Making It Well With My Soul

One of those Sundays in church that you weren't sure what you needed, if anything, but you get it anyways.

Clarity. Light. Love.

We all struggle. We all lose. We all will hurt.

And yet, so many of us are struggling to not only do the work to survive this life but to embrace that these struggles, losses and hurts can, will and must become well with our soul.

But, we cannot do this alone. I'd even argue to say that we cannot do this with only our faith either.

We need support. We need help. We need each other.

As Pastor Greg spoke about our struggles he discussed that God will often send Jesus in Skin; the person we need to help us through. Pastor Greg went into a whole story about being with his family in an overwhelming and scary situation and how their guide was wearing a red shirt. God protected them and sent in a red shirt.

In other words, we need both spirit and actual being to help us through.

The light. The guide. The help.

They closed that service with a version of the old hymn It Is Well with My Soul, and with the words let go my soul and trust in Him...it is well with my soul. I allowed myself to continue the work I have done in embracing the hard stuff. Everything I have survived, all the losses, is well with my soul. My story, my ever upward, both in my struggle and recovery and in my work of the book, blog and my private practice, allows me to help. Practicing the work of recovery means allowing it all to be well with my soul.

Not necessarily fair but well, okay, at peace.

That Sunday Chad and I just happened to sit behind one of my young clients and her family. After the song ended her mom turned around to me with tears running down her face and said, "You're our red shirt, thank you."

And, in that moment I felt even more clarity I didn't even know I needed.

Clarity.

That clarity where you feel with every sense of your being that you are experiencing a piece of your puzzle being put perfectly into its place in the beautiful picture of your life. The right time, the right place, the right people all put exactly where they are supposed to be for this unexpected, brilliant moment of clarity.

Sometimes these moments are shoved in our faces and hearts, sometimes we must be open enough to receive them, sometimes it is a little bit of both.

In her six words I felt God, I felt love, I felt the universe, I felt the light and my light.

I felt the forever scarred soul of who I am heal just a bit more.

Being the red shirt.

 
 

I carried that into my sessions last week.

It is an honor and privilege to do the work I do. I love what I do. I love walking alongside people as they choose to change their lives. Sometimes, I have to push from behind and sometimes I pull from ahead but mostly I simply walk alongside.

It was with this clarity that I was able to be with a client as she told me she was pregnant after years of trying, as she struggled to say the words, struggling out of disbelief, fear, guilt and out of protection for my losses.

And, yet I was able to be her red shirt. Because I know she is only in my office because she had lost herself in her battle to make her family. Because I know I was only able to help her because I am the therapist I am today after my own losses. Because I know she will be okay no matter what because of the work she has done with me. Because she has given me the honor and the privilege to be her red shirt.

All of it, two back surgeries, failed IVF, lost babies, anxiety and depression is only well with my soul if I choose to do the work to make it so.

My choice lies in what I do what with where I have come from.

My choice lies in the power of moving ever upward.

~~~~

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What Would It Be Like to Stop Doing and Let It Be?

I am doer.

A determined, impatient, fast, get it done and get it done right and get it done quickly doer.

It is in my genes, it has been my who I am and it is piece of me I will forever work on managing so it doesn't kill me.

It is how I have survived two back surgeries and a year in a body cast. It has been how have built a successful private practice. It has been how I have changed my lifestyle. And, it has been how I finished writing and publishing a book in a little over a year.

And, here I am feeling the pull of letting it be to get the hell out of the way while also feeling the push of the work to make sure Ever Upward succeeds.

This balance feels like torture at times. When we have a goal, we do the steps necessary to make sure that goal comes into being.

We get it done.

We work our asses off.

We do.

But, maybe there is a point that we have done just about as much as we possibly can and we need to consider letting it be. Put our hands up, take a few steps back from our work, look up, close our eyes and take that deep knowing breath.

The breath of accomplishment; I did that.

The breath of clarity; it is my best.

The breath of fear; what if it isn't enough?

The breath of hope; getting out of the way in order for it to grow.

To let it be.

Because, I have done. I have tried, pushed, begged and worked my bravery more than I ever thought possible. I have sent my work to endless publications. I have sent it to as many people as possible; those who have inspired me, challenged me and who are more successful than me. I have submitted hundreds of times. I have put my book into many hands. All to ask for reviews, for feedback, for help, for anything.

I have done a lot. Exactly as we all do when we really want, really need, something to happen.

But, it also feels terrible (and more and more counter intuitive) to feel like it is never enough

After seeing Gabrielle Bernstein at Emerging Women, I am feeling the pull towards taking that step back from my work and trusting that it is enough. *

Because what if I am standing in the way of the magic taking off?

Can I put more joy into this process because I knowEver Upward will take off?

How can I trust that the very thing that is making this slow to grow is the very thing that will change many lives?

 
 

I must let it be.

I must continue my work in recovery; the writing, the self-care, the relationships, etc. And, most likely be extremely diligent in it because this whole letting it be thing does not come naturally at all to who I am. But, I also know that I want to be the person who trusts God, trusts the universe and trusts the light inside of me.

So I am going to trust. I am going to let go. I am going to let  it be.

And, I will tell that part of my brain that wants to do some more, that she has done enough.

It is enough.

She is enough.

