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In EMDR, Butterfly Sends Away Moth : Good-bye, Death


Here is Moth Baby, my colored pencil drawing, 1997. The feathery antennae, the bulky body, wings folded, no legs, pink face of a human baby. The lines across her segmented body mirror the stitch-marks of my scar from my surgery at 26 days old for pyloric stenosis, a stomach blockage. For me, moths have always been a symbol of death. Before the surgery, I was slowly losing life as my body weight slipped from 6 pounds, 7 ounces to 4 pounds. Death was having its way with me.

Recently, I opened a magazine, and to my horror, a huge image of a moth greeted me. I stared in shock, unable to breathe. Instantly, I knew it was a trigger and that I had to wand it in EMDR therapy (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing). The image on the page had completely unnerved me. In fact, every time I opened the magazine to that insect, I freaked. That moth was out to get me.

I remembered a series of moth poems I wrote in 1995 while I was practicing Middendorf Breathwork, a somatic bodywork in which one comes to know the allowed breath–not the willed breath or the autonomic breath that just happens and sustain us–but the conscious breath. I was coming to understand why my breath had always been so shallow. And in my poem “The Imagined Escape of the Moth,” I tried to free myself.

There is a moth

heavy on my chest

a giant white moth


by a spider’s silk

wrapped shut, but struggling

the moth

constricts my breathing

presses my lungs flat.


This moth

dead insect almost

part of me

since birth

my self-image

crushing me

keeping me



partly successful

almost there.


This moth

longs to fly off.

When she does

I will breathe deep

a butterfly

will emerge that has been concealed

a giant orange butterfly

each wing

a breast

a lobe of lung

fluttering free into new life.


After fourteen poems in this series that year, the moth still hadn’t flown.

Over twenty years later in EMDR therapy, I open the magazine to the picture of the moth. Instant distress in my chest. Panic. The wanding begins. The process is quite complex. After 30-40 back and forths of the wand, my therapist checks in with me, and I report the internal story that unfolded as my brain regrouped. During the seventh or so wanding, a moth flies to me and hovers, its body that of a human baby. It asks me to fly off with it into death. I grin and shake my head no. Go away, I tell the moth. I’m going to live. As I say these words, I am not angry. I am clear-headed and powerful, communicating my decision. No.  The moth flies off. A beautiful butterfly with buttery orange wings and a happy human baby as its body hovers. The fear of death is gone.

After the session, sitting in my car, I look at the picture of the moth again and smile. It is innocent. It is itself, a sacred creation. I am no longer haunted by it. I am curious–about the moth and about my new life, my future. I pen a new poem.