Through the Darkness We Can Awaken4

Every day I help people through the toughest times of their lives. Every day I model the work I teach. Every day I challenge and comfort. Every day I teach and sometimes even beg. Everywhere I go I am asked advice. Everywhere I go people often feel comfortable enough to tell me their deepest darkest struggles. Everywhere I go I see people searching, seeking and fighting to find more happiness in their lives and trying to figure out how to be more whole.

What I know for sure

We will all have to eventually do the work to be happier and healthier versions of ourselves. We will all have to embrace our lives, get out of our own damn way and own all the parts of it. We will all have to love ourselves enough to choose to change.

And, without a doubt, especially lately, I am learning this work must include taking care of ourselves. It must include the self-care part of our recovery, the self-care part of our lives.

The dark

No matter what your darkness may be; there is never dark without the light. At times in our lives our darkness may be our current circumstances, in which case we do the work to remind ourselves that this too shall pass. At times in our lives our darkness may be our haunting past, in which case we do the work to heal, let go and choose how we are forever changed by it. All the time our darkness can easily drown us and forever change us for the worse if we allow it.

I am awake

What I promise is that the dark only gets darker and last longer unless we choose to do the work. What I promise is that there will be days that being awake can feel so vulnerable and downright brutal. But, what I can also promise is that they will be the best days of your life.

Lately, the difference between the times when I am in the dark and doing well and the difference between my clients that are greatly struggling in their own darkness and the ones who are saying to me,

I am finally awake

is a lot of self-care and a lot of choosing to do this work.

This brutal, hard, frustrating but amazing work of recovery. Especially, the self-care part of this recovery. My clients who are looking at me with engaged eyes and love for themselves are the ones who have trusted me enough to try to choose to love themselves just a bit more by practicing self-care.

The self-care of making time for ourselves. Practicing daily routine. Eating, sleeping and moving better. Looking inward through prayer and meditation and presence. Truly practicing self-compassion. Bravely creating. Using our words effectively. And, beginning again when we mess it up a bit.

This is not easy work, but it is very simple.

I simply choose my self-care every single day.

I simply choose to move through the dark in order to shine.

And, I will challenge, comfort, model, beg, teach, love and help until you simply choose it too.

~~~~

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Choosing to Be Remade

I am not one to believe in the mindset of victim.

I do not believe we are victims unless we choose to be.

Labeling myself as a victim only leaves me powerless in changing my life.

Horrible things happen to all of us, hard is hard and struggle is struggle. If I sit in the victim place, at least for myself, I sit in the shit. Rather than being mindful of my suffering in order to move through it and then rise above it.

This has always been a common theme in my office. I have said these sentences too many times to count, over and over:

Being our past

You can choose to be your past.

You can choose to be your past mistakes.

You can choose to have all of your past hurts, losses, traumas and tragedies be your whole identity.

Choosing to be more

Or you can choose to learn from your past and move forward.

Or you can choose to embrace your mistakes and try again.

Or you can choose to make your past hurts, losses, traumas and tragedies just a piece of your story and not your whole identity.

You choose.

So it isn't surprising that when I heard the song You Are More on Joy FM by Tenth Avenue North I was immediately sending it to some of my clients. The chorus goes,

You are more than the choices that you've made, You are more than the sum of your past mistakes, You are more than the problems you create, You've been remade.

I realize when the artists are singing, you've been remade, they are referring to Jesus dying for our sins and with this grace we are remade. But as a mental health therapist, even one with my own strong and yet questioning faith, I must meet my clients where they are, faith or not.

 
 

Even with my faith, and the amazing grace of Jesus,I think, I also must still choose.

Choosing to be remade

We must choose to be more.

We must choose to be more, faith or not.

And if Jesus isn't your thing, well, then you still have a choice to make. You can choose to be more than the choices that you've made. You can choose to be more than the sum of your past mistakes. You can choose to be more than the problems you create.

You can choose to to be remade. You can choose to not be a victim to your life circumstances, your past hurts or mistakes. You can choose the power to change your life.

Choosing to be remade is my work in ever upward. When I choose to be remade because of and within the grace and love of Jesus, but also because I choose every single day, I choose me. I choose to be more than the woman who cannot have kids. I choose to be more than the woman who survived infertility and lost three babies. I choose to be more than depression and anxiety.

I choose to be remade.

This is my work in ever upward that I hope others can embrace for themselves.

Because we are so much more than those past choices, past hurts and past mistakes. They are just pieces to our brilliant life puzzle, they are just pieces of our story. We must do the work to embrace them all.

Because only then will we own all the parts of our story.

And, only then are we choosing to be remade.

 ~~~~

Housekeeping:

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If you found this post enjoyable, inspiring, helpful, hopeful, interesting or even infuriating ;), please take the time and the chance to share it through your social media! More shares means more eyes, means more people helped and the message heard on a wider scale. Thank you! Justine

Recovery, Flaws and All

Every day I choose to practice my recovery. Every day I choose to work on myself. Some days are good. Some not so good.

Some days feel easier. Some more of a struggle.

A pain in the ass? Yep! Worth it? Absolutely!

Self compassion in recovery

What I am finding is important in my recovery is to have self-compassion for those not so good or easy days. The days of struggle. The days that I can literally see my old angry, agitated, anxious or depressed self returning, even if just a bit. The days that if I am not careful I say things to myself like,

Get your shit together! This isn't who you are anymore! Just freaking do better! Why can't anything ever be easy? Why does this always happen? (And typically many curse words).

But as the mental health therapist, I know this critical inner voice doesn't motivate change and it sure as hell doesn't feel very good.

So I must do the work to change that inner dialogue. I must remind myself that this life, this recovery, is an ongoing process.

It is a practice.

And, that some days it is okay to white knuckle my way through, as long I practice.

The balance of embracing my flaws

But I also must remind myself that there are some parts of my personality that are just not that easy to change. Call it genetics, call it life experience, I don't really care and I am not sure it really matters. What I do know is that I must practice what I teach to my clients. That sometimes there are parts of who we are that just aren't the parts that we can ever get rid of completely. But we sure as hell can do the work to make them work for us rather than against us.

So part of my recovery must be a balance. A balance between working my recovery because it makes me a better, happier and healthier person and the need to accept and embrace who I naturally am...

Flaws and all

Because, I, Justine Lea Brooks Froelker will always be:

Impatient.

