The Permission of And

  I stand on my brick patio looking up at the churning sky. My lush butterfly gardens, all four of them, surround me with all the shades of green you can imagine and the sweetest scents to ever fill my nose.

I force the deep breath in through my nose in an attempt to not allow the sobs to escape and tears to roll.

I look up, GodI need something. Take this away if it isn't for Your good or Your plan. Give me something, show me what I need to keep going, that I am on the right track. Please give me the strength either way.

Three pleads. Three requests.

Three.

And, there they are again.

I release the deep breath from my mouth which only seems to give permission for the tears to come.

I breath in again, breathing in how much my soul longs for my three, Have you forgotten me?

I make myself pause with my exhale; stopping to listen.

The birds are chirping and the wind is blowing through my milkweed plants and all the trees.

In the breath of the wind and churning of the sky I hear, I am here child. I've got it. I am good. Trust me.

I feel a new and slight sense of peace and my lingering frustration. Once again, I am reminded of the complicated gray I feel everyday without my children here on earth.

The complicated gray of the longing joy and the childless mother.

With eyes and heart wide open to receive and the courage to ask, the next two weeks He fills my life with example after example of the complicated gray. As if He is saying, Make the time, this is your path, write it, share it, shine it.

The client who is about to deliver her sons after years of trying; feeling happy and scared.

My team who battles the fear of what others think and their belief and bravery to help others and share something they believe in.

The client who loves and must let go of people she really cares about.

The reader who is finally pregnant after years of trying only to realize her fear is stealing her joy.

The muck between knowing we are worthy, lovable, enough and the old stories our head tells us that we aren't.

The acquaintance who desperately wants and needs to make a change in her life and feels comfortable even if it is in her known misery.

The client who is very early in a pregnancy after a miscarriage and a stillbirth, feeling the pull to protect the memory of her sons while also loving and hoping for this new baby.

My pride in a growing business and the frustration in it not happening fast enough.

All of it the complicated gray and what I am learning is my gift for this world.

 
the-complicated-gray-is-the-permission-to-change-the-but-to-an-and.jpg
 

Because the complicated gray is the permission to change the but to an and.

Giving ourselves permission to feel it all, all at the same time; the anger and acceptance, the  joy and the longing, the fear and the hope.

The permission to walk into the muck of the gray between the certainties of life; allowing ourselves to hold both truths, as difficult and uncomfortable as that is, we will awaken to life in color.

The anxious hope. The doubting worth. The frustrated belief. The boundaried love. The yearning acceptance.

The longing joy as the childless mother.

So, I will continue to fight for this next book because it is needed, I see the power in it every day in my life and He seems to be reminding me of it more and more.

Thank you for your patience as I continue my advocacy work, my jobs that actually pay the bills and working on the follow up to Ever Upward. And, I'll take whatever prayers, positive sparkles, love and shares/tweets/likes you've got.

The Breath of Healing and a Strawberry Shortcake Bandage

Her scraped up knee is bright red with fresh blood. Plump tears roll down her rosy cheeks. "Okay, ready? It is going to burn but mama will blow on it to help."

"Okay," she gets out in the midst of a sob.

 
the-mother-armed-with-the-breath-of-healing-and-a-strawberry-shortcake-bandage.jpg
 

I pour the clear peroxide over the freshly scraped up knee so rightfully and bravely earned from her first go around without training wheels. The familiar white bubbles appear as her leg jumps out of reflex and an audible whine escapes her mouth.

"Okay, blow on it with me," I coax her.

We both gently blow a steady stream of what has to feel like healing cool air onto the foaming and now clean injury.

"How's that?'

"Better," she musters through the slightest of smirks.

We sing a song while we wait for the boo boo to air dry.

"My Little Pony or Strawberry Shortcake bandage?" I ask.

"Strawberry," she answers with the faintest little girl accent.

That's my girl, Ithink back to my own Strawberry Shortcake curtains and bedding as a kid her age.

I gently place the pink and red bandage over the scrape.

"Kiss?"

"Yes."

