10/10/2014 11:31 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

The Warrior and the Butterfly: A Stranger Reminds Me Who I Am

October is a month of harvest, and what better time than now to reap the benefits of reflection. I've been reflecting upon something deeply personal that slashes right to the heart of my spirit -- something detected by and brought to my attention by a total stranger.

Last week I received a special gift in the mail. All wrapped up in a shimmery gold jewelry box was a chain affixed with the letter W accompanied by a lovely butterfly pin. "Dearest Darah," the hand-written note began, "You are a warrior, but do not lose the butterfly."



The hair on my arms stood on end. I knew instinctively what that meant.

Anyone who knew me "pre-domestication" would attest to how much I sought -- even craved -- adventure. I had an insatiable yearning to explore the unknown, remain untethered to anything or anybody and await my next "foreign" fix.

A month after marrying, my husband and I ventured off to an eclectic little beach town in his native Costa Rica with $5,000 in our pocket and a business plan. One year later at age 30, I first became a mother. Shortly thereafter, we were presented with an opportunity too good to pass up so with newborn in tow, we set off to pioneer new terrain in Panama.

In Panama, I became a mother again at age 32, 33, and with a brain already turned to oatmeal, twice more at 35 and 37. I'd seen the world, studied and worked hard, and had evolved into a confident woman. I believed I was ready to embrace this all-encompassing role of "Mama."

Yet despite the deeply gratifying moments of domesticity and motherhood over the years, the butterfly remained repressed...

In 2008, circumstances forced us to migrate back to South Florida with five little kids to take care of. A litany of hardships had befallen us set off with my diagnosis of a brain tumor while pregnant with my fourth and shocking suicide of my youngest brother. Such adversity persisted for seven straight years and threatened to destroy us physically, financially, and emotionally. I penned a memoir about our tribulations and gradually stumbled into a new career -- one born from tragedy. It's been profoundly rewarding to be able to inspire others to tackle their own crises with a fresh optic. Admittedly, it's even more fulfilling to be able to pursue a passion outside the confines of motherhood.

Luckily, this one astute reader heard the muted voice wafting in the background while reading my story. She snapped me back to my senses -- to the reality of who I once was before my identity became enmeshed with six other people whose clothes I launder daily. She reminded me not to neglect the vibrant butterfly trapped inside -- the one that yearns to flutter about freely and blissfully, and the one that developed inside me for three decades prior to becoming a mother.

Releasing our inner butterfly isn't easy. It takes guts and grit. It also takes confidence and honesty, and requires a willingness to listen to the quiet longings of the heart. And once enlightened, it's up to us to take action toward the rediscovery of our true self.

In my case, I'd intentionally clipped my butterfly's wings, allowing only the mighty spirit of the warrior to carry my family and me through life's roughest currents.

But, no more. For me, true joy is attained when the warrior (powerhouse wife and caretaker), and the butterfly (lost and forgotten artist, dabbler, and wanderlust-seeker) peacefully co-exist. Both creatures are part of who I am -- both an expression of my soul's desires. And, I am forever grateful to this complete stranger for helping me find my way back home.