Like a butterfly out of hell

Sure, sure, I know all about bats out of hell. I’m just telling you I spent a fair amount of time in a metaphorical hell, and I found it to be a perfectly well-suited place for a transformation.

I grew up smelling the brimstone of hell. Hell never seemed like a cartoony idea to me. It was as tangible the creek down the road from our house and the church building we visited three times each week. My understanding was that if I didn’t believe and do the right things, I’d be sent there -- a literal pit full of an unquenchable fire -- to burn for eternity. Hell as a possible destination was part of my psychic scenery. 

When I realized well into my adulthood that my belief system didn't know a metaphor from a hole in the ground, it occurred to me that I’d been living already in the only version of hell that matters: the one we make for ourselves here on earth. 

I spent plenty of time wandering around a metaphorical desert as I divested myself of fundamentalist beliefs and then extricated myself from the underlying patterns too (the need for certainty, the impulse to place blame, the either-or thinking, that kind of thing). I found my way out of religion. Or, as I sometimes say, I lost my religion but found my soul. 

That last part took a while, too, because letting myself believe something again felt just as perilous as letting go of those original beliefs. I had to figure out what to believe and then, just as importantly, how to believe. In more ways than one. How to let the idea of belief back in, how to accept hope back into my life -- I spent plenty of time feeling ashamed of how long I’d been a fundamentalist, and I didn’t want to replicate anything from my former life -- and, then, how to hold those beliefs. Not tightly, not rigidly, not just in my head and heart. 

Anyway, then I flew away, oh glory, just like that gospel song says, but to a better version of my life right here on this planet.

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I spent part of my time in the metaphorical desert in a chrysalis. It takes time for that kind of change to coalesce. It takes both wandering and resting. That's how I got my wings. I know butterfly imagery is so pervasive as to seem trite, but here’s why I love it: 

A butterfly hasn’t converted from caterpillar-like to butterfly-like beliefs; she has become a butterfly. She doesn’t believe in wings; she has them. She doesn’t rue the day she roamed the earth as a caterpillar or rested in the chrysalis; that’s just how she got here.

So I’m out here fluttering about now, doing my thing. Like, you know, a butterfly out of hell.

(Here’s a map I made of the unconversion terrain.)

Illustration by Mike Capozzola.