I like to joke that all of my patience was used up spending a year of my life in a body cast. But, I also know it is partly genetic, thank you dad ;).

And, it is just who I am.

Potty mouthed.

I curse. A lot. I started my counseling career working with people who struggle with addiction; lots of lively language is typically used in that setting. I also come from a very passionate (read sailor mouth) family. I have almost mastered not cursing while I teach and in front children. But, I pretty much choose to not refrain in front of adults; this pretty mouth says dirty things.

And, it is just who I am.

Fast.

I walk fast, like really fast, and hard, you can seriously hear me coming from a mile away. If I say I will do something I will get it done fast. I drive fast, so fast that most people make comments to my husband after riding with me and vow to never do so again. I do everything FAST. No deep dark secret here, I just struggle to slow down.

And, it is just who I am.

Clumsy.

I am terribly hard on electronics. I regularly break stuff, spill stuff and hurt myself by tripping, bumping into things and dropping things. I also completely realize that this is a direct result of the above characteristic.

And, it is just who I am.

 
Recovery, Flaws and All
Recovery, Flaws and All
 

These are characteristics of who I am and I am not sure I can ever "fix" them. These are the characteristics that if I am not careful in managing them and practicing in my recovery they can make me my old, unhappy and unhealthy self very quickly.

But, these are my characteristics that make me, me.

As part of my recovery:

  • I will embrace them, knowing that they are not all of who I am.
  • I will speak them because then they lose some of their negative power over me and I also call them out knowing I can work on them.
  • I will practice my recovery, even if it is in finding my balance.
  • And, I will own it all.

I also trust and know that these "flaws" also make me one of the hardest working, most committed and entertaining wife, daughter, friend and loved one ever.

I am not only lovable but also loved because of them, not despite them.

Because, I am enough. We all are.

Recovery, flaws and all.

And, it is just who I am.

*To read more about my experiences through two back surgeries and a year of my life spent in a body cast make sure preorder your copy of Ever Upward: Overcoming the Lifelong Losses of Infertility to Own a Childfree Life.*

If you found this post enjoyable, inspiring, helpful, hopeful, interesting or even infuriating ;), please take the time and the chance to share it through your social media! More shares means more eyes, means more people helped and the message heard on a wider scale. Thank you! Justine

Can We Embrace the Complexity of Mental Health?

A Recovering Therapist's Perspective

It has not been easy to be a mental health therapist in the world this week, especially here in Saint Louis.

Hell, it hasn't been easy to be human this week.

So much pain. So much violence. So much suffering. So much judgment. So much intolerance.

So much powerlessness.

And, yet I believe in the power of forgiveness; of ourselves and others. I believe in the power of recovery. I believe in our abilities to heal. I believe in the power of connection and love. And, I really believe in the power of courage.

As a mental health therapist I have been educated, trained and my professional experience speaks to embracing all sides of everything. To not only seek understanding of all sides of everything but to also have empathy for all sides of everything.

Sometimes, this can feel like a heavy burden to carry, especially when it comes to my personal life. It also means that I seek answers in many places and from many different angles. Such as been the case in the heartbreaking suicide of Robin Williams.

 
 

And, needless to say, many angles have been presented.

I have found myself frustrated and angered and I have found myself understood and thankful. Which I guess just brings us right back to that feeling, seeing and understanding all sides of everything.

But today in one of my sessions I was able to bring the many angles to light with one of my fellow survivors of anxiety and depression. And, within that light, I think and hope, I opened up enough space for all of us who struggle with anything to breathe a little easier.

I have depression

As a survivor of mental illness I have been paralyzed by the depths of depression. The kind that hurts your whole body. The kind that leaves you exhausted  in every way imaginable. The kind that destroys friendships. The kind that hurts your schooling or work. The kind where nothing means anything and yet everything seems like too much. The kind that is so dark that you simply cannot see any light; where you don't recognize yourself or anyone else for that matter. And, the kind that makes the impossible choice somehow seem like the only choice.

I can practice my recovery

As someone who practices recovery I know the choices I must make every day to acknowledge, embrace and treat my depression. The choice to take meds when I need them. The choice to really work in my therapy. The choice to practice self care. The choice to embrace the dark, move through it and let it pass because on some days that feels like all I can do. And, the choice to do this all with wholehearted courage.

I am a therapist practicing recovery from depression

As a mental health therapist I understand the disease. I understand the causes, both environmental and genetic. I understand the chemical, emotional and spiritual make up of it. I understand that the disease is not a choice but fighting for recovery and holding onto hope is. And, I can understand that sometimes that choice just feels too difficult to make.

This understanding all sides of it sometimes feels like too much and even too confusing. Leaving me with several different voices in my head:

It's not fair. Why do I have to suffer from depression? Why do I have to work so hard at just being okay? Why does it always linger somewhere in the background just waiting to cut off my light?

or

It's too hard. I can't keep trying. It never gets better. I am exhausted. I don't want to fight any longer.

or

Just get out of bed. Just make the choices that make it better. Just take the meds. Just set a schedule. Just freaking do it. Just...

or

Yes, I have depression (or anxiety or addiction, etc.) and I have to choose to do these things every day to be the best version of myself. Some days are good and some days are rougher. I don't need a reason or an excuse as to why I have depression. But, I can do the work to understand myself. Because this understanding will move me closer to who I am supposed to be and who I want to be.

and

Everything can and will pass. We are never really alone. And, love, light and hope are always there.

The last few days I have been plagued by opinions, judgments and the research coupled with my own experience as a sufferer, a survivor and a practitioner; with all of the voices above.

What I was able to understand today with my client was that maybe we can embrace that it is all just really complex. That most of the time we will never get the exact, sure fire answer as to why or how. But, within that we can still understand.

We can still have compassion, for ourselves and others.

We can choose courage.

And, it is only through this compassion and courage that we can and will find our truth.

And, that this can be and is enough.

I promise.

*If you’re struggling with some tough emotions or feeling lonely, don’t hesitate to call the Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

To read more about my story and my recovery make sure to pick up a copy of Ever Upward: Overcoming the Lifelong Losses of Infertility to Own a Childfree Life,available October 1st at http://www.everupward.org.

If you found this post enjoyable, inspiring, helpful, hopeful, interesting or even infuriating ;), please take the time and the chance to share it through your social media! More shares means more eyes, means more people helped and the message heard on a wider scale. Thank you! Justine

Witnessing the Choice to Live and Love Wholeheartedly

Truly honored

"Be free my guarded heart and I shall flourish.

