Why Life Really is Like a Butterfly

We have always been fascinated by the butterfly. The Victorians caught them in huge nets and pinned them under glass. They wore butterfly motifs as jewellery, in their hair and on their clothing. They believed that the butterfly symbolised the soul.

For as long as we’ve told each other stories, poems and painted pictures, the butterfly has been a powerful metaphor for change and for the different stages of life. And as I struggle with the reality of hitting fifty, I’ve been trying to channel my inner butterfly.

In a recent interview about her decision to enter politics for the first time at the age of 53, Rachel Johnson said The departure of oestrogen from the system means you don’t care whether the trainers are white or there’s milk in the fridge. I feel a woman’s fifties are her time.

I’m coming across increasing numbers of incredible women in their fifties and sixties who, rather than slide gently towards retirement, are re-inventing themselves, metamorphosing, finding their wings and starting a whole new third act.

Just when the caterpillar thought her life was over, she began to fly.


Reflecting back on my forties, I see it as the decade of the caterpillar. I was exhausted by keeping all those little legs moving. My life felt, in many ways, very small – revolving around children, schools and home. I didn’t move – physically or mentally – very far from my leaf.

During those years, I also started to self-medicate with rather a lot of wine, wrapping silent threads around myself, which felt like a warm, comforting cocoon at the time, but turned out to be a straight-jacket.

Shrugging off that cocoon isn’t easy. However restrictive it feels, it’s what you know – it’s your comfort zone. And you have no idea what’s on the other side. Maybe you’ll discover wings, or maybe it’s just a leap off a high branch to certain death.

“How does one become a butterfly?” she asked pensively. “You must want to fly so much that you are willing to give up being a caterpillar.”

Trina Paulus

What I discovered was that the tough times I went through in my forties – the struggle with addiction and then, at the age of forty-six, with cancer, were the experiences that helped to build those wings. And now, as I hit fifty, my children are more independent and I’m not such a slave to my home and my hormones and I, like Rachel Johnson, feel ready to fly.

“We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty.”

Maya Angelou

So I was interested to learn from Chris Packham, presenter of Springwatch, that the butterfly can remember being a caterpillar. (Don’t ask me how he managed to work this out).

This blew my mind. And at first it bothered me. Why would the butterfly want to remember the crawling years? All the endless munching of leaves. All those legs. Surely you’d want to leave all that behind you?

Then I realised that there is no fun in having wings unless you can remember what it’s like to be tied to the ground.

As I enter my fifties, I am planning to fly. And to always feel grateful for being able to.

There’s lots more on the Life in the Hot Lane Facebook Page, including Throwback Thursday (what was your favourite childhood pudding? Angel Delight? Arctic Roll?) and a fabulous article on why menopause is freedom by Eva Wiseman. ‘Like’ the page to stay updated.

For more on the addiction years and what happened next, read my memoir, The Sober Diaries.

4 thoughts on “Why Life Really is Like a Butterfly

  1. Thank you for this wonderful essay! It’s just the morning for me to read it…I’ve gone on the computer before work looking for the inspiration I need badly today to break out of mine, and here it was in my inbox. I’m halfway through your memoir and just looked up your blog this weekend. Long journey ahead but looking forward to it. Thank you, thank you.


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