Monday, July 20, 2009

On destuckifying

"Destuckification" is a term Havi Brooks uses to describe the process of moving beyond harmful patterns and hurt:

Destuckification is about the willingness to meet yourself where you are.

Even if where you are in that moment is not being able to get out of bed and do the thing already.

Even if where you are in that moment is not being able to sit with it.

Even if where you are in that moment is not being able to thank your pain for being there to teach you.

And if you can’t meet yourself where you are yet?

You recognize (or remind yourself) that this is okay too. That you’re practicing. That you are allowed to hate it. That you can take your time getting to the point where you’ll be able to implement some concept that you’ve learned.

Havi's recent post "Destuckifying a Hurt" provides seven initial steps for beginning to move through and past hurt.

A lot of people are hurting a lot more deeply than I am, of course, but I'm finding the method enlightening for working through my own issues with having a Ph.D. in the humanities and not being on the tenure track. (Because my readers know that earning a Ph.D. in the humanities and not landing a t-t job = FAILURE. I know this because Ph.D. students in many programs aren't trained to do anything but assume a t-t position and because waaaaay too many of my friends have been asked by senior faculty "Why are you getting a Ph.D. if you're not planning to teach?")

Even though I turned in my dissertation almost three years ago, and even though my t-t job market failures are a couple years behind me, I find I'm still holding on to that person I was supposed to be, the lit-savvy, slender American studies professor who is finishing her first book in the office of her affordable early 20th-century home in a charming small town anchored by an elite liberal arts college.

Um, yeah. Her.

Instead, I'm inhabiting a parallel universe, one where I counsel folks on teaching, teach regularly but not exclusively, and am subject to the whims of the California state budget and the UC bureaucracy. I like my work an awful lot, but I'm still plagued by the feeling that it's not quite what I'm supposed to be doing--as if I'm either supposed to be running a teaching center elsewhere or I'm supposed to stay in this lovely town but do something else.

So I'm destuckifying. Have been for some time, I know--evidence all my casting about for jobs and careers--but now I'm going to be more deliberate about it. I need to massage all the muscles knotted up to protect an old injury, then stretch them and get them used to new kinds of exercise.

Accordingly, I'm slowing down again, letting myself work more thoughtfully through the first three steps of Havi's:

1. You give yourself permission to be hurt.

You just stop and acknowledge what a hard thing this is — and you remind yourself that it’s natural and normal that this would hurt so much.

This is the most important step. And it’s hard.

So if you can’t give this situation permission to just be awful, that’s completely understandable. If you’re not there yet, that’s okay.

Maybe you can start with trying to giving yourself permission to not be able to let it be awful, and see if that starts to loosen things up a little.

2. Acknowledge how big it is.

It’s really easy (and tempting) to go straight into “I should really be over this already” and “why is this still such a big issue?”

Not so helpful.

It is a big deal. It is your big hurt.

So remind yourself:

“Even though I really just want to be over this already, I’m taking a moment to notice how much pain and grief I have from this hurt. No wonder I’m having trouble with this. There is a lot here.”

3. Notice things.

You’re going for mindful, compassionate noticing as opposed to noticing-and-making-judgments or just observing.

Definitely check out her post and blog if you've been working through something for a while but find yourself stuck.


Unknown said...

I think that destuckifying is what I've been doing for the past few months. I've acknowledged that I'm not where I thought I would be and that it sucks to not be there. I wanted a lot more out of life in many ways--a bigger house, a better job, fame and fortune generally. :) But I got a lot that I wanted too: a great husband, two great kids, good friends (you among them!). Not everything is perfect, but it's pretty good, and I find myself focusing on the good things more often.

I just saw a posting for a t-t job nearby in my field. And I thought--is that what I want anymore? And I think I don't. I'm glad I have the Ph.D., but I think I've gotten to the point where I don't want the hassle of pursuing tenure--not at 41, not with trying to be more present for the kids. But there's always that part of me that thinks that I'm failing by not having that kind of job. I can't always quiet that voice, but I'm trying.

Susan M said...

I had to do this for a some time after I came out--sort out the hurt of a childhood and adolescence spent closeted in a homophobic society. It felt weird because I was simultaneously really joyous, and because I felt the pressure to be "over" it but also not to tell anyone about it, figuring the straight people wouldn't get it and the gay people would think I was a "bad" lesbian or something.

Havi's advice sounds really thoughtful and compassionate. I suspect it would have been affirming to read such advice 11 years ago, but I'm glad I was able to give myself permission--insist on it, really--to feel those hurts and work through them.