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The Struggle of the Butterfly

SUMMER. Every summer we feel the shelter breathe a subtle sigh of relief as the cold lifts, the kids run out into the yard to play, and the women chat on the deck in the easy sunshine. The summer season is rich in metaphors for recovery and healing. Flowers come out of sleep. Animals welcome their next round of offspring. The grass keeps growing no matter how many times we mow it. We watch the scars of winter lighten, and when we turn our faces to the sun we can’t help but feel optimistic about what is to come.


At the Abbie, our favorite summertime metaphor is the butterfly. Beyond the symbolism of metamorphosis followed by flight, we connect strongly with her struggle for freedom. The final exit from the butterfly’s cocoon is also the most grueling part of her transformation. In order to escape her cocoon, she must struggle to free her body with its brand new wings from its safe place of sleep. The struggle is at times so intense that the butterfly may seem near death, but it is critical at this point that no one comes to rescue her. She needs to do it by herself. You see, the struggle to open her cocoon is what builds the strength in her wings. Without the struggle, the emerging new butterfly lacks the strength to fly and embark on her new journey in the world. Without this self-sustaining strength, she will perish quickly. Again, she needs to do it by herself.


Those who have watched a butterfly emerge from chrysalis often describe the process of witnessing as painful. All of the waiting and watching without intervening tests even the most patient of butterfly enthusiasts. Such is the work of the domestic violence advocate. We know that we serve and honor survivors best when we don’t intervene to rescue them from their struggle. Instead, we provide the safe space for the journey. Instead, we stay present with survivors through their struggles of escaping domestic violence. We watch, encourage, and surrender to our patience as we witness the strengthening of wings and of hearts. It is almost always painful for us. We remind ourselves consistently that we do more harm than good when we play the rescuer. We remind ourselves that survivors have all of the strength they need within them. And we remind ourselves that the struggle is what gives them their strength to fly once they leave their abusive relationship.


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