The simplest of moments between a mother and a daughter. A moment I am sure most parents never give a second thought to. For me, a moment in my forever longing and wondering imagination. Yet, I got some semblance of it this weekend when one of my clients texted me for help. She was off visiting where she is going to continue her college education far, far away from the city limits of St. Louis and in the mountains where she spent the last couple of days hiking much to the chagrin of her heels.

A picture of the biggest blister I have ever seen came through on my phone with a message of, "Please tell me what to do. Do I clean it? Cover it? Help. Please."

Not the normal text I get as a mental health therapist, yet one I wasn't surprised by.

I talked her through cleaning her blisters and taking care of them but at first forgot to tell her about blowing on the foaming peroxide! My self-talk was not much unlike what I hear in my office from mothers who hardly ever give themselves credit for the brilliant jobs they are doing, Crap! God, I suck.

I circled back and let her know to blow on the bubbles to help with the sting. I then told her that I was sorry she was never taught this growing up and that she deserved better. Her mother died when she was young and she grew up without a mother like figure to teach her these kinds of things.

And, I am growing old without my own children to teach them to.

God's plan in something as simple as a boo boo.

Much of what we do as therapists is re-parenting our clients. I teach, I coach, I push, I hold space for healing, I keep accountable and I deeply care. Actually, this is also what I do if you are my friend or family. It is kind of impossible to shut off.

It was there before the infertility journey. Only, made stronger by becoming a mother to my three. And, something I am thankful for every single day.

The bossy, pushy, loving mother I am. The mother they made me. The mother armed with the breath of healing and a Strawberry Shortcake bandage.

Petite Post: Loving Well and Fully in Honor of Them

I have found a special love, and talent for those in the battle of secondary infertility and those in the midst of pregnancy after loss. The other day I had an aha with a client coping with pregnancy after loss. One of the biggest misconceptions of the trying to conceive, infertility and loss community is that a healthy pregnancy is our cure all. I see some of the hardest struggle during this time, which if you think about it, is not that surprising. We've already had the worst case scenario happen, we already know that not everything always turns out. A healthy pregnancy, although amazing and happy, is also filled with anxiety, worry and, if we aren't careful, all consuming fear.

What I am especially seeing in my office is the difficulty for mom to allow herself to attach and fully love the growing baby in her belly,

Because what if it isn't okay? What if I lose it?

To which I say,

Your children before this, although you may have never had the blessing to meet them, made you the mother you are today. You love this baby well because of them. You love this baby fully in honor of the ones who made you a mother to begin with.

The complicated gray of afraid and brave all at once my fellow warriors, loving well and loving fully is what our children deserve, it is also what we deserve.

 
we-love-well-because-of-them-we-love-fully-in-honor-of-them-they-made-us-mothers.png
 

~~~

Don't Talk About the Baby

Please share and support (if you can, every $5 helps) the film Don't Talk About the Baby, our all or nothing campaign is ending soon.

 
 

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

Mental Health Blog Day

apa-blogdaybadge-2014.jpg

Today, I am reposting The Authentic Therapist because I feel like it fulfills most of the goals of Mental Health Blog Day. We must own our stories.

We must fight for our recovery.

We must break the shamed silence and negative stigma surrounding mental health, as we are all fighting a battle of some kind and therefore we all must choose our own recovery.

~~~~

"You see a therapist?!?"

I think this question is posed for several reasons. But, if I practiced mind reading, which I never recommend doing, this is what I think is really behind this question:

Only really crazy people have to see a therapist!

But you're a therapist, shouldn't you have this all figured out?

Chin up! Can't you just figure it out for yourself?

