The Messy Art of Change And Growth
When I was twenty years old I walked, terrified, into a tattoo shop in a Navy base town. The shop was full of burly, inked-up tattoo artists and a bunch of military men getting tattoos of American flags and pin-up girls. As for me, I was getting a butterfly between my shoulder blades. Cliche? Maybe so. But for me, this butterfly was incredibly symbolic, as I started my journey of stepping away from the ideology I was raised with, and stepping into my own self, my own identity, my own thoughts, and opinions. I was becoming me and I wanted a tattoo to represent that.
I didn’t know then what I know now, over twenty years later, about butterflies and the process that they go through to metamorphose into the glorious winged creatures they are. I just knew that, like them, I was ready to go from being stuck to the ground to something that could fly away.
To me, it seemed like this miraculous process where a caterpillar curled up in its chrysalis and then magically emerged, transformed.
Truth is, while still miraculous, like much in life the process is much messier. When that caterpillar encloses itself in its chrysalis it doesn’t just grow some wings and then pop out after a period of rest. Rather, according to Scientific American, “the caterpillar digests itself, releasing enzymes to dissolve all of its tissues. If you were to cut open a cocoon or chrysalis at just the right time, caterpillar soup would ooze out.”
Something about “caterpillar soup” doesn’t sound quite as magical as the romanticized version of metamorphosis I had originally in my mind.
The last few years have been incredibly difficult. It seems most everyone I know has gone through a major upheaval of some sort – a breakup, a job change, death of a loved one, physical health struggles, mental health crises – not to mention the constant underlying stress that has come with living through a global pandemic. I personally have dealt with a break-up and immense heartache, financial stress, worsening chronic illness symptoms, mental health changes, a move, a teen doing online school, and me doing online work. As a collective, and as individuals, we seem to be in immense periods of change.
And just like the transformation from caterpillar to butterfly, our periods of growth also include the break-down of our old self before the assembly of new. Our worlds as we know them have to completely shift before we can emerge into our new ones. We have to become caterpillar soup.
When you look at caterpillars who are in the process of transforming, you may see several chrysalides all on the same branch, but every one of those caterpillars is on their own independent journey. They themself climbed up that branch, spun that chrysalis, and have begun the process of becoming goo so that -eventually- they will break out, transformed into a butterfly.
I think that is what is so hard about change and growth. While we may be going through the process at the same time, each of us is on our very own journeys. We each have to endure the transformation on our own.
Sciencing.com tells us that “In most instances, helping the butterfly out of the chrysalis will prevent it from ever flying. The butterfly needs the struggle to strengthen its wings.”
It is hard to be in this place of change and growth, feeling so alone. It is hard to see others -our friends, our families, our lovers- struggling in their chrysalides as well. It is natural to want to speed up the process, to want to get this over and done with, and move on. It is normal to see our friends hurting and want to help them out of their chrysalides. It is normal to want someone to help us out of ours.
But we are strengthening our wings.
We are putting ourselves back together into new people.
We are getting ready to fly.