves apart. It will be uncomfortable, but we’ll know that it’s what we have to do.
This is usually accomplished through therapy or counseling of some sort. The prep work, the ripping apart… it doesn’t come natural to us. It’s normal for our snake friends (or enemies rather, BLECH), but us humans try really hard to NEVER BE UNCOMFORTABLE.
We have to stop convincing ourselves and everyone else that we’re fine… Stop struggling in isolation and silence, feeling the constriction and denying ourselves the opportunity to grow. Yes, it is going to take time. Even once we start the process, it’s going to take more time than we want it to. But it will be worth it, I PROMISE.
And for the love… once you start, don’t stop. Follow through til the end. If you don’t get that shit completely off of you, it is going to cause even more problems. Stay the course. Do what you need to do… and that is going to require a lot of self-care.
Your growth is your responsibility and no one else’s… you are the only one who knows what you need to make it happen. Find the environment that is going to make you succeed. Go underground for awhile if you need to. Be kind to yourself.
And when you emerge, you are going to be different. Still you… but more vibrant. And free! No more feeling uncomfortable in your own skin.
Another fact I neglected to mention is how often snakes go through this whole process. It varies by type and age; young snakes shed as frequently as every couple weeks, older snakes might go 2-3 months. But they never stop. Because they never stop growing.
That’s right, suckers. DO IT AGAIN!
It would be pretty awesome if we reached a pinnacle of perfection at some point in our lives. HEY LOOK, I’M ALL DONE GROWING NOW! I DID IT! And then we could spend the rest of our lives just being amazing and perfect…
Buuuutt it doesn’t work that way. Shit happens. Life happens. It’s always changing and evolving, and we are constantly faced with decisions and pain and opportunities to grow. Or not… it’s up to us.
Snakes really creep me out. But I don’t think I’ll look at them quite the same after this. They accept that the growing pains are just a part of life. It’s a lesson we all need to learn.
Most of us fall into the trap of thinking that we will someday “arrive” at our life’s destination… and that will just be it! Everything will be shiny and incredible and easy and we’ll just ooze happiness all the freaking time. All we need is the perfect marriage/family/house/job/car/etc…
It’s a bunch of crap.
You know what I’ve noticed? The “happiest” people aren’t trying to reach a magical plateau where they get everything they want and then just stop. The vibrant, joy-radiating people see life differently. They embrace the growth; they are always learning, always changing and improving.
That’s who I want to be. Someone engrossed in the never-ending pursuit of self-betterment.
Like a snake I guess? Ewwww. I’ve taken this analogy too far.
Ten points to anyone who caught the reference in the title. You are my people.