Tear down the walls that guard and I will thrive.

Expose my inner depths and shine light on what's real.

Afraid and brave, she will live and love freely and entirely.

Watch her fly. Watch her grow."

The words my client wrote as part of her work in The Daring Way™. Her work to choose to live her life wholeheartedly. Her work to choose to practice shame resilience. Her work to live with brave authenticity and to love courageously vulnerable.

Her work to choose to change her life.

The work I choose myself every day.

The work I can only hope, wish and pray everyone chooses.

Bearing witness

I didn't know I wanted to be a mental health therapist until I lost one dream.

I only dreamed that I would get paid to do something I love with every cell of my being.

I never knew the depth it would provide in my own recovery.

The honor of bearing witness to choosing change

I have always felt honored to witness the choices my clients make to change their lives; let alone the permission to fight beside them. I have always felt honored to be the one to walk alongside them and push or pull them forward when needed.

It is nothing short of a true honor.

But, nothing could have prepared me with how much my career would change when I did my own work, when ever upward entered the world and when I earned certification in The Daring Way™.

I feel blessed, I feel lucky and I am more grateful than words can contain for the honor it is to bear witness to someone choosing to change their life. Choosing to live and love with their whole heart. Choosing to fight for themselves.

Speaking their truth.

Embracing their whole story.

Practicing their recovery.

Owning it all.

And, I can only hope that owning my story helps my clients to own theirs. That my courage sparks their courage. That my fight helps them fight a little harder.

Because courage begets courage and knowing you have someone fighting the good fight beside you can only help.

This is not easy work.  But, it is work that is worth it. Because, it can and will get better.

But, we must choose it. Because, we deserve it.

It will be the hardest thing you ever do, but I promise the work, the love, the light, the healing is here to pull you through.

And, nothing is more heartbreaking than a battle lost*.

Every day I see the change. Every day I feel the courage. Every day I witness someone choosing themselves. Every day I see the world change one person at a time. And, every day I thank God for the chance to wholeheartedly witness it all.

Because, this is nothing short of amazing:

"Be free my guarded heart and I shall flourish.

Tear down the walls that guard and I will thrive.

Expose my inner depths and shine light on what's real.

Afraid and brave, she will live and love freely and entirely.

Watch her fly. Watch her grow."

*If you're struggling with some tough emotions or feeling lonely, don't hesitate to call the Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

This post linked to Amateur Nester's Link-Up.

To read more about my story and my recovery make sure to pick up a copy of Ever Upward: Overcoming the Lifelong Losses of Infertility to Own a Childfree Life, available October 1st at www.everupward.org.

If you found this post enjoyable, inspiring, helpful, hopeful, interesting or even infuriating ;), please take the time and the chance to share it through your social media! More shares means more eyes, means more people helped and the message heard on a wider scale. Thank you! Justine

A Buried Treasure of Emerging Seashells

The house had a seashell room. The entire ceiling of a bedroom was decorated with a mosaic of seashells and mirrors.

Picture frames made of shells.

Lamps filled with more shells.

Glass tabletops filled with even more shells.

Then we found the moldy boxes full of seashells, at least four of them, buried in the basement.

They loved seashells.

As we cleaned out the house, we threw them all out, along with their years of painful hoarding and our years of three lost babies and a lifelong dream.

Reminders of the Past

 
 

And yet, we see seashells every day.

And, I feel my lost babies every day.

The shells continue to come up in a certain part of the yard.

And, my scarred heart and soul ache and yet, feel whole every second of every single day.

Both like a buried treasure, that isn't worth much and yet is a constant reminder of the past.

Just like every day moments or comments in my life that are constant reminders that I will never be a mother; will never quite fit in, will always be considered not whole, will always be judged and pitied.

Because, I am not a mother with living children.

And yet, I am more whole than I have ever been through my recovery from infertility.

Just like the every day reminders that I must practice my recovery: working on self care every day, reaching out and asking for help, doing the things that help keep me healthy and practicing courage, compassion and connection. Because, I am recovering from infertility, scarcity, comparison, anxiety and depression.

And yet, I am whole in my practicing recovery from these, and from myself. Our buried treasures of our past, of our losses, traumas and tragedies, will never stay buried forever. We will always have emerging seashells in our lives.

Embracing Our Past

I guess this is where practice comes in. We must practice to use these reminders for us rather than against us. That they are not there to haunt us forever. But, rather to remind us of where we've been and how far we have come.

 
reminders-buried-treasure.jpg
 

Within the buried treasure we can find our whole.

Within the buried treasure we can embrace it all.

Within the buried treasure we can be found.

Because, the buried treasure of losses, junk, gold, seashells and all, is our story.

Our story of the work of recovery.

Our story of the work and practice of our ever upward.

*To read more about my story, my recovery and Mason House make sure to pick up a copy of the soon to be published Ever Upward: Overcoming the Lifelong Losses of Infertility to Own a Childfree Life.*

If you found this post enjoyable, inspiring, helpful, hopeful, interesting or even infuriating ;), please take the time and the chance to share it through your social media! More shares means more eyes, means more people helped and the message heard on a wider scale. Thank you! Justine

Is Recovery Just a Never Ending To Do List?

Sometimes this recovery thing is a real pain in the ass. I've taught it for years. I've really practiced it myself for the last couple. And, I literally talk about it daily to my clients.

And yet, it is still a huge pain in my ass.

My life has been crazy. My routine has changed. My schedule is busy. My stress is high.

And, from the sounds of it lately in my office, I am not alone in any of this.

And yet, my recovery stands.

Although, some days it feels like only by a thread.

But, my recovery only stands through my practice.

I am not talking about this rainbows and butterflies idea that practice makes perfect. Because, seriously, that was just a lie we've all been fed. There is no perfect. Perfectionism is only born out of our shame and is only about what others' think. It is not about being the best version of ourselves.

I'm also not talking about just trying harder either. If our recoveries were based on just trying harder, we'd all stay super happy and healthy all of the time. I try hard every day. Unfortunately, my trying harder is also sometimes in direct response to the whole crazy, busy, stress mentioned above. Which really only means I get in my own damn way of my practice which means my recovery suffers. Because, as I had my own aha moment in my therapy session this week, I like to control or micromanage things (and some could argue my loved ones) when my life is this crazy, busy and stressful.

