I had never been able to grow anything, even though my father was known for his green thumb. My Dad could take the scraggliest plant and transform it into a thriving green wonder. I had always been fascinated with his knack for it, but try as I might, it just never seemed to work for me. 

At the age of thirty, I got my first house. I loved having a place that I could decorate at will. I did everything I could to make it feel like a home. My Dad had always had these little miniature nick-nacks that I thought were amazing, so I bought some too.  I set the place up so anyone who came over just assumed there was a female involved in the set-up. It took a few months to get the place just as I wanted it. Even then, it was in a constant state of alteration.

Soon after I moved in a friend bought me a house plant (spider plant) as a house warming gift. When she handed it to me I snickered and said, “What’s this poor plant ever done to you that would make you want to kill it?” We had a few laughs about how I had destroyed plants but when we were finished with our visit, she left it with me anyway. 

A few months later the plant was thriving and I had come to love it. I started buying more and before you knew it my entire front porch was covered with these wonderful hanging baskets. Everyone that visited was taken by their beauty and how well they were doing. 

Eventually, I had done all I could with the porch and started in the yard. ‘Flowers!’ I began with lots of color, another of my Dad’s strong points. As I began to shop for the perfect flowers, I noticed on many of them were tags stating, ‘butterfly attractor’. I had never considered the possibility of also having butterflies. 

A whole new obsession unfolded and my lawn became covered with butterfly attractors. Months passed and I had not seen one butterfly anywhere on the property. My resentment with the nurseries started to bloom. ‘How could they be so mis-leading?’ I was committed to the idea of my own butterfly garden and wanted to know how to have one. 

I went to the local bookstore and found the book, “How to Build a Butterfly Garden”, a small book that went into great detail on how to accomplish this task. I learned straight away that a ‘butterfly attractor’ does not necessarily equate to a butterfly garden. 

As I read, I became fascinated with the life-cycle of the butterfly. The most important thing I learned was that every species of butterfly typically only has one type of plant that they can lay their eggs on. The most common of course, the Monarch, can only lay their eggs on a milkweed, but the Viceroy and the Queen also only lay their eggs on a milkweed. 

For the Zebra Long Wing and the Julia butterflies, I bought Passion Flower vines. For the Pollydamus and the Dutchman Pipevine Swallowtale butterflies,I bought Dutchmn’s Pipevine plants.

Watching a butterfly lay an egg that becomes this microscopic caterpillar, the Cat, which then devours my plants, only to eventually molt itself into a chrysalis and become dormant for anywhere from a week to a couple of months and then emerge as this magnificent thing of absolute beauty, was simply amazing, miraculous! Watching the process in the twenty some years since, has never gotten old.

I have learned of all the predators that a butterfly has in its process of going from the egg to the chrysalis and have therefore learned to build hatcheries for them. This way, I can move the caterpillars from the plant into safety. 

Observing the lifecycle of the butterfly has taught me so much. I have been a recovering addict/alcoholic for more than thirty years. The correlation between the addict’s process of going from the active addict to the recovering addict is nothing short of a miracle in itself. With any addiction it is said that the addicted person is consumed with selfish and self-centered fear. Out of their fear of never having what they need, they take whatever it is they think they need while simultaneously, leaving disaster in their wake. (Like the caterpillar destroying the plants it lives off of.) 

In order for the addict to begin their recovery process, they usually have to reach the common ground of realizing, ‘I’ve had enough.’ Then and only then they seek help; an equivalent to the caterpillar finally hanging itself upside down to molt into a chrysalis. Within that chrysalis is where the transformation occurs. I like to think that in there the caterpillar is facing its darker, limited self, like a recovering addict does by doing their inner work to heal. 

Once the butterfly emerges from the chrysalis, it is no longer destroying to survive. It becomes a giver, instead, moving from plant to plant, pollenating as it goes.  

How similar this is to the recovering alcoholic/addict.  While in their addiction, the addict takes and destroys, but in their recovery process, they learn to give and now have the potential to become the beautiful human beings they were meant to be. 

In stressful times, raising butterflies, taking care of their plants, protecting the caterpillars, has helped me stay connected to something much bigger than myself and keeps me grounded. I could never say enough about the effect it has had on my healing.

Although I have been in twelve-step recovery and a student of A Course in Miracle for many years, I am still within the chrysalis, becoming. I am not the completed work of art but I believe that we are ALL meant to become that butterfly.

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