~~~~

*Note: This could also be because I have been meditating for about 20 minutes every day since seeing Gabby speak. I can literally feel the change happening inside of me.

*Opening up this space, even just in writing this post, I have already felt the space for myself and the space to create light up right in front of me. Much, much more to come there...

Ever Upward is  available now! Please consider doing a review on Amazon, it would mean so much!!

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An Imposter and Fraud or a Forever Grieving and Healing Mother?

They turned up the lights after one song. We usually sing four amazing rock band like songs which is one of the many reasons I love our church.

Then I remembered seeing the reserved seats walking in, "Reserved for families of children dedication".

Shit. Oh, shit.

Today is the children's dedication at church.

Okay, I can do this. I can hold it together.

I can celebrate through my jealousy and focus on the love of these families. I can focus on how adorable these kids are and how much their families love them.

I can do this. I can do this.

Nope.

Pastor Greg asked all the supporting family to come and join the families getting dedicated up front and we bowed our heads in prayer.

I have no idea what was said, at this point I was trying to focus on keeping my breathing steady in an attempt to not break down in heaving sobs.

Amen.

Lights dim, the singing surges back up and I sit my ass down to sob.

Grieving and healing

It's been a while since it has hit me like that; like a two ton boulder sitting on my chest, like the rug of life being swept out from under me, like a swift and stinging smack across the face.

And like everything else in my life, especially my life as a recoveringtherapist, it is nothing short of extremely complicated.

Ever Upward launches in just a couple of days. A book that includes to Own a Childfree Life in the subtitle. A book where I write about my struggle through infertility to accept a childfree life and thrive thereafter.

And yet, there I sat sobbing in the dark after the children's dedication at church this morning.

Am I an imposter?

Do I still have a ton of work to do?

Should I be able to handle this better by now?

Should I not be even more saddened as I hear my parents sniffling beside me knowing that I will never be able to give them grandchildren from Chad and I? Or are they sniffling just because they can see how much I am hurting?

Should I not be angry that families like us are not mentioned at all? And, that we aren't even the tiniest glimmers in anyone's heads or hearts?

And yet, can I still be so thankful that many won't even have to think about living life without children or won't ever have to pursue infertility treatments or lose babies?

Should I not be even a tiny bit cynical that infertility has changed how I see the world forever? As I looked at that line of families and asked myself in my head which ones suffered losses before, which ones had to use fertility assistance, which ones are still hurting just like me.

Am I a fraud?

Or am I just human.

An always grieving, yet healing, mother with a scarred heart.

A mother with empty arms on this side of eternity.

Can I be sure of my messages and advocacy in Ever Upward, can I own my acceptance of a childfree life, and still be healing and hurting all at once?

The release of this book doesn't mean I have this all figured out, I have never once claimed that. But what I am coming to understand is that it does come with this fear that people will think I am okay, I am healed, that it doesn't hurt anymore.