You must not be strong enough to deal.

~~~~

I struggle and I am a therapist.

I am a therapist, and yet I am also a perfectly imperfect human myself.

I have faith there will be a day when we all have a therapist we work with sporadically throughout our lives. Because life is hard and people are complicated. And to have someone outside of your friends and family to help you through it all, is nothing less than priceless.

I also have faith there will be a day that people aren't shocked that I regularly see a therapist (patients, friends, family and strangers alike). Because life is hard and people are complicated, especially when you are the one helping others through all that life is hard and people are complicated stuff.

 
 

I am also a therapist who lives my life afraid and brave every second of every day. I live my life honoring my authentic truth. I live this way because it is how I have found my own recovery. I live this way because I have done the hard work, choosing it every day, of my recovery. I live this way because I simply cannot not live this way.

I also live this way because I see how much my clients are empowered to change their own lives as I show them my work.

It was drilled into my head in graduate school that as counselor we DO NOT GIVE ADVICE! It didn't take long of me working in this field, in the real world of limited time and resources, managed health care and difficult life circumstances, that I knew this philosophy just wasn't going to work for the people I help or for me and the kind of therapist I wanted to be. I will not answer all your troubles, I will not do the work for you, and I cannot save you if you are not ready to save yourself. But I can assure you, I will walk alongside you modeling what it is like to fight for your own recovery. I will pull you forward, at times, urging you to have faith that it will get better. And, there will be those times I push you forward because it is simply what you need right then to take the best next stop forward.

I also learned in graduate school, as is the philosophy of many in my field, that our clients know nothing about us, that we are blank slates. Early in my career, before I really had to fight for my own recovery, I practiced more on this side of impersonal connection. However, I found that I was working way harder than my clients. I also found I struggled with boundaries because I was fighting so much harder than the client to save their own life. Only after fighting for my own recovery was I able to both share and model my fight for my clients. Self disclosure will always be a hotly debated topic in mental health, as it needs be. As, it needs to be used ONLY when it will move the client forward in their own work. Therapists, myself included, must be careful to not dump our own shit onto our clients. Constantly keep tabs on why we are sharing our own battles with our clients to make sure it is for them and not us.

My own transparency along with the public forum of writing a blog has meant my clients may know a lot about my life and struggles, sometimes even before their first session. I am sure this will make some in my field cringe, graduate professors included. However, it is without a doubt, that I can say this has done nothing but make me a better therapist and better able to help others through their struggles. Not only does this provide constant teaching moments for clients in empathy and authenticity but they know they are truly seen and known when they come to see me for their sessions. They know they are talking to someone who has fought this epic war of recovery. They know they are talking to someone who is not perfect, who also struggles with self-compassion towards that perfection but who, most importantly, owns their story.  I have been asked by my own treatment team what it has been like for my clients to know more about my life, especially as this is something I make sure to have supervision on. Honestly, it is something that is difficult to put into words as it feels like something bigger than us; it is recovery, it is connection, it is ever upward.

 
rays.jpg
 

Marianne Williamson captures this perfectly, "As we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others."

So I will write about my life, both in this blog and in the book Ever Upward. I will share with my clients parts of my own story when I think it will be helpful in their recovery. I will model the daily fight and choices of recovery.

I will help.

I will walk alongside.

I will pull forward.

And, I will push.

I will help by being me. I will help by owning my story; ugly, shameful, scary, imperfect parts and all. Because it is only within this ownership that my ever upward is found and I can really help.

Change the Why

Why? The word that so many toddlers torture their parents with as their curiosity about the world overwhelms them so much that they must know why about everything.

Why? Why? But, why?

It is counseling 101, and in reality, one of the most helpful communication tools I teach to my clients. Take the why out of your conversations, especially the difficult ones.

Saying why can feel accusatory, and when we feel accused our defenses go up which means healthy communication typically becomes even more difficult and can even shut down.

 
 

Why did you do that?

Why do you feel that way?

Why do you think that?

Why can't you just be better?

Taking the why out of these questions feels a lot different.

What was that about?

How come you feel that way?

What is that thought process about for you?

What is holding you back from changing?

These small changes may seem trivial but just try saying those statements out loud to yourself and feel the difference. Now imagine how much your communication can be helped if you become more conscious of the why.

But, the why I really want for us all to change is your self talk why. The why you beat yourself up with when you make a mistake.

I first learned of how hard I am on myself when I took a workshop with Kristen Neff, author of Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself, at Emerging Women last year. In the workshop, she talked us through her self-compassion break meditation and for the first time I had to see in my own handwriting how hard I am on myself when I make a simple mistake. That berating self talk, calling ourselves names and really just not being nice to ourselves at all. This kind of self talk does not motivate us to change even though we've convinced ourselves that it has. We must realize what our inner critic is really trying to do, which is keep us safe or or keep us from suffering or improve us but through the years it has developed a pretty mean way of doing so.

Neff's research shows that self-compassion is where confidence and change can really occur. Her self-compassion model includes self-kindness (talking to yourself like you talk to a loved one), common humanity (reminding ourselves that everyone struggles and everyone makes mistakes) and mindfulness (being present with all our emotions). Combine that with the shame resilience skills from the work of Brené Brown and your self talk becomes a lot more pleasant and motivating.

A typical day for me will always include a trip, a spill or something breaking. It is just who I am, I am usually going too fast and as a firm believer in the one trip that often times means I am falling or breaking something. Yesterday for example, at coffee with a new friend as we are deep in great conversation I pick up my coffee cup to take a drink and it literally explodes; lid pops off, hot coffee all over my dress, the table and in my bowl of oatmeal (in my defense the barista had bent the cup before handing it to me but I was also moving too fast as usual).

Before learning the work of Kristen Neff and Brené Brown my inner dialogue would have been:

You're such an idiot. Oh my gosh, you are ridiculous. Why can't you be more careful? Just f*cking slow down! You're so stupid. How embarrassing!

After doing this work in my recovery:

Well, that had to be hysterical. That sucks, I'm covered in coffee. I need to stop, slow down and be more careful. Great girl, but not great choice.

I think we all struggle with this mean inner dialogue from time to time. I see it every day with my clients. My challenge to us all is to be nicer to ourselves. To take the why out of our self talk and replace it with how come or what. And finally, to remember we are worthy, lovable and great people who make mistakes but we don't have to be those mistakes. Today become conscious of how you talk to yourself. Be nice and change the why!

The Authentic Therapist

"You see a therapist?!?" I think this question is posed for several reasons. But, if I practiced mind reading, which I never recommend doing, this is what I think is really behind this question:

Only really crazy people have to see a therapist!

But you're a therapist, shouldn't you have this all figured out?

Chin up! Can't you just figure it out for yourself?

You must not be strong enough to deal.