The Practice of Intention

Practicing recovery needs to be about intention.

Even though from the outside is looks very much the same, like a never ending to do list.

Recovery (for me):

  • daily self care (morning routine and night routine)
  • exercise
  • eating right
  • meditation
  • prayer
  • coloring
  • music and dancing
  • reading
  • writing
  • talking (asking for what I want and need)
  • reaching out
  • DAILY

These are the daily choices I must make to practice my recovery.

To consider them my never ending to do list is only counterintuitive and counterproductive to recovery.

My practice cannot be born out of perfectionism or trying harder or micromanagement. Recovery is not this check list or to do list I must complete every day. It is not a to do list that makes me better or fixed.

Check. Check. Check.

All better. Done. Recovered.

Not even close.

Recovery must be practiced with intention through the choices I make every day because I know it helps, because I know it heals, because I know I deserve better than my old sad, miserable, bitter self.

If my intention is perfection or just trying harder or micromanaging it all, I will suffer the gravity of my own relapse. Because life is busy and hard and it is simply unrealistic to complete my recovery and do it perfectly.

There will always be the days (some weeks more days than not) that not everything is checked off the list.

That is okay.

I can practice again tomorrow.

This week I have been witness to some of the toughest sessions of my career. The sessions of true struggle. The sessions of utter heartache, of strangling perfectionism, of the desperate ache for more, of merciless loneliness, of suffocating shame, of brutal relapse.

Sessions of rock bottom.

Sessions of I know this is so hard. Sessions of I promise it can get better.

Sessions where I know greatness can be found. Sessions where I see the lightof and for my clients. Sessions where I hope for them. Sessions where I walk alongside, push forward and pull ahead.

Because I know through this work is their healing, happier and healthier selves.

 
 

I know because I've trudged the damn hill myself. Several times. And, during some seasons of my life, I've trudged it what seems like every freaking day.

And yet, there are times when what I can offer them of this practice, of the I get it and me too that can feel so powerless in what they are facing, like it just can't be enough.

But, then I trust. I trust my intention in showing them unconditional compassion, connection and courage. I teach them the work of intention and practice. And, I try to model it all.

Because, I know it can be enough.

And, I ask them to fight with me. Every. Single. Day.

Because, through this fight, this practice, this recovery is being found by and finding our own ever upward.

 
 

*To read more about my recovery (Choosing Change-Chapter 4) make sure to pick up a copy of the soon to be published Ever Upward: Overcoming the Lifelong Losses of Infertility to Own a Childfree Life.*

If you found this post enjoyable, inspiring, helpful, hopeful, interesting or even infuriating ;), please take the time and the chance to share it through your social media! More shares means more eyes, means more people helped and the message heard on a wider scale. Thank you! Justine

The Dates Seared into Us

I am a numbers person. No, not the add, subtract, divide and multiply numbers kind of person (just ask my accountant husband).

The kind of numbers person who remembers dates, phone numbers and birthdays pretty well and for a very long time. I have clients' phone numbers committed to memory, for no reason, as I no longer work with them and my cell phone remembers them for me. I also usually, and very easily, remember birth dates of friends, family and all the chosen children in my life.

I also have many dates throughout the year that are forever seared into my very being.

I have always known the power of the dates that will haunt us forever as I often remind my clients of this. It is not uncommon that we begin to struggle some; anxiety is higher, depression is heavier or we just start to feel off and, then we stop to think of the date, or the time of year, and are reminded of that loss, trauma or tragedy that happened way back when.

I too have these kinds of dates seared into my heart and into my soul. My soul scars that never go away and in some ways haunt me all throughout the year.

August 25th, 1994 ~ My first back surgery.

June 19th, 1997 ~ My second back surgery.

December 28th, 2011 ~ The first phone call that stopped our lives, Michelle, our surrogate, was not pregnant.

April 16th, 2012 ~ The soul crushing and clarity providing phone call that our second, and last, embryo transfer did not take; Michelle was never going to be pregnant with our child.

June 26th, 2012 ~ The day we made another impossible decision to let go of our Maddie. The day of my true rock bottom.

 
 

August 31st, 2012 ~ What would have been the first birthday of our two embryos transferred in the first round of IVF.

 
 

December 21st, 2012 ~ What would have been the first birthday of our last embryo transferred in the second, and last, round of IVF.

June 17th, 2013 ~ The birth of Tipton, our chosen family's wonderful surprise, our bittersweet reminder that is outweighed by the the love we have for another of our chosen children.

 
 

I wish I could have been better prepared by the infertility blogs, message boards and even doctors that these dates never leave us.

Especially, the birthdays of our never meant to be babies, at least never meant to be in our arms on this physical earth.

They are forever, for better or worse, seared in my head, on my heart and within my soul.

Today, I am able to say for the better.

And, through the work of my recovery I am beginning to have more of the magical, full of love, moments seared into every piece of me.

Last night, on June 22nd, 2014, I publicly declared the private decision I was finally able to make for myself on May 6th, 2014.

 
 

I was baptized.

Just a few days shy of my rock bottom when we lost Maddie 2 years ago, after surviving IVF and losing 3 babies, I walked into the waters of baptism last night a renewed, a redefined and a continually healing woman.

I walked into those waters with a scarred but never closed heart and soul and, with my three babies watching from above.

On May 6th, my prayer that Jesus would show His love to me in a way I could finally understand, embrace and accept was answered. As I have written before, there is nothing like being a mental health therapist for over 14 years who has also struggled with infertility to make one doubt God and faith. But, what I realized on May 6th, is that I can still doubt and question. I can even still hold feelings of anger and feel like my life hasn't been fair.

And yet, I can still believe.

Doubt, questions, anger and all.

Wonder.

I can believe in His love for me. I can trust His plan for me. I can live my life knowing the ending of my story will be His way, whether or not I get to know it on this side of eternity. I can honor that He will take this life and let it shine.

My heart is full. My soul is continuing to heal. My ever upward wonder grows.

Seared dates, soul scars and all.

And, that this wonder, my wonder, is exactly what makes it faith.

