Life Outside the Cocoon


When my marriage capsized, I felt a wide range of emotion. Shock that it ended abruptly and so heartlessly. Anger at the hand I had been unfairly dealt. Humiliation that I had no control over what was happening, why it happened and that it had been happening for so long. And there was sadness, great sadness – not over losing him, but over losing the dream.

Yet, along with the darkness, there was an undeniable sense of relief. It sounds weird to say, but part of me was actually glad it was over.

In fact, I wanted to rush through the five stages of grief as quickly as possible. Why devote my energy to mourning (heaven knows he wasn’t grief-stricken so why should I have to be) when it could instead be used to hurry up and get on with rebuilding my life? My heart would surely repair itself with time. I had much better things to do.

I told my counselor that I resented needing to take the time to heal. I just wanted to rip off the emotional Band-Aid and move on.

“You remind me of a butterfly,” she said. “Have you ever really stopped to watch a butterfly?” Well, of course I had, suppressing the urge to roll my eyes as I awaited the follow-up cliché about personal transformation.

“Butterflies move very quickly and don’t stay in one spot for very long. They are always on the go. But every once in a while, they need to land in a safe spot where they can rest their wings and renew their energy.”

Okay I get it, I thought as I prepared for a reprimand to slow down. It didn’t come. Fortunately, my counselor was never one to lay on a guilt trip.

“Did you also realize that if a butterfly doesn’t break out of its cocoon, it will die?” she asked. “Perhaps on some deeper level this is how you felt in your marriage – trapped, holding your breath, unable to leave for any number of reasons. And maybe this explains the sense of relief you now feel.”

That was a breakthrough moment for me. I had never even considered that the reason I was now so eager to move forward was because I’d felt restricted over the years. My 20-year relationship had become a cocoon that prevented me from growing into my true self even as I’d continued to evolve from within it. My ex, on the other hand, had not changed. He was still the self-seeking man child he had always been. I was exhausted from trying to grow for the both of us.

And now that I was free, I wanted to shake out my new wings and get on with flight. (“O exquisite relief! She had not known the weight until she felt the freedom.”)

My homework that week was to be aware of and to watch for butterflies as they appeared around me. I was to think about everything they went through to transform themselves from caterpillar to a winged creature. How they risk everything to become butterflies. How amazing it must feel to discover their destiny – that they have the power to fly.

Coming to terms with my own transformation was liberating. It also released me from a great deal of hurt. Knowing that I had been ready to undergo a metamorphosis for years but that I needed to shed my marriage if I was ever going to fly helped me to find gratitude in reaching the end of that relationship.

Now when I catch a glimpse of a fluttering butterfly, it is a reminder of my own wings. A symbol of change, yes, but also unfettered joy.

“Time is growing short. There are unexplored adventures ahead of you.

You can’t live the rest of your life worried about what other people think.

You were born worthy of love and belonging.

Courage and daring are coursing through you.

You were made to live and love with your whole heart.

It’s time to show up and be seen.”   

(Brené Brown)