~~~~

I struggle and I am a therapist.

I am a therapist, and yet I am also a perfectly imperfect human myself.

I have faith there will be a day when we all have a therapist we work with sporadically throughout our lives. Because life is hard and people are complicated. And to have someone outside of your friends and family to help you through it all, is nothing less than priceless.

I also have faith there will be a day that people aren't shocked that I regularly see a therapist (patients, friends, family and strangers alike). Because life is hard and people are complicated, especially when you are the one helping others through all that life is hard and people are complicated stuff.

 
 

I am also a therapist who lives my life afraid and brave every second of every day. I live my life honoring my authentic truth. I live this way because it is how I have found my own recovery. I live this way because I have done the hard work, choosing it every day, of my recovery. I live this way because I simply cannot not live this way.

I also live this way because I see how much my clients are empowered to change their own lives as I show them my work.

It was drilled into my head in graduate school that as counselor we DO NOT GIVE ADVICE! It didn't take long of me working in this field, in the real world of limited time and resources, managed health care and difficult life circumstances, that I knew this philosophy just wasn't going to work for the people I help or for me and the kind of therapist I wanted to be. I will not answer all your troubles, I will not do the work for you, and I cannot save you if you are not ready to save yourself. But I can assure you, I will walk alongside you modeling what it is like to fight for your own recovery. I will pull you forward, at times, urging you to have faith that it will get better. And, there will be those times I push you forward because it is simply what you need right then to take the best next stop forward.

I also learned in graduate school, as is the philosophy of many in my field, that our clients know nothing about us, that we are blank slates. Early in my career, before I really had to fight for my own recovery, I practiced more on this side of impersonal connection. However, I found that I was working way harder than my clients. I also found I struggled with boundaries because I was fighting so much harder than the client to save their own life. Only after fighting for my own recovery was I able to both share and model my fight for my clients. Self disclosure will always be a hotly debated topic in mental health, as it needs be. As, it needs to be used ONLY when it will move the client forward in their own work. Therapists, myself included, must be careful to not dump our own shit onto our clients. Constantly keep tabs on why we are sharing our own battles with our clients to make sure it is for them and not us.

