October 19, 2011

Conquering Fears

For as long as I can remember I have had unwavering and completely irrational fears. They were drilled into my brain with the force of a jackhammer over and over and over. These weren't things I came up with on my own or decided to be afraid of on my own.

My fears involve snakes and water. My mother is the person who drilled these fears into my head and that of my sisters. Of snakes we were told that if we were bitten by a snake we were going to die. Period. There would be nothing she could do to save us. Of water, we were told that a person could drown in a teaspoon of water. Period. No chance of being saved. 

So as a child, if I saw a snake........I panicked. As an adult. I panicked. I made sure any snake I saw in the road or in the yard died. That way it not only couldn't kill me, it couldn't harm my children either. As for water, I never learned to swim. You tell me I can drown in a teaspoon and then you expect me to get in a whole lake where there are parts over my head? No thanks! Try to teach me to swim, I'd rather try to drown you til you give up. And I did. I panicked so much every time someone tried that it was finally decided that I didn't need to learn.

Now to be fair, I don't think these lessons we were taught were meant to be cruel. I think it was her misguided attempt at telling us of the danger to keep us safe, but in me it instilled fear that could have been far more dangerous to me than a snake and deep water combined.

Last summer, Phillip and I spent a great deal of time on the lake on the Jet ski's.  Normally just the idea that I could fall off and be in water over my head, even with a life jacket on would terrify me. It would literally be enough to keep me on the shore or going very slowly to insure I didn't fall off. If you've ever been on a jet ski though, you know that the faster you go, the more fun it is and let's face it......I LOVE the Jet ski! The faster it goes, the better. So........I wear my life jacket.......very tight..........and I tell myself that I'm going to be fine and I have fun. Fear mostly conquered.

Snakes on the other hand........well that's not something I would ever think I could deal with. I didn't really see a reason to get over the fear anyway. Then of course God showed me that I didn't know anything as usual. My youngest son, Zachery, loves snakes. he's begged for one for years and I always said "hell no". With a lot of emphasis on both words!

Phillip loves snakes too and has tried to convince me many times that my fear of them as a whole is irrational and potentially dangerous. For instance, if I see a grass snake and run away from it and trip over a branch and break my face, that could be dangerous to my health. The problem with his theory is that it is completely and totally true. I have literally seen a snake and become so hysterical that I almost passed out and once I even almost knocked the boys down in an effort to get away. 

Sooooooo, last week a wonderful lady offered a free snake with an aquarium on freecycle. It's a female Snow King Snake. I had been considering trying to deal with my fear enough to allow Zach to have a snake for Christmas if it was kept in the garage or something like that where I didn't have to have contact with it or see it. So I emailed the lady about the snake and Phillip and I went to pick her up. I wanted nothing to do with her but I did admire her coloring and the way she seemed so calm when Phillip held her.

When we got her back to Phillip's house, he took her out of the container we had transported her in and I was amazed to see that despite how scared she must have been and in a new place, she was still very calm. She seemed to be looking at him as if to say "what are you going to do to me? Am I safe?". He put his hand very calmly and gently into the container and she went right to his hand. We then took her outside and though she wanted to explore she made sure to stay close to Phillip almost as if she was looking for protection. I of course can't say for sure what was going through her mind but it was clear that escape wasn't her priority and neither was attacking.

From that point on, my opinion of the species has changed, well, at least of her anyway. I can't say if I saw another snake like her in the yard that I wouldn't flip out and run, but with her I am not afraid at all. I can hold her, let her near me and I have absolutely no fear of her. I never ever thought the day would come when I could open my eyes to the possibility of a snake as a pet, but "Cleo" as we've named her, has changed my opinion. So much so, that I'm considering getting another King Snake that used to live with Cleo. He's not as calm as she is but he hasn't been handled as much either. With time i think he could be just as sweet and calm as she is and I find myself wanting him to have that chance. His name is Charlie, but I secretly call him "Spot".

She is very clearly drawn to Zach and you can see by the look on his face, that he's just as enamored with her.

 He seems to be her comfort zone now that we have her in the house. If she's out of her cage, she prefers to be with Zach but she isn't aggressive to the rest of us at all. if we are holding her you can tell that if she senses Zach nearby, she will try to make her way to him. Probably because he's warmer than the rest of us and he's the most comfortable handling her. So not only am I learning to set aside the fear for myself, I can also see that my fear of my children being harmed by a helpless animal is also irrational. Granted, there are snakes that CAN and WILL harm you. Education is the key to being safe though, not being afraid of an entire species just because SOME are dangerous.

It wasn't easy to say goodbye to the fear. I held onto it for over 40 years but I shed it in less than a week and I am glad of it. Unnecessary fear isn't something to hold onto. It's something to try and face and deal with if at all possible. What are you afraid of? What are you tired of being afraid of?


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