The Butterfly

During my last couple of therapy sessions, we’ve been discussing my problems with anger, and as a sub theme, my problems with traffic (historically, road rage has been my biggest, most ‘reliable’ anger trigger). I’d had some minor insights into possible roots of my frustration and rage, and the discussion wandered back to one of my main themes in therapy: feelings of invalidation and having to constantly prove my value to the world.

At one point, my therapist even said something like ‘I’m sorry, but that sounds exhausting.’ It really is exhausting. I always, always, always feel as if I’m being observed, judged, and found lacking. Until I got into therapy, I didn’t even realize that this was such a steady theme in my life. Like the metaphorical fish who doesn’t know what water is, I was unaware of the soup of invalidation I was submerged in.

Of course, I kept thinking about this stuff in the background as my week went on. On Sunday I was sweeping the mat before class at the dojo where I study aikido. I caught a hint of movement in the woods outside, and when I looked out the window, I saw a butterfly landing on a shrub.

That simple, tiny motion sent a shock through me. It really hit me; no butterfly asks permission to be in the world. Why should I?

Over the next day, an idea developed that I should write a sort of children’s story about the things in my life that I suspect led to some of the issues I’m working through in therapy. I wrote it up and published it today as The Boy, the Man, and the Butterfly.

As I read through and edited the story (which I don’t really think is appropriate for children!), I thought about how my therapist often challenges me to change ‘you’ language into ‘I’ language. For instance, I’ll say something like “a person can really get stuck in a loop” or “you have to be aware of your surroundings so that triggering events don’t take you by surprise.” She likes it when I say “I really get stuck in a loop” or “I have to be aware of my surroundings…”

With that in mind, I re-wrote my story as a therapy diary entry, and posted it today as The Butterfly and Me.

Doing therapy for the first time is really fascinating to me. It’s clearly the kind of process like learning carpentry or learning aikido. You can’t just think about it. You have to get it into your body. Knowing what’s wrong is only the start of the process of getting better.

Just knowing that you had a screwed up childhood doesn’t mean that you’ve done the work of untangling the mess in your head.

I mean… I wasn’t exactly keeping it a secret from myself that I was relentlessly bullied for 12 years of school, or that one of my older brothers had drowned when I was 4 years old.

But it wasn’t obvious to me that my paranoid thinking patterns, social anxiety, self-hatred, and hair-trigger rage were linked to all of that. After all, it’s been 55 years since my brother died. It’s been more than 40 years since I left school. Heck, until last year, I didn’t even realize that I was rocking on the edge of some sort of collapse.

This morning, as usual, I was reading Twitter while riding the commuter rail to work. I wanted to post the Butterfly story, but knew that I couldn’t really do it very easily on my phone, and instead ended up venting some of the anxiety I was feeling about writing and publishing the story:

Musing on Twitter: August 28, 2019

It’s hard to write about mental health stuff because it feels as if I have to be entertaining, when I don’t (this is me working stuff out inside myself).

Writing about my issues makes me feel like a fake; the Voice says: you’re not really sick, who are you to write about healing?

The Voice says: no one needs to hear your whining.

The Voice says: if you were less of a weakling, you could shrug off this garbage.

I’m trying to learn to notice the Voice and sit with it, listen to it. The Voice isn’t just my tormentors from long ago, it is my pain speaking.


I was actually a bit surprised by that last sentence. Several times recently I’ve described to my therapist that it felt as if the voices and words of the cruel boys at my school had taken up permanent residence in my head.

It wasn’t until I typed that final phrase “it is my pain speaking” that I ever thought of it that way.

I know that many folks with a BPD diagnosis will recognize what I mean when I say that I have an on/off switch in my head. I tend to see things entirely as a black and white choice. I’m all on board with some new enthusiasm or I’m entirely off of it. I have a 40+ year history of cutting off people and never talking with them again.

One of the things I’m working on in therapy is learning a more nuanced response pattern, learning to be kinder with myself. Instead of taking a ‘nuke it from orbit’ approach, I’m trying to be more like some wise gardener tending their plants.

And so I’m going to try to do this; when I hear the poisonous whisper of the Voice, rather than excoriating myself for letting myself think that way, I’m going to try to remember that that’s the voice of my trauma.

Rather than striking back (at myself) and continuing the pattern of internal self injury, I’m going to try to hear the fear behind the Voice, understand the fear, and let it go.

After all, even plants with damaged roots and trunks can still grow strong.

An evergreen tree with gnarled trunk.

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