It’s one of those books that Jon teases me about, even though he got it for me.
The Language Of Butterflies, by Wendy Williams, tells so many fascinating stories about butterflies, I can’t help repeating some of them to Jon. Usually early in the morning while we’re still laying in bed.
He rolls his eyes and at the same time listens eagerly. “I get all the good stuff,” he says, “without having to read the book”.
This morning’s story was about Monarch Butterfly caterpillars.
As most people now know, Monarch Butterflies only lay their eggs on Milkweed. When the caterpillar hatches from the egg, the first thing she does is eat it for protein. Because she has no defenses against predators, the caterpillar is just about transparent.
She finds safety in being invisible.
After eating the egg, the caterpillar begins to eat the Milkweed leaves which are filled with latex. I was familiar with that white sticky substance that Milkweed bleeds, but never knew it was latex. I also didn’t know it was toxic.
A good percentage of the caterpillars die from eating the latex, but the ones that survive, taste bitter and are toxic to animals that may try to eat them. It’s when they have this protection that their colors begin to change.
The caterpillar goes from being invisible to having bright green and white stripes on their black bodies. Now it’s their visibility that protects them. Predators see their colors as a warning that they are poisonous and stay away. The same is true of their orange wings when they become butterflies.
I immediately related to this story when I read it. It was my story.
For most of my life, I made myself invisible, trying to stay safe. I didn’t speak up for myself. Growing up in my family, I believed I was being kind by giving myself away to other people, doing what they wanted me to do, and being who they wanted me to.
More than anything I wanted to belong. But I was really just hiding, afraid if I showed my true self they wouldn’t like me anymore and I would be rejected.
It took me 45 years, but when I finally began to learn how to protect myself, by doing and saying what I wanted instead of what others wanted of me, the true me started to emerge. The more confident I become with myself, the more I flashed my colorful stripes, the more “toxic” I become to the people and things that weren’t good for me.
And my fears of being ostracized began to come true. My husband at the time accused me of not being “nice” anymore. When I broke with the traditions of my family, they lost interest in me. I grew apart from my friends.
Because, for the first time in my life I was being true to myself, I began to find the people who liked me for who I really was. And the more I like myself, the more my fears of not belonging fade.
It’s a long process. Sometimes I feel like I’m still emerging, still drying my wings. And other times I feel like I’m fluttering my bright orange wings in the face of the unknown, trusting they’ll protect me.
One thing I know for sure, I’m no longer invisible.