The Lifelong Losses

Overcoming the Lifelong Losses of Infertility is the first part of Ever Upward's subtitle and those words were chosen for very specific reasons.

This will always be hard. This will never go away. It lasts a lifetime.

There will always be those days that it hits me out of nowhere, like today. There will also always be those days that I know will be hard, like the due dates, every single year. There will always be times of the year that it feels impossible to be a part of social media. There will always be the reminders that I just don't quite fit in.

The struggles and the losses of family planning are never forgotten and I think, maybe never even healed.

But, I must choose to be forever healing.

I also must trust that this isn't for nothing. That I have not suffered these losses for naught.

It is through this work I can make sure that I am healing, that I am recovering, that I am scarred but never closed.

Ever upward isn't always easy but it will always be worth it. And this means giving myself permission to sometimes feel the world in my losses but to feel it in my enough.

And, so I choose; I choose to move and to be ever upward.

 
 

Housekeeping

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The Hard Work (and Art) of Forgiveness

Forgiveness is a common theme in my office. Forgiveness of ourselves.

And, forgiveness of our loved ones.

Much like the art of letting go, forgiveness can be one of life's trickiest bitches.

We must learn to forgive

I believe the people hurting the most on this earth are the ones who are holding onto to things that simply cannot be changed; past hurts, betrayals and disappointments. Especially the ones committed by our loved ones against us. The ones we really don't have control over.

When we hold onto these past hurts they very easily eat us from the inside out and don't move us to being who we are truly meant to be.

When we hold onto these past hurts we live our lives from fear and not love.

When we hold onto these past hurts we are the only ones holding ourselves back from moving forward.

The art of forgiveness

As Desmond Tutu writes, "Forgiveness opens the door to peace between people and opens the space for peace within each person. The victim cannot have peace without forgiving..."

As Matthew B. James writes, "Flow love to the other person. Release the hurt, retain the learning."

The hard work of forgiveness

And, as I wrote to one of my friends in a text message,

"You work on forgiving her for yourself, for your own well being and sanity. Not because she deserves it or because she will change.

And, you work on loving the parts of her that you do appreciate and continually work on accepting her limitations (practicing loving compassion).

It's sucks, it's hard and feels impossible.

But, that's what I'm continuously working on with the forgiveness of my past hurts.

For myself.

And you attempt to move forward with an open heart but with a nice privacy fence of boundaries not a brick wall. Because that isn't who we are or who we want to be.

Move forward with a protected heart with boundaries and not a guarded heart with brick walls. It may look the same from the outside but your intentions on the inside are very different."

 
 

We forgive to find peace.

We forgive to live from a place of love and not fear.

We forgive for ourselves.

We forgive now because there may never be anything that can be done to make up for the hurt. And, it definitely cannot be taken back or erased. But, holding onto it and withholding forgiveness only keeps us stuck in the hurt, reliving it every single day.

As with just about everything I work with my clients on, write about and practice myself, it is much easier said than done.

Simple but not easy.

I am figuring out this life is more of an art.

An art of faith. An art of practice. An art of forgiveness. An art of hard work. An art of letting go. An art of love. An art of acceptance. An art of redefining. An art of courage.

An art of ever upward.

Housekeeping:

Ever Upward presale live now.

Ever Upward Launch Party is October 4th.

Fertility Compassion Survey is collecting all responses.

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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

In a Whisper or a Shout, Owning It All

Through fear. Through judgment.

To own it all.

But how?

In Through Fear and Judgment To Own It All, I Dare You I wrote about how the ownership of my story, of all of our stories, is done not without major fear and not without facing judgment.

And, how we must still fight for it, through the fear and judgment.

This is not easy work.

But, it is simple.

I am sure some of my clients cringe in annoyance as they read these words, as I say them often in my office in regards to the work of recovery.

It is not easy but, it is simple.

The work of recovery is simple, I know how to do it. Putting one foot in front of the other and taking the best next step.

It is simple.

But, good God, not easy.

As some days this work can feel almost impossible to practice.

I believe this can also be true of owning our stories.

