by Janet J. Seahorn, Ph.D
Have you ever thought about lumpy gravy? Surely you’ve seen it, maybe even had to eat some of it. Most of us prefer our gravy to be smooth and thick, rich with the juices of the meat. So what has Lumpy Gravy got to do with PTSD? Everything! It is a pretty accurate metaphor of life and living with PTSD both as the sufferer and those closest to the pot.
Last night I got to thinking a lot about “Lumpy Gravy”. It all came about as Tony and I were making a turkey dinner for a friend recovering from ankle surgery. We were taking dinner over to him when we came into the dangerous territory of the Lumpy Gravy fiend. I had asked Tony to make the gravy for the meal. Unbeknownst to me, Tony had a very specific way in which he insisted on making HIS gravy. This entailed carefully putting in a handful of flour into the left over juices and stirring it until it was brown with a smooth texture before adding the extra water or milk to the mixture. However, I made the dastardly mistake of having too much liquid in the mixture. The only way to thicken with flour was to put it in a small jar filled with a bit of water, shake rigorously, and then add this concoction to the turkey drippings. As you may have now guessed, this was not the prescribed procedure. Tony responded by dumping a scoop of flour directly into the hot turkey drippings. Walla, BIG, white lumps of flour now floated proudly on top of the mixture almost taunting him saying, “You really messed this one up mister”.
Not a big deal to the normal gravy maker. But to Tony this was not acceptable. Seeing those lumpy, white, floating sprites of flour on top of the gravy was another clever way of the PTSD troll to appear. The remainder of the evening was consumed with hashing over the problem of who, why, what, and how we now had to endure “Lumpy Gravy”.
It sounds ridiculous to most people, even a bit hilarious. Something you might view on a TV sitcom. Yet, spending the evening with the “Lumpy Gravy” demon was not entertaining or fun. It was another darn opportunity to practice patience and understanding, which can wear quite thin on some days. After settling my own temper and trying desperately to hold my tongue, which is not easy or consistently successful, I remembered what Dr. Haug, (Tony’s VA therapist) had explained to me. Tony’s behavior wasn’t about “Lumpy Gravy” at all. It was about the need to do things right, to be accurate, to be correct in the operating procedure. If one was careless and procedures weren’t followed, the operation could be in peril. As trivial as it may seem, “Lumpy Gravy” was a failure in procedure.
So what does “Lumpy Gravy” have to do with Life or PTSD? It is a metaphor of living. Enjoying smooth days that offer a richness of texture and seasoning without too many major LUMPS.
When lumps do appear in a vat of hot gravy it is nearly impossible to whisk them away no matter how vigorously we might attack the mixture. About the best we can do is to remove as many lumps as possible and hope that the gravy is still consumable. Most important is to learn the lesson of what created that “Lumpy Gravy” and try to prevent inviting the demon to dinner too often.
Next time, I am opting to buy my gravy mixture in a jar, already prepared so all that is needed is to heat it in the micro. Bon appetite you “Lumpy Gravy” demon.