“Just when the caterpillar thought the world was over, it became a butterfly”
I had overcome a lot of things in my life and was constantly working on myself, but at 25 years old I still had so much work to do, and a long way to go, in terms of healing and learning to love myself. Today, I believe I will always be a work in progress- continuously moving forward to butterfly status. I’m quite happy with this journey of “becoming” because moving forward and resilience is a life-saver for people who fight a variety of mental health issues. It can also be the driving force to help others do the same. Who says you have to be a full-fledged butterfly – and then, what? – That’s it? I’m not a scientist, but I don’t think that butterflies have a very long life-span. I like to think of myself as “becoming” a butterfly – fully embracing my lowly caterpillar past, with the occasional trip and stumble over my many feet as I march relentlessly forward to the place I am now, with beautiful, albeit tattered wings. I love the four stages of a butterfly as a symbolic expression of evolving and self transformation. Like me, the butterfly is a dichotomy of fragility and strength, and because they represent transcending, they also represent the power we all have to choose the path of our destiny.
Having control of our destiny when we feel out of control most of the time is quite the challenge. I understand this more than most, since my destiny during the “egg” stage of my life was precariously placed in the hands of four different sets of foster parents, and then my adoptive parents. I was told later in life that my time in foster care was somewhat traumatic, which explains why (at the time) I was petrified of men, and of being left alone. It seemed to explain my fear of sudden loud noises and the dark, as well as the continuos crying and nervous rash that permanently resided on my face. It may also be the root of my bed wetting that went on much too long, that I sucked my thumb until college, and that I had “outbursts” that could scare a Marine drill sergeant.
In the caterpillar stage I was sexually abused by my next door neighbor for about a year. When my mom found out about it after reading what I wrote in an assignment pad that I hid in my room, she went through four stages of her own…but not in a good way. First: she didn’t believe me. Second: she was angry at me for writing it down – because in her mind, that meant that it was important to me or that I was proud of it in some way. Third: she said we would keep it a secret and that if my dad found out, he would most certainly kill my neighbor, and it would be my fault that my father was in jail. Fourth: She went on living her life in denial while I coped with anger, self-hate, and a myriad of other issues.
During that stage I was pretty caught up in trying to get others to love me, yet I did not love myself. On the outside I tried not to let it show, but inside, I felt a horrible smoldering hatred for myself that lurked in the shadowy darkness of my soul, threatening to expose me at any time with a blaze of fire. It’s a tough place to be when you are caught between hating yourself, and mistrusting anyone who shows that they love you, while simultaneously pushing those people away and wishing they would never leave you.
I worked on containing it- so that no one would see it, for if they did, they wouldn’t like me or what they saw in me. But the fire was there, and sometimes it would burn out of my control. My whole life I was told that I was crazy, and I often agreed.
I often imagined myself as an old lady, alone and destitute. I actually saw my future self in a bathrobe and slippers, shuffling through Discount Drug Mart on Christmas Eve – the crazy old lady getting her Ripple, and fiddling with the blood pressure machine, because she has no place else to be. This was a very real fear that I had. I was pretty sure that it would be a reality for me in my future.
I felt like I was a bad and ugly person who had a good heart – much like the very misunderstood- but still ugly – Frankenstein’s monster.
Just about everyone in my past has said that I was crazy. I knew I had some pretty manic highs and lows, but it still hurt when a boyfriend I just broke up with came over to my house and told my dad that “a room full of psychiatrists wouldn’t be able to figure out what was going on in Liz’s head.” It hurt when an ex-fiance stole my journal and used my inner-most thoughts against me, and as proof to the world that I was indeed crazy. He even talked to my therapist about it – and together – they decided that I was bipolar. I was never treated for bipolar disorder, and in fact, it was a misdiagnosis. During this time, I was in the cocoon stage, and believe me- a lot was going on in there! It’s amazing what you can do with so little if you work really hard at it!
During that time I overcame Bulimia and learned how to control my pre-menstral dysphoric disorder and PTSD through the power of fitness, and in particular, running. Along with a lot of hard work on myself and the desire to be happy, running was my ultimate therapy. It helped me sort through the churning thoughts and worries that plagued me. I have walked into many workouts feeling really bad, with the weight of the world on my shoulders and self-hate looming overhead, and every excuse not to run. I can honestly say that I have never walked away from a workout with those same dark feelings. The sweat seems to wash away the heaviness in my heart and on my mind, and replaces it with a joyful and light-hearted feeling of energy that I can’t wait to feel again after it fades away. Maybe this is why people get hooked on her ion? I will never know because the empowerment that I receive from running and crossing the finish line is the best high in the world to me. It keeps me coming back for more, so I can feel it again and again. It’s not the end- it’s the transcendence and the journey to the next one, and the control that I have to choose my own destiny.
Today I am 45 years old, and while certainly still prone to bouts of inexplicable sadness, anxiety and even anger – I am “becoming” and empowering others to do the same. This ceaseless stage is not perfect, but it’s a beautiful place to be.
Liz Ferro is the author of “Finish Line Feeling” and the Founder and Executive Director of Girls With Sole. She is also a Keynote/Motivational Speaker.
She has been featured on the NBC TODAY Show and in Family Circle Magazine.
She is the recipient of the 2014 SELF Women Doing Good Award; the 2012 Longines Women Who Make a Difference Award from Town & Country Magazine; the 2011 American Red Cross of Greater Cleveland Hero Award; and the 2011 Classic Woman Award from Traditional Home Magazine.
Recently, Liz launched the “50 States for Sole” campaign, and will be running a marathon in all 50 states to raise awareness and funds for Girls With Sole.