Progress as Promised

Three years ago, I put out a post which included the words to one of my favorite fake country songs.

Driving down the road I saw a sign / and understood its meaning from the start

The way it told my own sad story / I ought to wear that sign upon my heart.

Closed for repairs . . . Closed for repairs. . . My heart is breaking and nobody cares.

Somebody lied. . . Somebody cried. . . Now my heart is closed for repairs.

That post came in my list-all-the-things-about-which-I’m-not-complaining phase.  I grew beyond it, stumbling, bumbling, groping my way through a forest of weeds towering above my head and choking in the fetid air.

Now another highway sign flashes past:


How do I know?

Here’s a symbol —-


Now what, you ask, does this photograph of my somewhat grimy stove, a cast iron pan, a wooden spoon, and the little hot pad for the pan’s handle reveal about my progress?

Patience, my friends.  Patience.

For those of you who skim these entries, I’ll explain that my father was what we used to call an Irish Catholic Alcoholic.  That’s the kind that drinks all evening, wakes up hung over, might or might not drag himself to a job, and certainly has little inhibition when it comes to kicking the dog, smacking the kids, or punching his wife around.  (Don’t feel sorry for me; I’m just reminding you of the background for this story.)

Until very recently, the sight of anything combustible on or near a burner filled me with dread.  I’d scurry over, chide whoever left the offending object within flammable range, and grab the whole lot and toss it in the sink.  I’d check the knobs, grumble, raise my voice, and shudder in fear.

I recently learned that one of the neuro-biological impacts of trauma, especially early childhood trauma, is the proclivity to respond to perceived danger in exactly the same way as one responds to actual danger.  When I scolded my son, spouse, or visitor for leaving the towel near the stove, with raised voice and ugly scowl, I over-reacted because of the impact of seeing flames rise from my mother’s stove and creep along the kitchen wall.

My father would forget a hot pad, or a coffee pot, or a cloth towel, in his haste to roar at someone who had dared to cross his path.  I’d stand in helpless terror as the fire grew.

Did it happen once?  Twice?  A half dozen times?  Or never, except in my horrified imagination?  I can’t say.  But I believe that it happened, and more than once.  Certainly, the chaos in our home had its devastating impact on my neuro-biology.  The rerouting of my neuro-pathways  plunged my brain straight to a level of alertness designed to keep a small child safe from unknown harms.

My outrage at the seemingly careless abandonment of cooking utensils has frustrated more than one of my household members over the last forty years.  I get that; and I dearly wish that I could apologize to each one of them.

However, I still feel victorious.

When I walked into the kitchen to wash my breakfast plate today, I stood in front of the stove, studying the tableau.  Huh, I thought to myself.  Maybe I’ve made progress after all.

It’s the twenty-eighth day of the forty-third month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

One thought on “Progress as Promised

  1. Joyce Kramer

    How very interesting. Childhood trauma can lead to people responding to a perceived threat as if it were an actual one. That sure does explain the behavior of many people that I have met and most likely myself.


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