*To read more about my seared dates make sure to pick up a copy of the soon to be published Ever Upward: Owning My Childfree Life in Our Child Obsessed.*

If you found this post enjoyable, inspiring, helpful, hopeful, interesting or even infuriating ;), please take the time and the chance to share it through your social media! More shares means more eyes, means more people helped and the message heard on a wider scale. Thank you! Justine

The Gravity of Relapse

It's been two weeks since my dad's life changing accident. I've been back home for a week playing catch up with clients, paperwork, writing and housework. I'm also playing catch up with recovery.

Life happens; we fall behind in our self care, behind in our recovery, and all of a sudden we are fighting our own gravity of relapse.

The song Gravity by Sara Bareilles is powerful in it's own right. As a mental health therapist who works with clients struggling with addiction the power of the lyrics were solidified when Mia Michaels choreographed a dance to it on So You Think You Can Dance years ago. Today the lyrics hit home as I can feel the pull of old ways on me; the gravity of my own relapse.

Being home helping family meant I didn't make myself, my recovery, a priority. I am the first to admit that recovery is multiple choices I make every single day to be the best version of myself; it is exercise, it is writing, it is meditation, it is reading, it is a nighttime routine, it is expressing myself...it is a huge pain in the ass. But they are daily choices I must make to live my wholehearted recovered life.

I am carefully minding the balance between being gentle with myself in that I did the very best I could given the situation I was in and being frustrated that I didn't fight harder for myself and my recovery. I wasn't in my own home. I was helping during a very stressful time for all of us. I wasn't eating the way I normally do. I was around someone who doesn't believe or honor, and sometimes even actively denies, my story and recovery. I was way behind on sleep. I did the best I could but I know now I need to choose better next time.

 
 

Fighting the gravity of relapse, meant that I still made sure to listen to my play list every morning I got ready. It was the one daily choice of my recovery I made sure to practice even during the stressful time.

Fighting the gravity of relapse, means that I slowly get back on track with my daily choices, adding new ones each day until I am back to what it takes to maintain my ever upward light.

Fighting the gravity of relapse, means asking for help from my loved ones and getting in to see my own therapist this week.

Fighting the gravity of relapse, means doing better next time but giving myself a break on this time.

Fighting the gravity of relapse, means giving myself permission that I am always learning, growing and figuring it all out along the way.

Fighting the gravity of relapse, means writing this to own my struggle because it is in this ownership that I will find my recovery again and simply take the best next step forward.

Because, it is only within the honoring of this battle that I will make it part of my journey in my ever upward life.

The Myriagon of Ever Upward Light

A myriagon is a polygon with 10,000 sides. A shape that can look much like a circle with as many sides as Ever Upward has now been viewed all over the world in 43 different countries.

 
 

The circle that has encompassed my healing, recovery and my ever upward light and love. In celebration of how much Ever Upward has changed and enhanced my life I thought I'd recap a little with a few top five lists. So, here are my top five most viewed posts and my top five most commented on posts. However, I also wanted to include the posts that have been the most difficult to write but also the most healing and helpful for myself in writing and publishing.

Top 5 Most Viewed Posts

5. Tread or Float

4. Taking Off the Armor of My "Choice"

3. 41 Often Silenced, and Left Out, Parts of Our IVF Stories

2. Conceiving Our Chosen Family

1. The Paradox of Letting Go: 5 Things We Continuously Hold On To

Top 5 Most Commented on Posts

5. Self Validation: Finding the Balance Between Proving It and Owning It

4. My Child-Full Christmas: Making My Own Christmas Magic

3. My First Step Out of Rock Bottom to Start My Walk on the Moon

2. The Almost Finished, Yet Unpublished, Ever Upward

1. Taking Off the Armor of My "Choice"

Top 5 of My Most Healing Posts

5. My Dementor: Shame and Self Doubt

4. Making Room For the Light

3. The Frankenstein Walk of Feeling Left Behind: But I'm Still Here

2. I Am a Mother, a Mother to My Magic

1. 41 Often Silenced, and Left Out, Parts of Our Stories

We Hold the Pieces to Our Puzzle

Every day I work with clients to help them learn how to let go, accept, redefine and find themselves. Often times we work on owning our stories and not allowing our whole selves to be defined by something that has happened to us or a mistake we've made or a loss or trauma we have suffered. A lot of what I do is help my clients figure out how to be happy and healthy after things do not end up how they had hoped for, pictured or planned for. I help, I teach and I model, as I have fought this recovery battle myself. We all have an epic story, and we all have hardship in our lives. Because hard is hard. Where we often get tripped up is in how we integrate these pieces of our stories into our whole, and hopefully one day, recovered selves.

I often get asked things like...

"How long will I hold onto this?"

"Will this ever get easier?"

"Will I ever stop thinking about it?"

 
 

The thing is, our lives are our puzzles.

Our life, our story, is a million piece jigsaw puzzle made up of pieces in every color, size and shape possible.

puzzlethat will always have some missing pieces.

As it takes our lifetime to complete.

A puzzle that will have missing pieces forever, if we don't face the work we need to do to recover from whatever we need to recover from. Leaving an incomplete picture if we don't do this work. Sure, we may not notice the gaping holes in the whole picture from afar, but when we really look closely they will be impossible to ignore.

As they are missing pieces of us.

 
 

A puzzle that only we hold all the pieces to.

When we do the work that we need to live a happy, fulfilled, authentically brave life and to heal ourselves we place every puzzle piece into place. We not only place each piece into it's perfect home, we also push it down.

Therefore, making the seamless picture of our intricately flawed, and yet perfectly imperfect beautiful lives.

Sure up close, one will see all the individual pieces of our stories but from afar they will simply see us. All of us.

We are made up of all the pieces of our puzzle; each moment of our lives completing the picture and each story defining parts of who we are.

But, we must remember we hold the pieces ourselves, as we have the power for change and recovery.

We have the power to complete our puzzle and therefore truly, and bravely, embrace and own all the pieces of us.

Tread or Float

For the last 14 years I have had the honor of witnessing people journey through some of the most difficult times of their lives to emerge as happier, healthier and whole people. As a mental health therapist I fulfill multiple roles on a daily basis; teacher, healer, helper, educator, coach, big sister, mother, friend, confidante, trainer and, in all honesty, sometimes I’m the provider of a swift kick in the ass. Unbeknownst to them, my clients also, at times, fulfill these same roles for me as they are my reminders, and examples, of fighting the good fight and never giving up.

