Keep moving forward

The year I shed a thousand skins



I started writing for this publication nearly five years ago and began this column when Jane Milliman came on board as editor-in-chief in the summer of 2015. She had something like “Modern Love” in mind; other people thought they’d be getting a Rochester version of Carrie Bradshaw. I envisioned something along the lines of Dear Sugar by Cheryl Strayed. In a way, I think we’ve managed to achieve a bit of each. Over the past several years, I’ve interviewed a variety of people about myriad subjects and provided possible solutions for a multitude of relationship problems.

My first column’s commentary about “catfishing” and “dick pics” disgusted one reader and yet, several years later, many are still on the receiving end of such imagery. Let’s just say I don’t see the eggplant emoji going out of style anytime soon. Another person wrote to compliment my handling of a reader’s dilemma and express his surprise that I didn’t have mental health credentials after my name. I actually did obtain a master’s degree in art therapy and had planned on going into private practice. However, upon graduating and faced with student loan debt, a car payment, and an underwhelming annual salary of $23,000, I just couldn’t rationalize the additional cost and time required for licensure and board certification. Regardless, it’s always nice to hear someone thinks you’re doing a good job—even if it references a path not taken.

The name of this column came from neither Jane nor me. We struck up a conversation with local writer Jonathan Everitt at a networking event. He suggested “Dates & Nuts”—most likely for my propensity to attract more crazy people than quality suitors. Jonathan and I have continued to meet up once or twice a year to indulge in breakfast sandwiches with a side of industry dish. On one such occasion—I’m guessing it was probably last winter—we got on the topic of how he essentially takes inventory of his year and summarizes it with, “The year I (fill in the blank),” and it generally involves an observation or the cessation of some type of behavioral pattern.

In preparing to write this final column, I took stock of the past year of my life and how to summarize the changes I have made, both voluntarily and involuntarily. Initially, I contemplated something about Marie Kondo (since she’s very trendy right now) and her process of letting go of things that no longer spark joy. I thought about the “passengers on the bus” metaphor commonly used in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)—the bus representing one’s mind and the passengers as all the internal thoughts, emotions, urges influencing it. I’m quite sure I ruminated a bit too much, because I finally landed on snakes, and no—not the Kim Kardashian/ Taylor Swift variety.

Snakes undergo a process of molting or shedding of their skin when growth is no longer possible, and, interestingly, it all starts at the head. They will start rubbing their heads against something until the skin splits open and then wiggle their way out. The skin is typically removed in its entirety and turned inside out—a shell of a former snake, if you will. Any parasites that have attached themselves to the old skin are also shed. Snakes molt several times per year. Once in a while, the snake will defecate during the process, so the old skins could harbor disease and toxins. It’s quite a metaphor for personal growth.

Growth is messy and painful. Much like a snake, you will likely get inside your own head, question every decision you’ve made, and start banging it against the wall. You will wonder why you’ve stayed so long in an old, restrictive skin that no longer fits you. You might unload some toxic substances and bad habits that eat away at you like parasites. You may question the nature of your relationships, and why these people are in your life. Others may choose to leave you as you go through the molting process because it’s uncomfortable for them to watch. Try to remember that’s their issue and not yours.

There could be more of a struggle to get out of your old skin than you would like. It might take longer than expected. You might shit yourself several times in the process. People might say (or you might say to yourself), “Hey, why are you trying to get out of this old skin when it is familiar? This is a lot of work. This skin was comfortable once. You should just stay in it awhile longer and maybe you can make it stretch.” That’s precisely the moment when the shit smell hits you and you start to suffocate. So, you keep moving forward because playing it safe has proven to be stinky. You push and continue to do the work—unaware of when the old skin will finally fall off or what your new skin will look like—but with the knowledge and confidence that you will finally be free.

 

Stacey Rowe can be found on Twitter and Instagram as @thestaceyrowe and online at staceyrowe.com

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