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DARVO, Radical Acceptance & The Butterfly

Updated: Mar 14, 2022

DARVO. It is the maddening cycle that undergirds the “crazy-making” of toxic individuals to the unfortunate souls on the receiving end. It is a brilliant and effective method at destabilizing and undermining the recipient while leaving this person dizzyingly questioning their own reality and sanity. Add in some institutional failures, C-PTSD and well, if this sounds like you, turn around, run, and run fast.

Of course, we all know running is not usually an option. Not unless you are able to go no contact. Most situations are not where we can run. They are where we co-parent, co-family, co-work, co-habitat, co-anything with another human being.

To experience this, is like having a thousand scalpels cutting through your body all at once, being on the ground, and bleeding while people around you are looking at the sky and commenting on the lovely day. Or better yet, they look at you with disdain and tell you to stop making such a mess. The reality is that to survive, you might have to let yourself be cut and sliced wide open. You might have to lay there bleeding. You might even have to bleed and feed those who thrive on your pain. If it sounds awful that’s because it is. Let’s be real.

In the last months of his life, when Ryan was at the NIH fighting melanoma, I took this picture of a whiteboard in the refreshment area. At the time I knew it was a powerful statement. I did not appreciate how powerful it really was, and how true.

This is what brings me to radical acceptance. Radical acceptance is a reframing in a way that you can navigate through the pain without destroying yourself. It is sitting with the pain and processing through, not moving into it. Opening yourself up, pulling the pain up, pulling it out, and letting it go, while breathing A LOT. It is not appropriate for every situation. But when it is, radical acceptance, is a true turning point.

The process is hard, maybe the hardest part of the whole journey. It means facing hard truths, the implications and ongoing consequences of those truths while grieving loss. The loss of dreams and the loss of very tangible, meaningful things. It’s not just the loss of the dream itself or the thing that is so painful. It’ is also the loss of the hope those dreams generated, the energy and identity that was encapsulated, and the corresponding self-worth. And finally, it is accepting that you never did have any control or ability to stop what was happening from happening. Not really. You are indeed powerless. Let go or be dragged.

The day I left a home that I had co-created, labored over, loved, and the only home the boys ever knew but where I was no longer safe, we decided to set butterflies free in the backyard. We had been watching and protecting these butterflies through their metamorphosis as part of a science project. While the tutor was explaining the whole process to the boys, she was also reminding me what happens during the pupa stage of a butterfly life cycle. “During this stage, the caterpillar's old body dies and a new body forms inside a protective shell known as a chrysalis.”(1)

In so many ways the process of radical acceptance is similar to this stage in a butterfly life cycle. Breaking down into the essential elements, the elements that really matter, not the elements that no longer do. Learning what your truth is, and how to follow the sun. It is a process of letting go what once was to transform into something new, unique, beautiful, strong, with wings.

That day, as I watched the butterflies carefully come out of their nest, fly into the flowers, then off into the sky, I looked down at the wonder and amusement of the boys and smiled. It was going to be a good day.


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