The Big A-ha!

‘Tis the season to watch It’s a Wonderful Life, or maybe to see a version of A Christmas Carol (yes that’s Patrick Stewart ca 1999), and to marvel at how much change one pivotal night can make in a life.

I enjoy these tales of transformation, and I’ve enjoyed writing a few too. Nevertheless, part of me thinks the big a-ha makes for good entertainment, while real life is more often a matter of nigh imperceptible evolution (like cleaning my house).

I can though, recall some pivotal moments in therapy. When I faced unplanned motherhood, I began what was to become five straight years of weekly therapy. This was back before for-greed health care, and how I wish every new parent had support like that for even fifty minutes a week. One day after a few years of sessions, my therapist casually (hah!) observed, “So I guess nobody showed you how to do stuff when you were kid?”

I thought for a moment. “My brother Tom showed me how to tie my shoelaces.” Two bunny ears… I couldn’t think of any other situation where I’d been overtly instructed in the home. In that instant, I realized why I’d become an enthusiastic baker at age seven: A recipe tells you how to make something. Every ingredient, how much, what order, and how to mix them… detailed instructions. What a concept. Sheet music works the same way–it’s laid out in black and white, note for note.

Parents on constant, profound overwhelm don’t have the luxury of explaining much of anything to small children. Oh.

I saw a kinder perspective from which to view my parents and my own general distrust of authority. I got a clue as to another way I might be a helpful mother. I realized part of why music theory had such strong appeal for me. All from one simple question.

But that epiphany rested on a carefully built foundation of trust, courage, and truth. My therapist was brilliant at reflective listening, and she probably tossed out a hundred leading questions for every insight I eventually gained. I recall those moments, but I also recall that she showed up for me, week after week, and let me wander, mosey, barrel or backslide toward my issues, without any judgment on her part.

The insights are great to have, but the more profound gift was that slow, solid, unremarkable building of a positive relationship. That example did more to fortify me as a single mother, a woman, and a person than all the clever questions or big insights that also came out of the relationship.

Miss Devoted by Grace BurrowesDo have you had “life-changing moments,” or does change tend to come over you in gradual increments? Pretty soon, I will have ARCs of Miss Devoted, and I’ll draw some names from among this week’s commenters.

I’m giving myself a couple weeks hiatus from this blog, but will be back after the first of year, when Lady Violet Says I Do goes live on the retail sites! Happy holidays, bloggin’ buddies, and see you again in 2023!



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24 comments on “The Big A-ha!

  1. Hope you heave a wonderful holiday, and visit with your sister. Wishing you all the best for the new year. I enjoy this blog and love your books – keep them coming.

  2. Wishing you a vacation in the truest sense, Grace.

    I’ve had aha moments, epiphanies, and some slow gradual learning. “On the summit of Mount Sinai, on the road to Santiago, God does not stand any closer or speak any louder. But we listen better.” (Martin Palmer) And sometimes it’s been a chance remark from a stranger.

    I wish I had “the tongue of men and of angels” to wish you all a serene winter season, but I’ll leave that to Grace!

  3. I’m definitely a small incremental change kind of person, Unless it’s something like the abrupt onset of a devastating health issue a few years ago, or when a hurricane leveled our house in 2019.
    But for most stuff- slow and steady.
    And thank god for therapy, huh?! God bless all the therapists out there helping us all

  4. Enjoy your hiatus!
    I have, for sure, had some AHa!Moments in my life.
    The easiest for me to recall is one I don’t want to mention because I don’t want to be “the disease lady”.
    But, I can condense it all to say I realized it’s not 100% all my fault (and that goes for many things in my life.)
    But, was the ‘AHa” incremental? Yes… I think it was but also built on many, many comments/discussions with friends.

    Happy Holidays!

    • My awareness of institutional injustice was incremental, and it’s still growing. So many things we think are “our” fault, that we’re supposed to struggle, consume, and bootstrap our way out of, are the result of a stacked deck. Maybe it’s genetics, social bias, contaminated ground water, geography, the time of year you were born (children young for their class are more likely to be labeled learning disabled or a discipline problem), or your height, but in many situations, we’re up against a lot of factors we don’t control.

  5. I’m not sure how to answer since I’m not terribly introspective. I’m introverted and live in my head but not investigating me so much as other things. Also, at my age, I have so many memories that I can’t really remember whether something happened as an “aha” or developed slowly. It mostly seems like the important stuff has just been around a while. It’s kind of like a survey asking when I first started reading your books. I do remember why (the library had a copy of “the Traitor” and I recognized the lovely Jon Paul artwork on the cover, and the blurb sounded interesting) and I remember then getting all of your books that the library had and devouring them because I like your voice and your writing and your worlds, even when the subject/theme is difficult (as it was in “the Traitor” and its fellow books). I still look forward to your new books.
    I wish you and your family and my fellow posters the best of holidays and I wish for all of us a better 2023!

  6. I hope you enjoy your off time!

    I will say that with me, change comes in increments. Sometimes it can be described by the Serenity Prayer – “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.”

    I spent a lot of time trying to change things I had no control over.

    Eventually I figured out that all I could control was myself, specifically how I responded.

  7. When I was very young? I don’t recall how I learned to dress myself & stuff like that. I don’t specifically remember learning to do my chores either. Surely didn’t learn by trial & error. I do remember learning to plant and tend a garden. I also remember watching my dad build stuff but not participating… then of course the teachers came along.

  8. One “ah ha” moment I recall (which should have been totally obvious) was when I was happily pregnant with my first child, counting the days until the end of the not fun pregnancy symptoms, it suddenly occurred to me that the birth was merely the beginning, not the end! Duh!!! For a fairly intelligent person, I can be pretty obtuse sometimes! Happy holidays everyone! Stay safe, stay well!

  9. I really feel this- “she probably tossed out a hundred leading questions for every insight I eventually gained”! I need that companion to the slow and steady process genre of therapist for certain, I’ve had others where I felt pushed out of the nest and that didn’t go great, though I am sure that is the help some folks need. It’s a job I could never do, but I am grateful there are those who excel at it.

    Have a lovely Holiday Season and enjoy your sister’s visit!

  10. I believe that we all have the capacity for these a-ha moments. some of us were forced by necessity to ignore our inner voices of wisdom, when other needs (safety) took priority. for those folks it takes real work, often in therapy, to make space to hear them.

    For others, it’s easier, and they just need conditions to be ideal – the eye in the storm, or a life change, like a birth or death.

    I’m glad you had access to weekly therapy and a supportive therapist! For those who have tried it and still felt stuck: please don’t give up, you deserve to thrive. I highly recommend seeking a therapist experienced with Internal Family Systems therapy.

  11. I plod along asking myself questions, like “why” when I’m needing to figure something out. After my sister’s death at age 23, I was angry and often ranted at God. I was in a rant and asking “why” when the answer came to me. It took two years to get the answer.

  12. Generally speaking, people are complex beings. It helps to have insight into our problems, but it’s not always clear how the different parts of one’s life can benefit. We have to put in the thought and effort over time to make meaningful changes happen.
    However, I also believe that one great flash of insight can be a catalyst for improving one’s life, especially if the insight relates to many facets of a person’s existence. Your therapist’s remark “So I guess nobody showed you how to do stuff when you were kid?” appears to be this sort of catalyst.

  13. Hi Grace,

    Hope your holidays were lovely! And with any luck 2023 will be a better year for all of us.

    Sometimes the aha is immediate and sometimes it is like a river. My sympathies on a family that didn’t teach you much, I had one of those, it leaves you struggling. But the best revenge is to succeed and live well.

    I am looking forward to the new books.