My own transparency along with the public forum of writing a blog has meant my clients may know a lot about my life and struggles, sometimes even before their first session. I am sure this will make some in my field cringe, graduate professors included. However, it is without a doubt, that I can say this has done nothing but make me a better therapist and better able to help others through their struggles. Not only does this provide constant teaching moments for clients in empathy and authenticity but they know they are truly seen and known when they come to see me for their sessions. They know they are talking to someone who has fought this epic war of recovery. They know they are talking to someone who is not perfect, who also struggles with self-compassion towards that perfection but who, most importantly, owns their story.  I have been asked by my own treatment team what it has been like for my clients to know more about my life, especially as this is something I make sure to have supervision on. Honestly, it is something that is difficult to put into words as it feels like something bigger than us; it is recovery, it is connection, it is ever upward.

 
rays.jpg
 

Marianne Williamson captures this perfectly, "As we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others."

So I will write about my life, both in this blog and in the book Ever Upward. I will share with my clients parts of my own story when I think it will be helpful in their recovery. I will model the daily fight and choices of recovery.

I will help.

I will walk alongside.

I will pull forward.

And, I will push.

I will help by being me. I will help by owning my story; ugly, shameful, scary, imperfect parts and all. Because it is only within this ownership that my ever upward is found and I can really help.

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

I read once in a yoga magazine, which sat in my own waiting room, that in order to let go we must set up the circumstances in our lives that allow us to let go. In other words, as I always tell my clients, letting go is more of an art than a science. And, if I had the power to make it a science, or better yet an easily followed recipe, I'd quit my day job as a therapist and pursue my backup career (makeup artist in case you were wondering).

The Art of Letting Go

Letting go is an art we must grapple with, I think, throughout our entire lives if we are going to have any sense of peace, contentment and happiness.

A practice really.

A practice, that I will admit, I must continually put effort into, sometimes daily.

I can stamp my feet and scream at the top of my lungs that it's not fair! That it's just too hard to let go, let alone accept. But, it doesn't really change the fact that many of the things I need to let go of and accept are things that were never really in my control to begin with.

What can be even more frustrating is that I really do feel like I have been able to let go and accept one of the toughest circumstances of my life in surviving through IVF and accepting a childfree life. Although, only through practice, as there are definitely still days of major struggle on this front

Yet in my own recovery and in my work with clients, letting go will always be a battle of life that we must rumble with, and if not continually challenged and worked on can have major consequences on our happiness and well-being.

The big ones I struggle with myself and continually see in my office with clients tend to be the soul crushing and spirit stealing ones that have the staying power of tattooed eyebrows (which I'm not sure I'd ever recommend, even if I did become that makeup artist). They're the ones that can leave us empty, defeated shells of our authentic self.

The Five Hardest Things to Let Go

So here they are, the five things we tend to continuously hold on to and how we can attempt to set up the circumstances in our lives in order to allow ourselves to let them go...

1. The past.

We can't change it.

What's done is done.

It is what it is.

If it isn't okay, it probably isn't finished.

Instead of dwelling or wallowing, we need to begin asking ourselves things like: "Where do I go from here?" or "What's my next best step?".

And we must remember to have self-compassion around it, "Well, that sucked or I messed that one up. What now?".

For the most part, we all do the best we know how in any given moment. If we had known better, we would have chosen better or differently. Even when we are really messing up or hurting others or when someone in our life is really messing up or hurting us, it is the best they had in that piece of time; learn from it and move forward.

2. The what ifs.

We are not mind readers.

We are not fortune tellers or clairvoyant.

We tell ourselves, playing out the what ifs is a way to protect ourselves from being hurt and a way to prepare us for the worst case scenario. But really, it is just a waste of our time, energy and spirit. If we must play the what ifs, play it fairly and play both sides of it. And put a time limit on this type of worry.

Asking ourselves things like, "How possible is it? How probable is it?" or "What is the concrete evidence? What actually is?".