I had a client who had a great moment of vulnerability with a friend recently and this very topic came up. Her friend made a brilliant point, you can own your story softly, it doesn't have to be loud.

And, this got me thinking...

In a whisper or a shout

 
 

Owning our stories, every single part of our stories, may mean that we shout it from the roof tops. Or that we do become the poster child for our struggles and cause. Or that we write a book or a public blog and build a platform.

For some of us, owning our stories is through a loud shout.

Owning our stories, every single part of our stories, could just mean that we own it all for, and to, ourselves. Accepting all of who we are, telling just one or a few people. But, still truly owning it.

For some of us, owning our stories is through a quiet whisper.

For all of us, owning our stories, every single part of our stories, simply means we embrace it all.

We accept what cannot be  changed.

We forgive.

We let go.

We talk about it.

We practice recovery from it.

Giving ourselves permission to do this work.

Giving ourselves permission to believe that it could help.

And, we own it.

To ourselves.

To a couple of loved ones.

To the public.

Whatever is our path, whatever is our light, whatever is our ever upward.

Trust it.

Quietly in a whisper or loudly in a shout.

Owning it all.

*To read more about my recovery 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. Now expected to be available EARLY fall!*

**My interview with Fertility Revolution is also now available. Click here.

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 Dichotomy of Life

It was a weekend of life's brilliant dichotomy for me; the complicated grey.

 
 

The bad with the good.

The dark with the light.

The thorn with the beauty.

I'm not sure sure any woman enjoys their yearly exam at the OB/GYN but Friday was my day.

The bad, the dark, the thorn

I spent an hour waiting in the waiting room with only parenting and pregnancy magazines to read with no cell service. And, a few uncomfortable pregnant women as my company (who I feel empathy for in their discomfort, jealousy toward their blessing in becoming a mother, all combined with a tiny piece of pissed offness).

The good, the light, the beauty

Once back in the exam room I can't help but laugh as I try to fit my ass in the paper drape left on the exam table for me (which I have never quite figured out how to use). And, despite being the healthiest I've ever been my curves still rip it almost completely in half.

Then the actual exam, no explanation needed, it is just the bad, the dark and the thorn.

Then the good, the light, the beauty as my doctor actually spends time with me. She truly believes in my story and is excited about the book and the blog, Ever Upward. I feel like an actual person with her and not just the woman who can't have kids.

The balance of dichotomy

The dichotomy continued with my kid filled weekend.

The bad, the dark, the thorn is having to be around a child that is very difficult for me. All wrapped up with the good, the light, the beauty in people who believe in my story, my progress and my message. All to come home to three of my chosen children spending the night with us for the first time for what is sure to be the first of many fun slumber parties; they are the good, the light, the beauty. Quickly followed last night by a pregnancy announcement that feels unfair; the bad, the dark, the thorn.

What I am figuring out is that this ever upward recovery I fight to live every day will always be filled with the dichotomy of life.

The good comes with the bad. The light comes through the dark. And many times, beauty comes with a thorn.

We don't get one with out the other.

And thank God, because it provides us with immense perspective, gratitude and our truth.

There will be days where shaking off the bad, the dark, the thorn just really isn't that easy. I will admit I worked hard to shake it off all weekend. But, what I really needed was to allow myself to move through it all.

Because, sometimes, we just have to sit with it, moving through it and allow it to pass. Trusting that if we do this work the good, the light, the beauty will quickly follow.

After all, this is exactly the truth and the light of ever upward.

Sometimes I need the reminder too, to which life and God* will always provide.

The moments of the bad, the dark and the thorn make the moments of the good, the light and the beauty even more amazing.

And so, I will breathe it all in, embracing and trusting it because I know it is my authentic truth and because it is the only way through to my ever upward.

To read more about my journey 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

*Or whatever you believe in, for me it is God and Jesus as my savior.

** I’ve recently joined the the Infertility Survival Kit’s blogroll and blogging feed.  The Infertility Survival Kit is an iPhone app and mobile friendly resource site to help busy patients reach valuable resources on-the-go.  I just added Ever Upward to their blogroll.  This is not your average boring blogroll list with links… it is like a blog Rolodex and includes any information you need to get in touch with me, my blog and all my social media networks along with many other amazing bloggers in the community.   When you are looking to catch up and stay connected to blogs in the infertility community… hop on over to the Infertility Survival Kit’s blogroll feed.  You can find me and many other bloggers over there supporting the community, one post at a time!