Throughout the years of working with clients I have found there will be times where I must push, and I mean push really hard. Making sure they know they have the strength to change their lives; and that they are ready. There are other times where I will simply hold their hand, walking alongside them through their journey of self discovery, self doubt and finding peace. Then there are times, where I will take their hand and pull them forward, at times, begging them to trust me and try things a different way; to put one foot in front of the other and follow me.

No matter the concern someone is coming into therapy and coaching for, they are facing the hardest work of their lives. They are facing times of progress and times of feeling so stuck they can’t stand it. They will doubt their abilities, and maybe even mine to help them. They will get worse before they get better. They will at times hate me for the things I ask them to do. They will walk away and come back. They will push me away because it hurts that badly to trust someone or to have someone believe in them so much when no one else ever has.

They will question.

They will resist.

They will work.

They will change.

Depression. Anxiety. Alcoholism. Drug use. Gambling. Shopping. Trich. Eating Disorders. Weight Issues. OCD. Bitterness. Toxic Relationships. Lying. Cheating. Discontent. Self Hate. Grief. Perfectionism. Shame. Doubt. Cynicism. Abuse. Rigidity. Bipolar. Unease. Infertility. Loss. Trauma. Surviving. Faith difficulty. Pessimism. Indecision. Blaming. Apathy. Sad. Feeling lost. Parenting struggles. Social difficulty. Bullying wounds. Self care. Distrust. Anger.

These are our stories. And all of our stories contain some struggle.

Where we lose ourselves, I think, is when we make these struggles all of who we are. We turn them into our whole story. They become our entire identity, even when they start working against us rather than for us. We hold on so tightly to these struggles, and what we think works to manage them, that we lose the great parts, the whole parts, of who we are.

When our struggles are our whole story, we struggle to own those stories, and therefore struggle to find our ever upward. We must find the way to make these struggles simply parts of who we are, parts of our story.

But we hold onto the trouble, the trauma, the loss, the struggle because it is all we have ever known. We hold on because the unknown is scarier. We hold on because we have no idea what else to do. We hold on because, at least we’re surviving. We hold on because they have become, what we think, are our water wings, our life preservers.

But eventually, we hold on so tightly and so long, the very things that have saved us, that have helped us to survive, become our own cement blocks.

Our own cement blocks drowning us in ourselves.

No self care. Worry. Drinking. Drugging. Spending. Pulling. Restricting. Binging. Counting. Drama. Lies. Dishonesty. Self harm. No breaks. Too hard. No sleep. Unhealthy sarcasm. Over-scheduling. No room. Flashbacks. Mood swings. Never saying no. Isolation. Promiscuity. No passion. Procrastination. Loneliness. Rage. Inconsistency. No movement, etc. etc. etc. etc.

What I ask my clients to work through and change every day is no less than an act of faith and trust. I am asking them to let go of their way. The way that has actually worked for years, at least worked in numbing or self-medicating themselves. The way that has helped them to survive but is now drowning them. I ask them to let go because if they don’t they won’t have any free arms to grasp onto the tools and the hope I am offering them.

They must let go in order to begin again.

 
 

But the most excruciating part of this battle, is that they must have faith that they will either float or tread water while they learn, grow and change.

Because they will. They will tread or float, and I will be right there with them; coaching, believing, pushing and loving.

And eventually, they will be able to grasp onto those tools.

But most importantly they will find their freedom to finally believe in the hope I hold for them.

And they will save their own lives.

They will find their own ever upward.

Choosing to change your life will be the hardest and scariest thing you have ever done. It will also be the best thing you will ever do.

I know, as I have, myself, fought the battle. Being scared shitless to let go of what I had learned to trust over the years but began to realize was holding me back and keeping me from being who I am truly meant to be. Letting go to push through fear to do the grueling work to trust and have faith in my own ability to tread or float in order to recover...in order to find my own ever upward.

Inspired by the WordPress Weekly Writing Challenge: 1,000 Words

Our Soul's Way Through Invisible Sufferings

Our invisible sufferings are simply our stories we are not speaking; our pains, our losses, our struggles. What happens if we don’t somehow speak these sufferings, if we don’t own them?

I have learned, especially in the last year, if I am not speaking my truth loudly I’m actually slowing dying inside. Before the work of this last year, my spirit, my soul, my heart was only getting more and more lost. IVF and a childfree life, honestly only seemed to shut me down even more.

Until, I fought. Until, I spoke.

I’m a mental health therapist, which means I’ve always known that talking is the answer.

The answer to happiness.

The answer to healthy living.

The answer to combating shame.

The answer to acceptance.

The answer, at least my answer.

When we speak our truth we will find freedom.

When we speak our truth we will help others.

When we speak our truth we will find wholeness.

When we speak our truth we actually have the chance of being understood.

And yet, so many of us live in silence.

In silence with only our struggles, haunting us and growing stronger.

In silence with our depression, anxiety, addiction, infertility, faith difficulties, health problems, relationship struggles…

Choose to break this silence.

Write it, draw it, paint it, sing it, dance it, speak it to many or speak to just one…

Find your soul’s way, trust it and live your truth out loud.

Shame Died a Little Bit More: Truth Telling My Authentic Light

My last few posts have been some of the most difficult to write but also the most freeing and helpful. I have learned this last week that these last few posts have not only been helpful to me, but to hundreds of others as well, as Ever Upward was featured on a weekly round-up post on Marie’s wonderful blog (http://journeyingbeyondbreastcancer.com/2013/12/29/weekly-round-up-72/). It was also shared by people other than my close family and friends (thank you, thank you, thank you!). Which means my views went up.

The message heard on a bigger scale.

And most importantly, shame died a little bit more.

I, along with others who have shared the blog posts, have received private messages thanking us for sharing the links, for speaking the truth about infertility and sending their support. However, I can’t help but notice how few people actually share the blog or publicly comment on it. I do not feel anger and sadness because I need the blog to gain fame or because I’m seeking validation, but because it shows just how strong the shame of infertility is.

Why are we not talking about this more?!

Statistics currently show 1 in 8 couples suffers with infertility, with some studies saying it is more like 1 in 6.

1 in 8.

Possibly, 1 in 6!

And yet most of us suffer in silence, alone with only our partner by our side (and our IVF docs pushing another round), thus, putting more pressure on our relationship. Aren’t the hormone treatments, painful procedures, waiting games and the vast amounts of money we spend doing enough damage to our relationship?

