Embrace the Suck
EMBRACE THE SUCK is a common phrase used among service members in the U.S Army to describe FUBAR type field training or FUBAR operations. *FUBAR stands for F’d. Up. Beyond. All Recognition.
As a woman, veteran, and psychotherapist I’ve come to realize the problem with avoidance. Avoidance leads to disconnection. Disconnection is a terrible place to be. It hurts.
We try to escape the loneliness which comes from disconnection in all sorts of ways: addictions such as intoxicants, gambling, food, and shopping. We also numb ourselves to any possible hurt in our personal relationships by keeping our vulnerabilities and needs private.
I now understand, after working as a therapist in the veteran community for the last ten years, that to move forward we need to have some uncomfortable, breath-sucking conversations. We need to embrace the suck.
I hope we can all learn (even as a national community) to embrace the suck sometimes, to have grace for what is, and space for what can be.
I think many of us feel it. This stuck-ness of America right now. This sticky toxicity also exists, even more so, in our veteran communities.
This toxicity is everywhere in our culture and it is especially prevalent in how we treat each other in our online communities and within our hometown veteran communities. There is little grace and often little patience for fellow brothers and sisters of our military who are (insert hateful rhetoric here).
Sometimes, during this blog, you may disagree with my thoughts, or feel I have no need to ask these questions. My questions are questions I genuinely want to know the answer to, and I truly ask and listen so that I may understand better. So far, I haven’t liked the answers…
I tend to ask difficult questions, I always have — I suck at small talk. I do it anyway, even when I try no to, and so I might as well accept who I am. I am the difficult one. 😉 I should embrace the suck and ask hard questions – the first of which is why others don’t ask certain hard questions.
It’s what I do.
My first question is this: “Why do we avoid talking about death so much in the United States?”
Avoiding death talk leads to avoiding suicide talk. Avoiding these talks means we can’t talk when we are struggling. And all of it leads to a culture full of emotionally stunted people.
Our society is so black or white and so rigid, that we struggle to understand the grey and nuanced, even in our more sensitive conversations. Either it’s a polite conversation or it’s a rude conversation, we don’t allow in between for critical thinking.
We are inflexible about our truths. We hold these “truths” and stories tightly. This tightness leads to a lack of flexibility and patience (for ourselves and for others). This tunneled way of thinking is why we have assumptions, biases, and stigmatizing judgments.
None of this deficit-based language, which many of us tend to use, leads us to much growth.
For someone who is struggling with an emotional injury or a chronic disease, it really makes the suffering worse.
This type of language leads to over-generalizing and shaming people. When people are made to feel less than, they often do. So much of our society is traumatized. Then we question why so many people feel disconnected.
And so we are given two options when living in a polarized community. You are this label or that label, you need to be on this side or that, etc. This is how we continue to talk about our most pressing issues.
This all-or-nothing thinking holds very true for many of us veterans. We have learned to judge quickly, and because we trained to act quickly we often miss the pause.
We have a huge problem when there is no pause or space for context and nuance to a story, a person, a history, or a set of systemic issues. We need context to shift perspective.
What if, during my military service, I had good experiences, amazing experiences, met wonderful people, but also, I had terrible experiences and met awful people?
Most, all or nothing folks would rather not feel the negative, and just focus on the good.
This is the problem if you don’t embrace the suck: no suck and no discomfort means no reward.
The opportunity to focus on the good and ignore what is wrong is a privilege that many people don’t have.
I will no longer sit back and ignore what is wrong, simply because I have the privilege as a white woman in America, to do so. I don’t find it polite to do so, and I definitely don’t find it compassionate.
Making racists and sexists uncomfortable is just part of my work moving forward. I will be anti-racist, because I have a voice to do so, and because my brothers and sisters of humanity, are suffering. I have held my white fragility as a woman tightly for years, because (I now realize), it’s the sliver of power a society run by white men has given me. In truth, there was never any true free will or power in believing I am somehow superior to anyone else. The truth is, I never had free will, I was just told I did.
We are so busy trying to protect ourselves, we leave no space for communication from anyone different from us. This is where we go wrong. Differences are needed for growth.
Differences spark creativity and innovation. It’s in the things that are different that we find curiosity, passion, and joy.
We would be moving forward elevating all people if we could accept our differences. Differences that should not be looked at as diverse (as we do in “diversity” classes) from some set standard which is typically based on the white protestant neurotypical male.
We will not grow if we ignore the truths many people experience every day. Hard uncomfortable truths need to be acknowledged, so they can lead to accountability and change in the future.
I hope to continue the work of noticing and changing my mind’s automatic biases. I know many of these biases are not even dug up from the programming of my youth. A programing in a community and culture that believed, and still believes, that their whiteness makes them superior to other human beings.
I am disgusted by a community that uses racist verbiage, and practices racist behaviors, every day, but, in the next breath, screams there is no such thing. A community where somebody will tell you they don’t like being called racist, and in the next breath talk about an entire group of people as though they are insignificant objects beneath them without any awareness of that cognitive dissonance. That is white supremacy, that is our American and veteran culture.
