The Voice of the Butterfly

Somebody years ago with whom I shared a tumultuous relationship called me a butterfly.  At the time, he was pretty frustrated with the fact that he couldn't nail me down to save his life. He was my boss. The conversation went like this:

Him: You are a butterfly, flitting about from here to there, I can't catch you. 
Me:  Then stop trying.
Him: [Mouth open, asking himself if I really just said what I just said . . . ]
Me:  OK. Don't worry about it. I will keep you in the loop. You will always know what you need to know. 
Him:   Ok then. 

That was the first time I had heard that, but he was right.  I am a butterfly.  He didn't fire me, but on the other hand, it never occurred to me that he might.  I am a butterfly. And butterflies were meant to be free.

Being a butterfly isn't always easy in a world that loves to put people in boxes and containers with nice safe labels on them.  Have you ever tried to put a butterfly in a box? Please don't, because a butterfly will die in a box.

I will die in a box.  I navigate this world of boxes and labels, carefully moving in and out of them before it's too late because the world that I live in needs predictability.  And I need the opposite. I need to be free, to feel, to explore, to be.

To feel. I am a feeler.  And I have been pretty successful as a feeler.  In my corporate life, I made a career out of being able to be a butterfly on the wall in boardrooms of executives who postured and politicized and pontificated possible futures.  (That's a lot of p's for 6 AM)  I would listen and watch, and sometimes write things down to let them know I was listening (that was the fitting in part, not the flying part) and then I would sit down and write exactly what they meant to say in such a way that they would read the words and say yes, we said that.  And that was my career.  I loved it.

And then one day, when I was 45, I came to the realization that I was in a box. That the lid was about to close. That I would suffocate.  That I would die.  I confessed to my boss - the one who 'labeled' me a butterfly - that this "situation" was not sustainable. That I had to make changes.  To be honest, at the time, I did not know what that meant, but I knew deep down in side in my butterfly heart that I was one unhappy being.

I wrote this one morning at 3 AM.


When they look at me
They see someone else
Someone’s mother,
Someone’s wife
Someone’s something.

I know my freedom is near
Deep down inside me
But so far away
So distant that I can’t touch it
Can see it
Don’t know what it looks like

I am alone in this journey
Because everyone has something to gain
By my staying the same.
Everyone has a stake
In my never changing.
The courage that it would take to let go
To free fall
To land wherever
And to pick up and go on

As I look out on my life
I don’t know what is out there now
I just know that I feel trapped
On the other side of my life
Where lives my potential, my voice.
Needing to be heard.
But I don’t know what to say.
Needing to be seen
But afraid to show myself
Needing to be free
But chained
When is it OK to let go
To be free

What if letting go
Means losing everything
That I have and know
What if letting go
Means starting over

What if letting go means not being the kind of wife that I used to be
Not being the kind of mother they need me to be
Not being the kind of whatever it was that I was supposed to be

Stretch marks and scars I have paid my dues
Tracks of my life Etched in my skin
I have earned the right to be beautiful
To feel free
To have a voice
To be desired
To be loved
To dance
To live
I am 45.

(Published in How to be Pink Flamingo in a Brown Duck Pond)

My voice had become dormant during the years of being "somebody's something" - daughter, sister, mother, wife, employee, planner, facilitator, worker - which really began when I was born and persisted until I was 45.

There inside the Belly of the Great Whale,  a metaphor that describes my life at the time,  I realized that I had been swallowed whole by my work and my life, and I had to be free.

Claustrophobia  saved my life.  I remember the feeling of a pounding deep within my chest, the shortness of breath . . . I was suffocating her.  I gave myself one year to change literally everything in my life - from my hair to my job to my body to my . . .  whatever else to find my way out, to find my voice.

I knew I had to do this alone.  This was my secret, because everyone around me had something to lose by my changing.  I gave myself some guiding principles to stay grounded through this transformation.

1.   Practise three acts of defiance each day.
2.   Practise imperfection.
3.   Listen and seek to understand the secrets of the universe.
4.  Avoid rooms with no doors.

I began writing every day just to listen to what I was saying inside of me.  To capture whatever it was that was inside of me at that moment.  I committed to a time frame of 3 to 30 minutes to avoid the trappings of my obsession with perfectionism, (which I now understand to be nothing more than a severe lack of confidence and an expression of self loathing).

I would sit in the dark in my home office, close my eyes, and write whatever was inside of me.  Not what I was thinking, but what I was feeling.

I would save the writing, close my computer (that was the practicing imperfection part), resisting the urge to go back and edit.  Perfection was not the point.  The point was to discover what had been locked away . . . to find the butterfly and let her out.

She did find her way out, and now she can never be contained again. Or she will surely die.

Sometimes I hear that pounding deep within my chest. Sometimes I can't breathe.  It's her way of telling me that I am drifting back into captivity.  Other times, I feel others screaming for freedom, trapped in side their own belly of the great whale, suffocating in decisions and choices of long ago. It makes me sad. And it reminds me that we are not alone. That we were all meant to be free.  That life is only what we make it. That love is just love. That the voice inside is the one that we must hear. That we must let it out.