Awhile ago, my friend Mathew said to me: “So in terms of caterpillar stages, right now you are in the GOO PHASE.” (He was right.)
I mean, YEAH. Sometimes you have to break it all down to build anything back up.
That’s how it works sometimes. Level the ruins, sift through the rubble—and then discover that something else was always inside you, waiting to emerge.
You don’t have to force it or rush it or power through, because THAT IS NOT HOW GOO PHASE WORKS. You have to sit with it, and you have to let the old thing go, and you have to wait and see what you are becoming.
And you have to do the work.
Goo phase is a hell of a lot of emotional work. It’s the work of creating a new thing, and the new thing is you.
You can do that, because what other choice does the caterpillar have? The only way through is through. You go into the dark and you wait. You create a tiny opening for yourself. And then you find your way back into the light, hunched and fragile, and wait while new life flows into your wings to make them strong.
And then—you fly.
I would like to be able to give you the Ten Easy Steps For Getting Through—And Right Out Of!—Goo Phase (Number 7 Will Shock You!), but, like I said, that is not how Goo Phase works.
I can’t give you a list of strategies because my main strategy is “cry a lot,” followed by “stay in it” and “pay attention” and “feel all the things” and “drop all the balls that aren’t essential to survival” and “keep going.”
It takes what it takes, and it takes its time.
I would at least like to be able to tell you that Time Heals All Wounds, and eventually whatever you are going through will fix itself, but I am not sure that is true.
Time will dull the feelings and smooth out some of the memories. Time will take the edge off. Time will give you a wider perspective, if you are looking for one. It will show you how everything belongs, if you let it.
But if you do not do the work of paying attention, and feeling your feelings, and inviting your own healing and growth and becoming, time alone will not get you there. You have to choose to move through this part.
Goo phase is an invitation to become more of who you really are.
If you choose to distract yourself, or to numb out, or to become so busy that you don’t have time to think or to feel: you can resist the invitation, at least for awhile. But that would be like the caterpillar insisting that the cocoon is just fine, a lovely place to spend the rest of your life. (It isn’t.)
So, look. Three things I want you to know if you are in Goo Phase:
1. Need what you need
When I am in goo phase, I can’t eat. Sometimes I can’t sleep. Sometimes I sleep terribly, with dreams that leave me more exhausted than when I went to bed. Sometimes I want to curl up on the couch and never move again. In other words, I am literally feeling this process in my body.
Your body is where transformation takes place. Your blood pressure is changing, your fight-or-flight instinct could be triggered, your rest-and-digest rhythms are all messed up. Your brain is creating new neural pathways and probably pruning old ones. You may look the same on the outside, but the truth is, your body is working hard.
So give yourself what you need to stay strong.
If you know you can only eat a little bit every day, maybe try to choose greens instead of a chocolate bar. If you know you’re not going to sleep well, maybe try to get into bed early, so at least you’ll have more of the crappy sleep to add up to something closer to enough.
If you want to hide under a blanket, try to get outside for a few minutes first, because apparently fresh air and sunlight are good for us even when we don’t want them.
And then maybe do get back under the blanket.
The trick is to choose whatever will help you be strong enough to pay attention and to feel your feelings, instead of choosing things that will help you hide from the hard stuff.
The other trick is to be kind to yourself, because this is hard, and because you will not make perfect choices all the time. Or maybe any of the time. Making perfect choices is not required. Staying awake is. (At least metaphorically speaking.)
2. Take a break
Goo phase will take up all your thoughts and fill your mind and flood you with feelings and leave you gasping for breath. I know it’s important, I know this is the work of it—and I ALSO know that when something takes this freaking much work, you need to take breaks.
A break does not necessarily mean a distraction. A break does not have to mean you pretend this is not happening, or that you are okay with things as they are. Taking a break just means you’re giving yourself a chance to breathe before you go back into it.
The only break I could find that was not numbing out was this: being fully present in this moment, right here and now. (How woo-woo does that sound?? But stick with me a minute, I’ll explain.)
In this moment right now, everything that got me here is still true. Whatever launched me into this phase: still true.
In this moment right now, I may still be alone. I may still be misunderstood. I may not understand what is happening. If loss or grief or trauma sent me into this phase, that loss or grief or trauma has not gone anywhere.
That is all still true.
And it is still true that I don’t know how to live with it, or what will happen next.
But also in this moment, I have breath. I have a body. I can feel the earth underneath me. I can see the sun or the moon or the clouds in the sky, reminding me that the world keeps turning.
I have people to love, or an animal to love, or a love for people in general, or maybe just love for one tiny thing on earth. Maybe all I love is one dandelion in the neighbor’s yard that still has all its fluff. It’s still love.
In this moment, I have everything I need for this moment.
In this moment, I have everything I need to survive. (I know this only because I am still alive.) If I didn’t have everything I needed to survive this moment, I wouldn’t be here for the next moment. But I am. So, okay, whatever I have, it’s enough for this one moment.
I can take a break from thinking about the past and wondering about the future and feeling swamped and sad and anxious and angry and overwhelmed by being in this moment, and only this moment, any moment that I choose.
(Okay, so it’s still kind of woo-woo, but it helps.)
3. Start with what you know
That’s what my friend Jessica told me, when I asked her for help figuring out what to do next. “Let’s start with what you know,” she said.
This turned out to be a very small number of things. I did not know what I wanted. I did not know what I wanted to have happen. (“That’s okay,” Jess said. “Knowing what you want is a process.” A process!)
What I knew: 1. How I felt. 2. What I wished was true, but wasn’t. 3. A short list of things I would not agree to.
I knew some foundational things:
Who I was. That underneath everything, the whole universe runs on love. A list of people and truths I was grateful for. How to make another cup of tea.
Knowing what you know—it’s not a map, it’s just a direction on the compass. But you start there and you come back when you get lost again. (You are goo. You will likely get lost again very soon. Not a problem.)
Bonus fact: You are living the impossible
Goo phase is so very hard because you’re trying to learn to live with the impossible.
Whatever launched you here was impossible to imagine, impossible to live with, and impossible to incorporate into your sense of yourself. (If it wasn’t impossible, it wouldn’t have required goo-phase-level transformation.)
Your past self cannot help with this.
Your past self simply does not have the skills or the imagination for what is coming next.
You are trying now to live with the fact that you cannot change the past. You are trying to live with the fact that you cannot predict—or better yet, determine—the future.
You are even trying to live with the fact that the person you were is not the person you need to be anymore. The person you are becoming will include your past self, but you will be more than that past self could have imagined.
This is just the way it goes.
You leave behind the thing you were, the whole known shape of yourself. You cannot go back there, even if you want to. You would be pretending to be that old person, holding on to a skin you were meant to shed.
This middle place—this goo phase—is the proof that you’ve let go of that old skin. This is how you know that you are becoming something more expansive. It is your proof of growth.
It is your proof of life.
The thing to remember is this: Goo Phase is not the end of the story. You do not live your whole life here. This is just part of the process, and if Goo Phase is where you are, you are in the right place for right now. You will do the work. You will feel the feelings. And you won’t be here forever.