This culture leads to sickness. We are a community full of dis-ease. I haven’t felt at ease in a veteran community ever. I have felt judged as a woman (who dares to wear her OIF hat) in veteran communities, far more times than I want to think about.
We too often don’t pause before pushing our biases and assumptions onto the people around us. We don’t embrace the suck of the discomfort, we prefer to stand in the rigidness of feeling “right.”
Giving people too many shit shame-filled sandwiches will lead (guaranteed) to mental health illness.
I believe all people can find themselves in an emotional illness (like a physical illness) at some point in their lives. Life is far from pain-free: emotionally and physically. Often these moments of crises can lead to growth if we are willing to find meaning in them.
Finding the meaning though is often dependent on having social supports, and that is what brings me back to the topic of non-avoidance: embrace the suck.
As rational and emotional beings, let’s have difficult national conversations, and let’s get comfortable with them.
Avoiding discussion about suicide or mental health struggles – because of our biases, stigmas, and all-around awkwardness of the conversations – is doing nothing to improve our mental health or that of our closest friends.
Not talking is what greatly contributes to higher suicide numbers in our communities. So let’s talk, even if it sucks.
Often, we are afraid to ask our brothers and sisters questions about their emotional health, because of our own discomfort.
We avoid so much, especially when it comes to our emotional pains (so we can avoid discomfort), that we often don’t have the words to communicate our frustrations, our sadness, our hurts when we need to.
Many of the things we have been taught can be untaught when they are shown to be untrue and unhelpful to our growth. It’s not easy, but I promise it is worth the pause.
When you grow and change, and teach others, you reach far more people than you could ever imagine. They see you sitting in the suck, and understand they can do it too.
They see the world differently, because of you, your discomfort, and they grow. That is how you change a toxic culture. You don’t always get to see the change right away, but you will, and part of the process of change is patience.
Toxic Culture is Unhealed Trauma Bleeding Everywhere.
This is our veteran culture right now: we are toxic and full of pre-programmed stigmas and biases.
But, if any community dares to rise above our fears and traumas, I would say it is us.
We know how to be in awkward situations, we know how to embrace the suck, and we have overcome it many times. We can tear down the systemic, racist, and sexist barriers that keep so many struggling.
We as veterans can talk more, and help change stigma towards mental health, especially within our own communities.
Part of the reason these conversations are so hard is that we struggle to find the right way and/or the right words to ask a brother or sister if they are struggling.
Many of us aren’t given the language skills that enable us to feel comfortable talking with another person about difficult topics. I get it; you should have met me 20 years ago. I did not grow up in a family that believed talking about emotions was healthy.
I came from a family which strongly believed that it is far better to hold everything in, so you can explode on the next unsuspecting victim (probably the most vulnerable) who may piss you off.
This avoidance of talking about difficult things and holding emotions in, is making life unmanageable for so many, when it doesn’t need to be this way. It keeps relationships with ourselves and others stunted.
If we keep practicing and being comfortable with these difficult conversations, we will find the words and we will find the compassion to sit with others while they hurt. We will talk about difficult things, even if our own feelings are touched. Because as veterans, we know how to embrace the suck.
We got this.
“Anything that’s human is mentionable, and anything that is mentionable can be more manageable. When we can talk about our feelings, they become less overwhelming, less upsetting, and less scary. The people we trust with that important talk can help us know that we are not alone.”
– Fred Rogers
My goal, on this blog, is to find the comfort in the discomfort.
One of the most difficult questions for anyone to ask is, “Have you had thoughts of ending your life?”
This is a hard question; we may feel overbearing asking someone something so personal; we may find it awkward to sit with them while they talk of their struggles.
But doing so is courage.
Talking in a space of non-judgment is healing, and it helps people to move toward healing.
We can all do this for each other, if we could all get comfortable with asking the uncomfortable vulnerable questions
Asking is a tourniquet. A tourniquet for a wound that may not be visibly seen, but that is there. Once the question is asked, the tourniquet is applied. We see that we aren’t alone.
You can help a person who may be struggling with an emotional crisis. Help them find and schedule a meeting with a psychotherapist. Call the Suicide Crisis Line with them.
“Have You Had Any Plans To Kill Yourself?”
If you are struggling with feeling emotionally overwhelmed and need somebody to listen, and somebody to speak to, then please call your own mental health provider, or find a mental health provider locally.
211.org is a great tool to help find a local psychotherapist, if you feel you can wait to schedule an appointment.
And please know that the Suicide Prevention Line is available 24/7 at: 1-800-273-TALK. You can press 1 for the Veterans Crisis Line, or you can chat online, too.
Not a phone talker? Click this link to message someone online right now.
The Veterans Law Blog® welcomes contributor Arika Gonzalez.
Delicate as a hand grenade, Aarika Gonzalez is on a mission to help elevate all persons. She hopes to teach how compassion may not always feel polite and how politeness isn’t always compassionate.
Aarika Gonzalez, LCSW, is a human rights activist, psychotherapist, and OIF Army veteran.
Aarika’s clinical practice can be found at: https://www.theemotionalhealingspace.com/
You can find more of Aarika’s blogs at: https://medium.com/@shiftinginequanimity