Every time I open my refrigerator, I come nose to nose with a dream. It’s got a little magnet on the back, and when I unpacked in this new place I stuck it on the refrigerator for the time being. I keep forgetting to relocate it. Or do I?
I bought the Swarovski crystal butterfly nearly ten years ago, shortly before I graduated with my counseling degree. I loved how its wings were almost the blue of glacier ice, a color that has always spoken to me spiritually. It wasn’t just a pretty knickknack to me: few graduate students have an extra hundred dollars to throw around, so buying it was an unusual indulgence on my part. I bought it for a very specific purpose: it was going to be the first decoration in the psychotherapy office I wanted to have someday. Perched in the upper corner of a window, it would be a flash of color and whimsy among the sensible furniture and cerebral bookshelves.
It would watch over a room where dangerous truth gets told; where rules ingrained from childhood get broken. It would bear witness to pain, and to love, and to the difficult birth of trust. My eyes would alight upon it when I looked up from paperwork or study between sessions; clients might notice it and even assign their own meaning to it.
In his poem “A Raisin in the Sun,” Langston Hughes asks “What happens to a dream deferred?” In the case of my butterfly, the dream flits around the corners of my life, darting into view now and then. In its current conspicuous spot, its azure crystal wings sharply contrasted with the surrounding white, it asks me the same unapologetic question over and over again.
Beauty and patience deserve an honest answer. But it’s a painful conversation to have. What can I really say? “Hey, I know I promised you were going to live in the office of a really cool psychotherapist, but I thought I’d become a mental patient and drug addict instead?”
Many of my good dreams are re-emerging as I grow in my recovery. I have every reason to hope that if I continue on this path, my education and training will serve worthwhile purposes and help me have some fulfilling work. But the truth–the cleanly cut, crystalline truth–is that my butterfly does represent a very specific dream that is gone. I’m not the person who dreamed about that particular practice. I’ve accepted that my personality and my mental health challenges make me unsuited to the long-term depth psychotherapy I had dreamed of doing when I coveted those crystal wings. I’m much more suited to shorter-term work, group practices, teaching, or types of work I need to evolve for myself.
Maybe those wings need to stay in plain sight until I learn to be at peace with them. I want to learn to look at my butterfly and feel good about it. I want to let go of regret, shame and insecurity and let this lovely thing represent the joy and worth of dreaming. I want to feel only love for that eager graduate student who pointed it out in the glass case. She wasn’t wrong, and I haven’t betrayed her. She was right to pick a dream and get excited enough to do something in celebration of it.