Download the App Here OR GO TO Mobile Friendly Directory from any device to access our mobile resource directory and blogroll feed.

***This post also linked with Amateur Nester's Link-Up.

Defining Our Enoughs and Everythings

Amy Klein's post You've Done Everything You Can for the New York Times was the first spark I needed to write something about our enoughs. Our everythings.

Then I wrote Our Infertility Rap Sheets, even though I was scared to death of putting it out there. But, the feedback I received was the second spark I needed to write something about our enoughs.

Our everythings.

Igniting the third spark, a fellow warrior and blogger messaged me today. Her bravery in reaching out was enough for me to pull this post from drafts, assign my own photo and share. As, she is in the midst of defining her enough is enough.

Her everything.

As I have written, I've taken out my counts; how many rounds of IVF I tried because I have found I included them only out of my own shame. Out of this need to prove to the world, and maybe to myself on some days, that I too have suffered and lost.

Infertility or not, we all must define our own enoughs and everythings.

What is enough? What is everything?

Have you done everything you can? Have you done everything you need to? 

Have you done enough? Have you lost enough? Have you suffered enough?

Defining our everything and our enoughs in order to let go, embrace and move forward.

I think we can apply these questions to many areas of our lives that we are struggling with.

Infertility. Recovery. Relationships. Dreams. This list goes on and on.

I think what we all must remember is that only we can define what is everything and when enough is enough. When we define these through others' expectations or society or because it is "what we are supposed to do" it only comes from this place of shame; a place of not honoring ourselves. Our everythings and our enoughs can, and need to, only be defined within ourselves.

If I don't hold on to this, I can very easily get wrapped up in the shamed silence that surrounds my infertility journey and my recovery. Because, technically, I suppose, we could have kept trying. Technically, science has provided many options for us to keep trying. Technically, there are also other options.

But to not listen to myself, my husband and our light and truth would have been the biggest disservice to me, our marriage and, in reality, to the world. For us to go above and beyond what we know is our enough and our everything would have destroyed us because it simply would not have been our truth.

 
 

We tried. We tried more than we had planned to. But, we tried again because our losses felt that crushing. We tried again because we knew that our everything wasn't met yet. Only we could make that decision. We need to explain it only to each other.

Only we define our enough and everything.

And, our ever upward.

To let go of comparison, especially in our sufferings and recovery, is to find our truth.

Because we all suffer. We all lose. Hard is just hard.

And, we all must practice our recovery.

Trust in your truth. Trust in your everything. Trust in your enough.

Because, within that trust you will be found.

*To read more about how we defined our everything and how I have practiced my recovery 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 cover of Ever Upward is done! I am so excited to share later this week along with a giveaway!

 
Thank you also to the designer of my book cover, Kristen Ashley, for this beautiful version of the photo!
Thank you also to the designer of my book cover, Kristen Ashley, for this beautiful version of the photo!
 

A Quick Lesson in Forgiveness for LeBron and Dan

I say it often in my office with clients. And, I know I have written it before. But, some words of wisdom don't really need to change much to continue to hold the power they do for us. We all do the very best we know how in any given moment of our lives. If we had known better, we would have chosen better. Even when we are really making a mistake or hurting ourselves or others, we are doing the very best we know how in that given moment.*

Just as the late and amazing light Maya Angelou wrote, "Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better."

 
 

This is where we can find our power in forgiving ourselves and others.

This is where we can find our power in truly learning, improving and changing.

This is where we can find our power in trusting our stories, every single part of them.

