If nothing ever changed, there would be no butterflies: the power of transformation

Image by Laurie Williams

I love butterflies.

For me, aside from their incredible beauty, they signify the extraordinary growth that all living things – including us humans – are able to achieve when we make that choice.

Just think about it: a butterfly starts out as a cumbersome caterpillar, crawling slowly along the ground, being stepped on, squashed down, dissected in biology classes and then discarded when the abuse is over. It is easy to discount the lowly caterpillar.

But caterpillars have an uncanny sense of intuition – at some point, they know that if they don’t change, they will die. They somehow instinctively know that if they stay in their self-made cocoons for too long, they will perish; but if they try to come out too soon, they will not be strong enough to succeed as a fragile butterfly.

Our gentle caterpillars seem to know exactly what to do to preserve their self-care and become the very best they can possibly be – beautiful butterflies – spreading their wings wide and flying in whatever direction they please, giving joy and awe to those who behold them.

How can we not learn a lot from them?

My own butterfly moment

When I reached the bottom with my addiction to pot and prescription drugs 25 years ago, I had the same feelings. I realized that I had to change my life or I would die – either by my own hand or inadvertently, from an accidental overdose. I knew that I didn’t really want to die, but that I couldn’t go on living the way I was at that point.

In hindsight, I had grown quite tired of being a caterpillar, though I had no idea then that I could someday become a butterfly.

My journey of recovery from addiction truly began when I allowed my instincts to take over – when I allowed myself to be ready to reach out for help. I remember how difficult that was for me, and I also remember how amazing the people who cared enough to assist me were. They must have sensed how ready I was to come out of my own self-imposed prison and try something new.

For me, this process has taken years of choosing to remain abstinent from all mind-altering substances, as well as the commitment to doing my inner work so I could finally understand what my addiction was really about.

Some days, life felt very bleak and it definitely seemed easier to give up and give in. But somehow that didn’t seem to be an option for me, or at least, it wasn't the one I chose. I so deeply wanted a different life – and I was willing to do whatever was necessary in order to get it.

Our recovery can help others

It is exactly because I have experienced crushing defeat in my life, and have humbled myself enough to reach out for the help I needed, that I know how scary it can be for my clients to make that first phone call or send that first email to me. I often hear that they chose to contact me because of how authentically I present myself on my website – they know that I know – and that matters to them.

When they walk through the door of my office, that first time or any other time, I understand the courage it takes for them to be emotionally vulnerable with me in the session. I respect that courage and often validate them for it.

When I work with clients today in my private practice, I sometimes speak from the benefit of my experience with both addiction and recovery, and they listen because they know that I can understand their pain.

What I know today is that even when the details of our stories are different, the feelings are the same – the shame, the remorse, the despair, the hopelessness – and what they most need is someone to tell them that recovery really is possible. And, of course, I know it is because I’ve done it myself and I continue to do it, one day at a time.

If anyone had told me 25 years ago that I would be able to use my “caterpillar pain” to help someone else become a butterfly, I would have thought they were crazy. But it’s kind of like living with a baby or a puppy – we don’t notice their growth because we see them every day. It’s not until someone else comes along and says, “Wow, they’ve gotten so big!” that we realize how much growth has actually transpired.

My gratitude speaks…

I didn’t know I had become a butterfly until a lot later, when other people started to notice my changes. I’m thankful they were able to do that for me, because now I can act as a mirror for my clients in the same way. I always strive to find something they have done that week to validate, encourage them to keep going on their sacred journeys.

Today, I am very grateful – in 20/20 hindsight – for the incredibly painful struggles I’ve gone through – with both addiction and with the chronic illness of Crohn’s Disease. I believe that my hardships and my ability to withstand and overcome them against all odds is precisely what has given me the empathy, compassion and patience to be there 100 per cent with my clients.

Life is not without problems for me today and, being imperfectly human, there are still some days when I go through growth periods that make my hair stand on end. But, as long as I keep doing my inner work at those times, I know I will continue to be emotionally strong.

I don’t claim to know anyone else’s spiritual journey, or why people need to go through whatever they are experiencing, so I don’t try to tell others what I think they “should” do – even when they ask me.

Because we are all so much more similar than we are different, I believe in everyone’s power to heal and grow in their own ways, should they choose that path. If they do choose that and come to me for assistance, then my commitment to them is to help in whatever healthy ways I can.

I believe in every person’s butterfly potential, and I ask you to do the same. Because I know, without question, that if I could become a butterfly from where I was at my lowest point... anybody can.

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