I am speaking my story out loud because otherwise it is invisible to the world, which means it feels riddled with shame, disgrace and indignity. But the thing is, many of the most difficult struggles we all suffer with are invisible; depression, autoimmune disorders, infertility, etc., etc.

I don’t think we all need to be the poster child for our stories, pains and losses. And this isn’t what I am trying to do through the blog. I’m writing, sharing and speaking loudly, my authentic truth, because it heals me, makes shame impossible to live inside of me and because it helps. It helps me, and I am learning it is helping others.

 
 

And ultimately, this is my true authentic light. 

I help.

I can’t not help others, as this would be like asking me to not breathe.

Speaking, and owning, our truth is the only place any of us will find peace, understanding and wholeness.

The blog writing and the authentic truth telling is not for attention or pity or ‘fame’ but for understanding, empathy, not feeling so alone and helping. If my truth telling, my light, is too much for you and makes you uncomfortable, cringe or point the finger of judgment, well, that speaks more about you than me. And my only hope for you is that one day you find, fight for and own your own authentic truth and light.

As this is the biggest and strongest weapon any of us have against shame.

Brené Brown often compares shame to gremlins. Gremlins when exposed to the light die. Shame when spoken and owned can no longer exist.

 
 

So I will shine the light on my invisible sufferings.

I will never be a mother.

I will never fulfill what society, and what some say God put me on earth to do.

I am a survivor and thriver of anxiety and depression.

I am a fighter and a helper.

I am figuring out how to accept, like and even be proud of my childfree life.

I will live my life, sometimes minute by minute, seeking, fighting for and living out loud my ever upward.

And, I hope my story helps you to do the same in your own way; find, fight for and own your truth, your ever upward.

Embracing It to Truly Let It Go

A client texted me to insist I go see the movie Frozen. She said it is about everything I always talk about in our sessions: accepting ourselves and being vulnerable. She also added that the music was amazing and Olaf the snowman was hysterical. So on Tuesday after seeing several clients, I went and saw a children’s movie in the middle of the afternoon…by myself. And I will fully admit, it was the perfect afternoon! My client was right, the film was laugh out loud funny and the music was truthful, inspiring and captivating! All of this, and an amazing message that wasn’t all about prince charming saving the girl. And it backed up what I teach to my clients every day and how I try to live my own life; accept, let go and live your authentic truth. The title track, Let It Go, being the perfect vehicle to deliver all of these messages.

The theme of embracing who we are, accepting ourselves and moving through has also been the popular topic in my office this week. Every day I work with clients on their struggles; their anxieties or depression, their addictions or negative coping. I try to help them find the balance of learning the lesson in order to change and improve, while also accepting themselves. We all have our struggles, our fears, our weaknesses and faults. We all have our traumas, losses and flaws. Living our authentic truth means finding a way to make all of these things part of who we are and not all of our identity. Finding this balance myself has been the biggest challenge and change in me after IVF, embracing that I will never be a mother in order to let go of the pain and being forced to reexamine myself, ultimately embracing my flaws in order to let go of the hurt.

Some used to call me angry, I would refute and say I was passionate. Looking back after the work I have done, and continue to do every day, I can admit that more times than not my passion did come across as agitation. I inherit this characteristic from my dad; we have a lot of passion and if we are not careful it very easily can become agitation and sometimes even anger. And what I have found is that if I am not mindful, it can be one of my major flaws and road blocks to happiness. However, I’ve also come to realize that it is not necessarily a part of my personality that I can “get rid of”, but instead have to learn to manage better.

Surviving IVF and thriving after the major loss of motherhood dreams, I was forced to look at myself and truly change for the better. I had to redefine my happy.  I will never not be fiery, it is everything of who I am. I feel every emotion, a lot. I see every side of everything, all of the time. This is who I am, this is what I love about myself, but it is also the part of me I must cope with to make it work for me. I must embrace the passion to let go of the distress.

I am passionate, and it is the single most important part of who I am, for it is what makes me the friend and the therapist I am. Fighting this part of me only crushes my authentic spirit.  Being fearful of what others may think only keeps me from accepting myself.

So maybe the key to letting it go is actually embracing it. Just as Elsa in Frozen, embracing the very fear that is holding us back, allows us to love and accept ourselves.  Only when we embrace our failings, our faults, our weaknesses, and our losses do they no longer become all of who we are. Through this embrace they become the things we can learn to manage, love and let go.

No Seriously, Dance Like No One’s Watching: Practice Happy to Be Happy

I had two clients ask me this week, “Do you really do all of this stuff yourself?” By “stuff” she meant the to-do list of self care I have been recommending to her for a while now. And, for the first time in probably my entire career I was able to wholeheartedly say, “Yes!” Therapists struggle too. We struggle with being brave. We have difficulty in some of our relationships. We make mistakes. We too can suffer from anxiety and depression. We have hurts and traumas. We have shame. And we fall off the wagon of good self care, ultimately struggling to practice what we preach at times.

In other words, we’re human.

I didn’t become a therapist for the money or the freedom of being self-employed, I became one because of where I came from. My story, my struggles and flaws, all brought me to exactly where I needed to be, helping others. My story has always helped me to be a good therapist. However, the work I’ve done this last year of my life after enduring the losses of IVF, has helped make me the best version of myself, and therefore an even better therapist.

Surviving IVF, but more importantly, choosing to thrive after the losses of IVF, has culminated into changing my entire life. I’ve changed the way I eat, the way I move, how I cope and how I take care of myself.

I chose change.

I chose the work of change to get back to the real me; the me, I honestly, hardly even remember ever existing.

This work has included everything I have always taught to my clients.  But now, I practice it myself every day.  I don’t do it perfectly, and there are definitely the days I stand in my own way and fall off track, to only then have to shake it off, and start it over.  I practice it daily so I can model to the people in my life, clients and loved ones, that’s its possible and worth it.  I practice it so I can push them forward and cheer them on.  I practice it so I can empathize with how easy it is to get off track.  And, I practice it so I can get how annoying it can be doing this hard work.

This practice is time consuming and a downright pain in the ass some days.  But I know if I make it a priority and truly practice it all, my life will continue to improve.  So every day I try to exercise, dance (stupid dance, really just bouncing around and kicking to my happy songs), meditate (even just 5 minutes of concentrating on a mantra helps), read, write, journal, color (yes in an actual coloring book with crayons), do yoga (which is never very pretty), listen to happy music (my favorites are Roar, Brave and Shake It Out), play with the dogs, and watch something happy or funny or uplifting (www.24hoursofhappy.com or www.upworthy.com).  There are days where everything on this list gets done, and then there are the days that life only allows enough time for a few. But I know, we all can find the time to do a good portion of this list every day, whether or not it is cutting out 30 minutes of television or turning off the technology for an hour at night.  The best part?  I promise, it’s worth it.

