Joi Donaldson is a 10x published author, sexuality professional, mental health advocate and all-around creative. Her coaching and recovery platform Sacral Ground seeks to outline the intersections of sexual trauma, sexual reclamation and all the emotions in between. She has bylines with Blk Crwn, Raising Mothers and Midnight & Indigo.
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“Stability Over Butterflies”
When I first started my love affair with the Smithsonian museums in 2013, I wanted to be surrounded by the butterflies. The Butterfly Pavillion, nestled within the National Museum of Natural History, housed thousands of butterfly species. In one exhibit for an allotted time, you could stand amidst the creatures. And I wanted to be enveloped; overtaken by them like some X-Men whose superpower is butterfly enmeshment. The people I once took these yearly trips with left me to my nerdy devices. They knew I was in my sweet spot and to let me wander and daydream in peace. For me, butterflies have always represented the triumph after the storm. How you look after dissolving into something unrecognizable and daring to fly out the other side. When it comes to love, I counted on those butterflies to steer me in the right direction. Yet every time, I found my Monarch dashed against a stone, and me back in my cocoon.
Tracy Clayton recently repeated this line on the podcast, Back Issue: “…it makes me so sad that there are people who don’t know that accountability and mutual respect and apologizing and amending your behavior. These are things that real, true, substantial love is characterized by, not from making bad decisions that are going to make you resent him and her and your children and your family and all this other stuff. That’s not anything substantial and, what’s the word? Stable. Yes, that’s the word. Stability over butterflies. Friends and family. This is where I am in my therapy journey, and that shit is so hard. It’s so hard.”
Her words shot a bolt through me. In all my daydreaming and in every romantic film I devoured when I was younger, I was taught to trust the butterflies. To give in to the goosebumps and fluttering happening within me. Only then will I know that what I’m experiencing is real. But what if it isn’t? What if the sensors are broken? Or, that this main sensation shouldn’t be the only feeling we follow.
One of the many lessons 2020 dealt to me is that love isn’t enough. Love on its own cannot form a stable foundation. It’s a fact that broke down my little dreamhouse of butterfly whimsy. We may try – surrounding ourselves with beautiful, soft whispers, cotton-candy kisses and pillow talk – but when we reach deeper for something fuller and substantial, we tend to pull back hazy rays of nothing. We aren’t to blame; the roots of what true love feels like run deep. Every sitcom, Disney and/or Pixar movie, rom-com tells us to trust the butterflies over our gut instinct. To dip those red flags until they’re candy-coated. What help does whimsy bring when the floor on which I stand is flimsy? Love is a force, an action, an intention. Mutual support, admiration, respect feels more like kicking tires versus carefree love. That’s on purpose, and most of us don’t like that. Because we want the fantasy. And not to be a downer, but oftentimes the fantasy can do more harm than good.
The love I’ve known has been mysterious, flighty, soaring me just high enough to ensure my feet had left the ground before I had time to brace for the drop. It swept through, starving, eager to prove itself to its own ego. Whatever happened to me in the melee was of my own doing, because how could I have not seen past the mirrors engulfed in smoke? Love became painful and self-sacrificing, a race I ran with myself to prove my worthiness with knees swollen after begging to be let down easy this time. I teetered between nihilism, bitterness, torment, resentment for love that never existed. So I tore the monument down. The last two sticks of self-love I rubbed together set the old house ablaze and I started anew. In my journal, I began to write out what “stability over butterflies” means to me; my new foundation of love. It reads first and in part:
“Radical self-love. Intense acceptance of my every wrong, every right, my slip-ups, hang-ups, my triumphs, my lessons, all of me and still be ready and able to say ‘I love you still’”.
Deconstructing love via butterflies starts with unpacking every false narrative, putting them on the table and digging out the truths that have been blocked from reaching the surface. Really discover which truths are yours and which narratives you’ve adopted that never belonged to you. This can feel like stomping on the things you’ve come to love; like ending a dream before it became reality. What I seek to do here is not rip off the bandaid but instead do my best to avoid any more cuts going forward.
When outside opens fully and the panoramic is gone, I hope to meet the butterflies. Only this time, ten-toes-down and stable.
3 Questions I asked Joi….
1. What artistic thing did you discover during quarantine?
I discovered Black girls redecorating their rooms on YouTube! It’s been my saving grace, self-care and a means to try out new artful things. My workspace has become more creative and my mind is freer to wander.
2. Who deserves all the awards right now and why?
Anyone who can master all these new TikTok dances. The intricacy. The artistry. The elegance!
3. What food shows up on the Thanksgiving table that has no business being there?
Who the heck put this mac and cheese with raisins in my presence?!