Earlier today I was mowing and weeding the yard. While doing so I came across a three to four-foot King Snake hanging out in the grass. I didn’t want to hurt it so I nudged it with the wheel of my push mower and it didn’t move. I bumped it again and the snake curled up into a ball. I was hoping the third time was the charm and tried to get it moving but it wasn’t going anywhere. I then went and grabbed a wooden stake, found the snake still rolled up and not willing to budge. As a last result, I pushed the stake through the center of the ball, picked it up and placed it in another part of the yard where it would be safe. “Sheesh!” I thought to myself. It just had to be difficult.
After getting back to my mowing I thought about the defensive behavior of the snake. It wasn’t helpful for it or me. I reflected on my defensive behaviors and unhelpful coping skills. As someone who deals with mental illness, I know first hand what a sense of being in danger, uncertain, threatened can do. It can cause me to make a bad decision, seize up, pull myself into an emotional ball and try to keep the danger out. Most times it doesn’t work but, like the snake, its instinct.
I know if I would’ve been able to communicate with the reptile I would’ve explained it needed to move for its own safety. If it was left alone eventually the snake would relax and be able to go on its way. When people fight, flight or freeze when we try to help our intention doesn’t matter. What matters is understanding and adapting our help to meet the needs of the other.
Yesterday I made a promise to my wife. Actually, it was more of a threat. I threatened to leave the hose pipe outside all winter instead of putting it up in the fall. The reason for this is no matter what I try it all seems to be one giant tangled mess when I pull it out in the spring. One of my chores on Thursday was to untangle the jumbled mess of about three hundred feet of hose pipe. First I grabbed and dragged out most of it. Then I detached the ends to make them easier to work with. After this, I pulled each pipe end going over and under the other until I finally had one section free! When I did this six or seven times all the sections were in their own place and then hooking them together again one at a time I was able to run the hose pipe to the different areas of the yard. Whew! It was a hard, difficult job but had to be done.
In my work with men, fathers, and families, the initial times we meet to set up a plan of learning and action can seem like wrestling with a jumbled mess of hose pipe. However, with time and patience slowly learning, finding and breaking down the challenges, habits, hurts, and hang-ups, we can begin to put the pieces back together again.