Practicing all of this of self care provides me the strength and the space to live as my authentic self. With this I can I live feeling the fear but being brave, embracing my flaws and losses, and living my authentic truth.

So, I practice happy to be happy. And, I choose, every day, to live the true spirit of ever upward.

Self Validation: Finding the Balance Between Proving It and Owning It

I have clearly known my goals for starting Ever Upward (the blog version) from the very beginning: ~ to help build credibility for the book.

~ to continue my healing process.

~ to educate.

~ but mostly, to connect with others.

The feedback I have received in the few short weeks of starting the blog has been nothing short of amazing and exactly why I knew I had to write my story, which is really everyone’s story.

“I had no idea.”

“I get it now.”

“I felt your heart in your haunting words.”

“Your post gives me strength to find my truth.”

“It makes me happy that you put your struggles out there to help others going through the same thing.  There are so many women who are in a similar situation that need to know they aren’t alone.”

These words I know come from love and connection; ultimately my goals in writing.  But, I am also finding that I need to keep myself in check with all of this love.  I want to make sure this doesn’t become about making myself feel okay or accepted or validated through others’ approval.  Feeling validated is not on that list of goals above.  Because then it becomes about proving that this is okay, that I am okay, that my story is okay.  And ultimately, that is the very opposite of my goals.  I have to make sure to take this love and make sure it is about the connection while also not tying it to my own validation of myself.  Because when I tie outside validation to my story, it ultimately owns my truth and puts my self-worth at stake.

We are taught, socialized really, to seek outside validation, which only attaches validation to our self worth; how much money do we make, how big and fancy is our home, how many likes does our status get on Facebook, how many followers do we have on Twitter, etc.  Ultimately, we have to learn how to validate for ourselves.

If I can find the validation within myself, my self-worth isn’t tied to the success of the blog, or eventually the book.  It isn’t tied to how many views the blog gets or the courage it takes for other’s to share it.  It isn’t tied to the people who criticize the blog or who read it and don’t like it and don’t get it.  It isn’t tied to the people I so wish would read it, because more than anything I feel like I need (but really want) their understanding and empathy.  Because the truth is, these are the very people who probably will not read the blog.  So I have to do the work, for myself, to learn to accept their limitations, to find validation from, and within myself.

Self validation and owning it has to be a daily practice, whether or not we must practice to own our depression, to own our weaknesses, to own our vulnerabilities, to own our anxieties, to own our struggles... To own our everything, our stories.

Because within owning it all, we own ourselves and find our own validation.

And when we own ourselves through self validation, we open up the space for our happiness, our truth, and our ever upward.

Thriving and Not Just Surviving

Every day I make sure to model to my clients the work I’ve done to change my own life.  And I am reminded that happiness is a choice we must make every day and that it doesn’t really come easily to anyone. I’ve survived…

a year of my life in a body cast.

depression.

the loss 3 babies.

the loss of my first furry child.

the loss of future dreams.

the loss of my identity and sense of belonging.

and at times, the loss of my hope and faith.

I’ve had to redefine my happiness and choose to thrive many times over.  And in the last year of my life, I’ve worked my ass off on becoming a better, happier and healthier person.  And the more time that passes in this work, the more I realize that no one gets out it.  I honestly believe the people who are “making it look easy” aren’t really living as happy and as fulfilled of a life as they could be.

Choosing happiness can be a huge pain and definitely takes time, but it is also effort that shows immediate pay off.  I can stamp my foot and scream at the top of my lungs that it is fair.  But the fact is, nothing in this life is necessarily fair or unfair.  It just is.  And I can choose to focus on the uncontrollable or realize that the only power I have is what I do with what has been bestowed upon me.

That acceptance means I work every day, and sometimes every minute, to choose my happiness.

I thrive because…

I exercise.

I dance.

I listen to happy music.

I meditate.

I write.

I read.

I journal.

I eat right.

I help.

I engage and connect.

I live authentically vulnerable showing my soul to all the world.

I choose to continuously work on the art of letting go of what was never meant to be mine.

And I choose to embrace my whole self, losses and flaws, along with the joys.

And I choose, every day, to practice this happiness work and to model it to my clients.  Showing them they aren’t in this fight alone but rather have a knowing partner to walk alongside them, and at times push them forward from behind.

This journey has been a constant reminder that sometimes we just don’t get what we wanted and that sometimes life just doesn’t turn out the way it was “supposed” to.  But that doesn’t mean it hasn’t happened exactly the way it was meant to.  We just have to have the faith that we may one day get to truly understand it.

And in the meantime, I choose to embrace this uncertainty, trusting in my work and in the practice of happiness.

As this is my thriving acceptance and my story, and therefore me.

I am...

Reminding my clients every day they are not their struggles definitely serves as a constant reminder of who I chose to be.  I’m always educating my clients on how to separate out their struggles and concerns, and not internalize them to be all of who they are.  We are not the things that have happened to us, we are not our struggles or our diagnoses, we are not our faults or shortcomings…unless we choose to be. I do not have to be my thoughts and allow them the power to change the way I feel and behave.  I can choose to have more power in this life, I choose whether I am a victim, survivor or, better yet, if I strive to really thrive.  This is my choice.  My authentic truth lies within me, hell it is fighting to get out of me, all I have to do is take care of it enough for it to shine.

We may have depression; we don’t have to be depressed.

We may struggle with anxiety; we don’t have to choose to be anxious.

We may feel safer behind the brick wall; we don’t have to be alone.

We may ____________________ (fill in the blank), it is our choice to BE ________________________.

Ever Upward is how I’m choosing wholeness, fulfillment and happiness despite not getting the joy of motherhood.  Making the choice, sometimes daily, to not be sad, cynical, bitter, and angry but to find the brighter light for me.

I don’t get to be a mother, but I can choose to be so much more…

I am …

a daughter

a wife

a friend

a sister

an aunt

a helper

a therapist

a storyteller

a writer

a dog mom

an educator

a speaker

a spark

Most of all, I’m working to really own it!