Life is uncertain; we loathe uncertainty and yet we must embrace it, because if we don't we simply just miss it completely.

3. The need to be understood by everyone and the need to understand everyone.

Sometimes we just won't get it or we just won't get someone.

Sometimes they just won't get us.

That doesn't mean we judge or pity. Within our differences we must find respect and compassion for one another, and we only find this through authentic connection and practicing empathy. Focus on what we do have in common and set clear healthy boundaries if needed.

Love and belonging are inherent needs for us all, we thrive through and within connection. But we must also give ourselves permission that this connection can look and feel differently for everyone. And, at the end of the day, we will not find belonging through fitting in, peace will only be found within our own self-validation.

4. Things not in our control.

The harsh reality that we all must face is that there isn't much in our control; only how we think, feel and behave.

My reactions to life, or better yet my response to life is completely within my power. When I embrace this limited power, of just myself, I actually gain full control of my life.

5. What isn’t.

Not thin enough.

Not rich enough.

Not happy enough.

We must stop living in the never ______________ enough.

Because we are enough.

Not accepting what is and what isn't, especially when it isn't what we wanted or hoped for is one of the biggest thieves of happiness and well-being.

We must trust and have faith that everything is exactly as it is supposed to be.

There are no mistakes, no failures, just lessons and moments.

Very few things actually last forever, and even if they do we're still changeable.

And in reality, this brings us right back to the beginning of our need to learn to let go. I suppose, putting us right back where we started; kind of a paradox of ourselves.

And yet, the only way through is to continually work on letting go, as this can be our guiding light out back to our true self.

Lights in the Tunnel

I can’t keep doing this. Things will never get better.

Why can’t I just do this?

I’ve never been able to change before.

It will never work.

Will I ever get better?

It’s too hard.

Why can’t I stop?

It’s too good to be true.

It won’t last.

Why do I keep doing this?

I can’t.

I won’t.

The words of battle scars. The words of recovery wars lost thus far. The words of pain, hurt, loss and shame.

The words before the true fight.

Life is hard, people are complicated and we simply just don’t get the joy without the pain and work. Which means it can be tempting to give up, to quit; to accept what is but not in the healthy letting go way and only in the learned helplessness give up way.

Sometimes we can’t even fathom putting one foot in front of the other because we’re still trying to pull ourselves back up from falling.

Sometimes we simply cannot see the light at the end of the tunnel anymore.

Dark hopelessness.

Except, I can always see your light.

~

I help.

I can’t not help.

And, I love what I do. I was born to do what I do. My life, and my survivals, have made me very good at what I do. Every day I fight alongside amazing people who are setting forth to change their own lives. To choose themselves. To choose to fight. To choose their ever upward.

This war of change can, at times, feel like the most impossible choice ever. But it is also the most necessary choice ever. And it is a war that is won through each small battle, each small step taken forward in that long dark tunnel of recovery. That tunnel that, hopefully, you can see the light at the end of.

But oftentimes, this just isn’t how it works. We will want to quit and the light will disappear and we will even lose some of the battles. But that is exactly when I ask my clients to have faith. Because, when they can no longer see their light at the end of the tunnel I need them to trust that I can see it for them.

Because that light just isn't their recovery, it is their light, the light of their spirit, soul, being.

I need them to trust that I can see who they are truly meant to be

That I can see what really lies beneath all of the struggle.

I see them, I see their light. Always.

~

But, sometimes that light isn’t always at the end of the tunnel. Sometimes, in our fight to get back to our true selves the tunnel can work against us, creating a blind tunnel vision. The tunnel vision that keeps us stuck. That keeps us trying the same things over and over that just aren’t working. We have been losing the battles and have to force ourselves to put one foot in front of the other with our heads down because we simply don’t have the strength in us to keep going if we look up and see that the light isn’t there anymore.

But this is when we miss it. This dark stuckness that keeps our heads down makes us completely miss the lights beside us. The other outs. The other helps. The hands reaching out for us.

 
 

The lighted detours.

I work every day to not only see the lights within my clients, but to also remind them of that light throughout their journey through the dark tunnels of recovery. But it is also my job to help them find the other lights beside them; the lighted detours.

