This story was inspired by my friend Richard Rossi, who has nicknamed me Monarch. It represents the importance of social support, acceptance, open communication, and the process and courage it takes to live life authentically. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it!
Madeline felt as though a weight had been lifted after finally admitting her problem to the Mind Over Matter (MOM) therapy group. “I have always felt alone in the world,” said Madeline looking down at the ground as the words stumbled out of her mouth. “I feel abandoned by my mom. As a matter of fact I never met her,” cried Madeline, “I wish I had never been born!” It was Madeline’s constant anxiety and the inability to form healthy relationship attachments that brought her to the MOM group.
The other members knew how hard it was for Madeline to share her pain since they had each been through the process themselves. The group members knew it was not uncommon for individuals to hold back from sharing information for fear of being judged. Now that Madeline finally felt that she could trust others with the issues she entered therapy with, everyone honored her courage.
“I have lived my life with constant anxiety and fear. I never feel safe,” Madeline admitted with shame. The closer it came to her chrysalis stage, the more anxiety built up in Madeline. During group she would often break out in a sweat or feel her heart pounding as she listened to how others were making changes to alleviate their anxiety. How could she firmly attach to a branch, and be alone for 9 to 14 days when she did not like herself, feared Madeline. This desperate thought prompted Madeline’s openness to the group of seven other larvae, all dealing with similar issues of becoming butterflies.
By the time Madeline felt comfortable self-disclosing, she came to appreciate what the group had to offer. Madeline felt accepted, a sense of belonging, and supported for the first time in her life. Not having a mom to answer her pressing questions, Madeline gained considerably from the imparting of information the group offered. For example, when Madeline opened up about her strange need to eat only milkweed leaves, the other members chimed in to confirm that her intuition to eat this food singularly was completely normal. Each member assured her in their own way that there is something special in milkweed that allows larvae to grow and retain all of the vitamins needed to transform into a beautiful monarch butterfly. This relieved Madeline, and by hearing about the process of becoming a butterfly, she began to trust herself and the group.
Another way that Madeline was able to feel less anxious with the help of the group, was through the guided relaxation exercise practiced at the start of every group session. By learning how to take time to breathe deeply and relax her body, Madeline realized she had some control over her anxiety. In addition, the group leader helped Madeline look at other things that were within her control and helped her to understand how her thoughts influence her mood. She learned about ICE, the acronym for a cognitive behavioral technique, and was given a chance to practice it. In group she and other members learned how to: identify thoughts (I), classify common thinking errors (C), and explain realistically (E). Thus, each individual consciously learned to change their challenging and stress-producing thinking. In turn, this imitative behavior provided a healthy model for Madeline to follow. The more she practiced – the warmer she felt with others, and her anxiety began to melt away.
The hardest issue that all of the larvae faced, was the one of existential factors. Together the group addressed the fact that their lives would soon take them out on a limb – hanging by a thread, forced to change and grow into their authentic selves. To this end, the soon to be butterflies found a sense of hope by reminding each other of their accomplished growth and successes of already shedding five skins throughout their larva stage. Together they celebrated their longer lives as fourth generation monarchs who live six to eight months versus the first three generations of eggs that are lucky to live past six weeks.
Finally, Madeline experienced what it was like to change into something different within the therapy group. She learned to love herself “no matter what.” She accepted that even though she may be hanging by a thread, she can be thankful for the thread because in order to be something new, one needs to let go of faulty perceptions which can often overtake one’s thought process.
Each day as Madeline inched closer to transformation, she looked forward to spreading her wings and migrating with a new group, one with new meaning; a monarch group that will travel to far-away places. Madeline looked forward to her experience of mating after she emerged from the pupa, and of laying eggs of her own. She worked on forgiveness and welcomed the opportunity of supporting her offspring in a way that her mother was not able to do for her.
With the support of the group Madeline learned to accept that in the same way she came into the world, she would also leave it, “alone.” Madeline grew confident that she could sustain her days of solitude in the chrysalis to transform into what she has been all along, one of nature’s most beautiful creations!
Today, to everyone Madeline meets along the way, she is an inspiration. Through her group experience she has learned the practice of being in the “here-and-now.” Therefore, when you see a monarch fluttering through the air, you will know it is Madeline when you hear her whisper, “The butterfly counts not months but moments, and has time enough.”
© Cathi Curen 2014