Life and hunting for sharks’ teeth are a lot alike. How? Well, for starters, both take patience! Have you ever hunted for shark teeth? It’s something I began learning about a few years ago. Historically, I am not a beach person. You must step up your sunscreen game, sand gets where it should not, and who really knows what is in that water at this very moment. Oh. You also must find a swimsuit you like. I was more interested in a comfortable pair of jeans and a good hike…..Then I became a parent.
Parenthood changes everything. My husband wanted to visit the beach, so I reluctantly agreed. My child loved it! Let’s be honest. A lot of moms sacrifice their own desires to foster their children’s unique identity. This was one of those moments for me. The beach has become a tradition. Along with this tradition, my appreciation for the beach and the ocean has also grown…. but not a love for swimsuits. I guess you really cannot win them all.
During our time at the beach, my husband began to look for shark teeth. At first it was hard. Through our adventures we happened to befriend a local couple. The wife grew up at this beach and has a rich family history of fossil hunting, which includes shark teeth. My husband would comb the beach then sit with our friend to sort through what he found and decide if there was anything of value in his stash of treasure. The shark teeth were obvious. Other fossils were more intriguing since you must examine them more closely.
In the beginning, I would make sure our child did not get lost at sea while my husband went hunting for fossils. A couple of years ago I decided I would try to share my husband’s interest in finding shark teeth. It was boring. I never found any while he continued to announce his finds. I became frustrated with the process. Then….
I found my first tooth!
Even after finding my first tooth I was frustrated and impatient. I found that tooth by accident. By chance. By…. I have no idea. I randomly picked up a black spec and there happened to be a shark tooth attached. My husband and everyone I talked to said it would get easier now that I knew what to look for…except that I really had no idea. I was not about to fess up and tell any of them I was still clueless as to what I was looking for in the sand. My impatience continued. Aren’t vacations supposed to be relaxing?
This year was a little different. It was a record year for finding shark teeth, and I even found a part of a mastodon tooth! As I walked the beach looking for shark teeth, one just appeared at my feet clear as day. I snatched up my find and hoped for an easier year. Another one “appeared”. My hopes rose. Then, of course, my child began running down the beach and I was off to chase her so she would not be lost as sea. Motherhood strikes again! We continued this start-stop routine for more than a mile to the infamous inlet where fossils and shells take refuge during low tide.
Talk about aggravating! Well, aggravating for fossil hunters. My treasure box had very little to boast. Throughout the week I continued to look for opportunities to search the beach. I decided to make a commitment to pick up everything I saw that resembled the color of shark teeth when I searched. My eyes needed to be trained in what to look for if I was going to be successful. A lot of junk ended up in my bag. More teeth ended up in my bag too!
Searching allowed time for my thoughts to drift toward how life is like the search for shark teeth. When we have experienced broken attachment, abuse, loss, traumatic childhood experiences, or other types of distress it can be difficult to know what we need to gain, or regain, a healthy, sustainable lifestyle. If a healthy lifestyle has not been modeled for us during our formative years, we may not even know what a healthy lifestyle looks like, or even that our lifestyle may be destructive to our long-term mental or physical health. Finding what we need can become just as overwhelming as my search for shark teeth if we are uncertain what we need.
Looking for shark teeth during high tide versus low tide can also parallel day-to-day life challenges. High tide searching can often be more discouraging or stressful than low tide searching, even if high tide may bring more teeth to us. High tide brings in tumultuous water that requires us to be more vigilant for the roaming teeth and have quicker reflexes to snatch them up before the next wave washes them away. Implementing coping strategies during the stressors of life may mirror this fleeting behavior. Before you are able to snatch up the shark tooth, the window of opportunity is gone.
When the waters are churned up, you must have a quick eye and reflexes to snatch up your treasures. These churned up waters are synonymous to traumatic events, childhood abuse, unhealthy relationships, unhealthy thought patterns, etc. The shark’s teeth are much like the coping skills, identity, self-advocacy, self-esteem, etc. that we need to keep ourselves safe, align with our worldview, or be true to ourselves. When there is too much chaos in our lives, we struggle to hang onto these things before the storm washes them away again.
When we begin therapy, there can be an expectation that we instantly get what we need and are able to put it into practice. Unfortunately, the process of therapy is more often like the search for shark teeth. We may need to learn and relearn skills until we internalize them. We may not be able to access our skills right away. It may feel like throwing something at our circumstance until “something sticks”, just like my picking up anything that resembled shark teeth until I trained my eye. There is a lot of error before there is success. There has been a lot of missing my teeth before the window of opportunity closes. But…..eventually……I grasped the knowledge of what I was looking for and acquired less junk in my treasure chest.
The same is true for learning skills in life and in therapy. As the saying goes: don’t ever give up! Each miss is one step closer to understanding what to look for and hang onto.