Because recovery isn’t this straight up trajectory of perfection. It is usually hell filled with deep dry valleys, cold thin aired mountains, swamps, quicksand pits and even tight ropes across ravines. And it has many detours, both dark and light detours.

Recovery definitely includes those darker detours, the ones that just didn’t work. We didn’t quite make the best choice possible. And a lot of the times, this can set us back, but never back to the beginning and we just need to take the best next step. It is then that we must remember to keep our eyes open to those lighted detours. The detours that we easily miss because we are trudging along so painstakingly in the war of recovery searching for the light at the end of the tunnel.

Many times, these lighted detours can be our outs. Our escape from the cycle of hurt. The path to our recovery. Our lighted path to our ever upward.

~

Recovery, from whatever, is brutal, the tunnel is almost always long and dark. Having someone to walk alongside you through that path is helpful beyond measure. Someone who can always see your light. Someone who can see the light at the end for you when you lose track. Someone who can remind you of your own light. Someone to nudge you to look over to the lighted detours.

Someone to fight for you, but most importantly, with you.

Inspired by the WordPress Weekly Writing Challenge: 1,000 words.

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

Making Room for the Light

We loathe discomfort. We can’t stand to feel sad. Depression and anxiety make us want to escape our bodies. We all struggle to feel the unpleasantness of life. We struggle so much we often times go to any length to self medicate and numb. Whether we drink or use. Or shop or gamble. Or watch hours of mind numbing television. Or pull our hair. Or binge and purge. We would so much rather hurt ourselves in the long term because all of these things provides us some sense of very temporary relief. But they work. My clients are shocked when I say their “vices” (or in some cases addictions) are doing something positive for them. We, as human beings, don’t do things that don’t feel good or work. It’s just many times these very things that work to numb us out to our pains and hurts often times stop working at some point, and they begin to create even more problems, especially shame and darkness.

I think, at times, emotions can become one of these vices, especially anger. Anger tends to be an emotion that many of us are comfortable feeling. Many of us would rather feel angry than sad. What I am learning about myself, after spending the last year of my life changing everything after the losses endured with IVF, is that this anger is definitely my go-to emotion. The bitter, and thank God very fleeting anger, the anger I’ve worked so hard on coping with and letting go of, but still seems to swoop in to save me. I hate this anger, especially because I want to let go of the biggest trigger for it.

I love children, I love when my loved ones get to have children; I even love when strangers, hell, people I don’t even like get to have children. But where I am still struggling are the people who “don’t deserve” them. The super fertile 16 year olds. The couple who have already lost custody of their other 3 children. The people who don’t even want them. I’m sure this list could go on and on, just watch the news.

And as usual, no emotion is uncomplicated for a therapist. This brief, but very strong, bitter angry emotion momentarily knocks me down. And as I continue to do the work to redefine myself, I’m learning to rebound more quickly. I’m also understanding more about myself and how I feel about it. Yes feeling about a feeling, oh the professional hazards of being a therapist!

- I am NO ONE to judge who gets the joy of children. I am neither judge nor jury, nor do I want to be.

- I do have faith that there are no mistakes, at least in the long run.

- Even though it feels really, really f*cking unfair, it really is neither fair nor unfair. Sure maybe it's unlucky, but it just is, and it is not mine to necessarily understand right now.

- And most importantly, I am coming to understand that this anger is coming in to save me from feeling what I really feel… which is simply really sad.

And that is okay. Sometimes things are just sad. It's sad IVF didn't work for us. It’s sad we lost our 3 babies. It’s sad we lost those 3 dreams. Giving myself permission to continue to feel that sadness, as needed, will help to stave off that anger that seems to set me back so much every time. I have to embrace it in order to let it go. When I allow myself to feel it, I don't become it. And only when I do this, is there enough space to truly find the ever upward. The ever upward that is this work of learning to be happy and healthy, and even okay and fulfilled, without children.

We all must work to accept that we are not wired to escape ourselves, no matter how hard we try. We have to feel, we have to feel it all, even the darkness, because when we allow ourselves to do that, it will pass and make room for the light.

 
 

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.