Ruth Ayres hosts a weekly celebration on her blog. I appreciate this invitation to reflect on the positives of my week.
I used to think parenting trauma was like playing Whack-a-Mole, the carnival game where moles pop up through holes and you’re supposed to pound them with a club. You frantically pound and pound as one mole after another unpredictably pops up, but you can never win. Trauma behaviors are much the same way: as soon as you get one behavior managed, your child is on to something else.
Photo CC-BY Jeremy Yoder
But Whack-a-Mole is kind of a negative way of thinking about my son, so I’ve given that metaphor up.
Now my metaphor for parenting trauma is the movie Groundhog Day, which happens to be one of my favorite movies. I’m sorry, Gentle Reader, but we are still in the land of the negative metaphor: No matter how much progress you make on Monday, you’re waking up on Tuesday only to repeat the day you had on Monday. Sonny & Cher are forever going to be singing “I Got You Babe” as the alarm blares. All the good work of the day before is gone the next morning as fear takes over the brain again.
This was a week full of Groundhog Days. There were a couple of moments where we experienced what felt like real breakthroughs. Acceptance, integration, connection, coming to terms. What we’re working towards all the time. But then the reset button got pushed and by the next morning, it was like those breakthroughs had never happened.
But here’s the thing about that Groundhog Day metaphor. Each day, Bill Murray’s life may look the same on the outside as events repeat themselves, but every day he’s changing on the inside in ways that take us—and him—awhile to see. Change—healing—isn’t linear. It’s not progressive. It’s messy. It’s sometimes brutally ugly. Bill Murray’s character makes things much worse—for himself and for others– before he is able to start making things better.
It can be hard to stay the course when breakthroughs never feel like breakthroughs. What’s the point of getting excited about a smart insight or a choice to use a new coping strategy when tomorrow you’re going to be right back in the same muck you were in six months ago? But it turns out that’s all the more reason to fully feel, appreciate, and celebrate breakthroughs when they happen. I used to think a breakthrough in healing was the destination—a place to settle in and rest for awhile. Now I think it’s a signpost, marking the way, charting our journey. And I’m grateful for moments, even fleeting ones, that let me know something is changing inside.