Sunday, September 23, 2012

The butterfly

Do you like butterflies? I am fascinated by them; by their beauty, elegance and individuality. No butterfly is identical to the other, they differ in coloring, shape and size, much like us people, we are all unique.
We don't see a butterflies true beauty until it has completed all stages of metamorphisis of which there are four - Egg, Lava, Pupa (chrysalis) and Adult stages, until it finally emerges in it's full glory.

A butterfly was always what I wanted to turn into when I had anorexia. I felt like a trapped caterpillar or lava, unable to move, unable to breathe. I wanted to believe that I could form myself into a pupa or chrysalis, and then emerge freely as a butterfly ready to fly.

Ironically the process anorexics go through to recover from anorexia is similar to the metamorphisis of a butterfly.
The first step of the metamorphisis is simple -  an egg is laid upon a leaf, which the mother fly expects its offspring to be feeding off the most after it hatches. When it hatches a butterfly doesn't instantly emerge, rather the Larve aka caterpillar. For it's survival it must eat to grow so it can develope to its full capacitiy before it goes into its final stage of transformation - Pupa/chrysalis where the butterfly developes all the parts that distinguish it and turn it into a beautiful butterfly.

So... what does this have in common with anorexia? To some extent anorexia is mostly associated with an attempt to achieve perfect beauty, which in reality simply does NOT exist. Anorexics try and achieve this state by starving themselves, going through what you could choose to call a 'reverse metamorphisis', turning themselves from already beautiful in their own right, into a caterpillar trapped within its cocoon.

Anorexia engulfs you so much that you, as the person, have no other choice than to retract into a cocoon, because it feels safe and non-threatening, you are trapped within your own little world. The only way for a butterfly to break out of its cocoon is all tied up with how strong they are before entering their final transformation. If they haven't built the strength they need to break free while they are a caterpillar, the battle to emerge out of the cocoon will be all the more challenging.

The only way for me to get better was to go back yet another step in the metamorphisis process and let myself become a caterpillar, feeding on the things that would make me stronger, physically and emotionally, until I knew I had built the capacity to begin the positive process of my own metamorphisis, form myself back into the pupa to eventually breakfree as a butterfly would.

That process started in hospital, where my focus was on nothing other than to get better. For too long I stayed hidden in my 'safe' cocoon, letting anorexia feed me and continue to control me. Over time I grew weaker and I knew if I didn't change now I would never break out of the cocoon anorexia was trapping me in.
I was on a 'normal' ward in the Insel Spital in Bern, surrounded by children who could not alter the outcome of their illnesses, who didn't even have a choice about being sick. I could alter the outcome of my illness, I had a choice about being sick, and after too long it was time to poke my head out of the cocoon, even if not as a butterfly rather as a caterpillar, and actively begin to get stronger, even if that meant gaining weight.

The lighter you get, the more weight you lose through anorexia, the weaker your will to fight becomes. But in reverse, the more weight you gain the stronger you get and with that your will to fight strengthens too.
If you think about it, the more you starve yourself the harder it is to think on a rational level. I haven't done any detailed reasearch as yet, but malnourishment has been shown to lead to chemical imbalences, which is then also a trigger for depression. Once you start fueling properly again you start progressing to a state of equilibrium, when your body gets stronger your mind gets stronger and you can start thinking clearly again, you can start thinking as you not as anorexia.

With an incredible support network around me I began to form a new cocoon, one that I would enter with strength so I could emerge as that butterfly I had always invisaged. I stayed in that cocoon for a while, maybe too long, but I needed that time to continue to develope as a person, to let my body recover from the ordeal I had put it through.

Sometimes I feel like retracting back into that cocoon, but then I look around me and see the beauty of life. I can feel myself fluttering around freely, the way I had always dreamed of when I was trapped in the cocoon of anorexia.

A butterflies metamorphisis has four stages, which I have renamed to reflect what that process represents to me - GROWTH, CHANGE, LIBERY, BEAUTY.

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