Letting Go of Regret and Resentment

For me, this is how I've let go of regret and resentment. This does not mean I haven't made many mistakes in my life, it simply means I refuse to be defined by them. Letting go of regret and resentment also does not mean I haven't learned many, many lessons from these mistakes.

alg_knicks2.jpg

Just as both LeBron James and Dan Gilbert are needing to forgive one another and themselves for how things have played out over the last four years. We do the best we know how in that given moment; learning to forgive ourselves and others, letting go and learning to never define ourselves and our relationships in our regrets and resentments is how we wash away our shame, guilt and embarrassment.

It is how we move forward to even more amazing times.

For me, this work and my faith help in this letting go of regrets because I know and trust His way.

Learning to Forgive

Learning to forgive and to let go takes power away from regret. I believe, many times, our regrets only fester into resentments. And, resentments, well, they eat us from the inside out; stealing our light, shaming our spirit and suffocating our stories.

We must forgive. We must accept and embrace. And, we must own every part of our stories. These are choices, I think, we must make to save ourselves and to change our lives, to be happier and healthier versions of ourselves.

These are the choices, the practices and the work of recovery, of life.

Hopefully, these are the choices that LeBron and Dan can make. The choice to forgive and move forward. The choice to acknowledge that the scars may never go away. But, by practicing the work of forgiveness and letting go they can truly get another chance together.

It is only through this ever upward work and recovery that any of us can trust in ourselves and our stories and truly forgive ourselves and others through to no regret.

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

*Outside of the extreme case of a sociopath of course.*

The Tablespoon of Shame

Many say our generations have been raised very differently. Some say that our previous generations were raised with humility at the core. This message that you aren't that special and you must work to prove your worthiness, maybe even to the point of perfection. This message was especially delivered with that sense that you must appear perfect, especially to everyone on the outside.

Then we have some saying that our newer generations are being raised one of two ways:

  • to think we are all too special thus leading us to this sense of entitlement on one extreme, maybe even to the point of laziness and a lack of responsibility.
  • Then the other extreme, this sense of needing to always be the best at any and everything, leading us to having an identity of only accomplishments, hence even more perfectionism.

I am not here to share the research or to even prove or disprove either argument. And, I am not going to write about parenting today. However, as I work with clients every day, especially through the shame resilience work of The Daring Way™, and I continue to work on my own recovery, I am seeing a few patterns that seem to be haunting many of us today.

 
 

With the previous generation this message of humility seems to often have been handed down with a tablespoon of shame. This idea that you aren't that special. You must prove yourself; you must be perfect even.

What I see in my office with clients today are people trying to figure out what to do with this sense of unworthiness that this tablespoon of shame has left them with. This sense of never being enough. This idea that unless I am perfect, unless I prove myself, I am unworthy of love and belonging; because, I am not that special.

With the newer generations and the message that we are all really special, still taught with a tablespoon of shame as it is directly tied to self worth, I see clients who are feeling extremely lost.

So scared to make a decision, maybe even scared of the work required of whatever decision they finally make. The fear of the responsibility because if they do make a mistake then they are handed the message, with that tablespoon of shame, that they are no longer special at all.

Or the other side, the side of always having to be the best; to have the ultimate college application or resume. That perfectionist, only born out of that tablespoon of shame, accomplished list rather than a soul or person. Because, I am only special because of what I can do or what I have accomplished.

I am finding that they too are very lost. Lost in finding their authentic truth. Lost in being able to trust themselves. Lost in knowing who they really want to be, especially outside of their accomplishments.

All three groups, at least what I see in my office on a daily basis, are left with this sense of never being enough and yet this sense of having to be everything. And, this damn tablespoon of shame that seems to haunt them relentlessly. Making it all tied to their sense of love, belonging and worthiness.

We are all worthy. We are all lovable. We all belong.

And, we are all worthy of love and belonging.

However, I think, this tablespoon of shame, leaves many of us never believing the above statements.

Technically we are supposed to get this sense of love and belonging from our family of origin but sometimes they just don't have it to give, maybe because they were never taught or shown it or because life has just been that difficult. Hopefully then we get it from our social and peer groups or even school or work settings.

For me, with where my life is, my tablespoon of shame is typically delivered from our culture and, unfortunately, even from some loved ones.

It is delivered in those messages that try to dim my light and shame my story.

The complete mis-education and misunderstanding of infertility.

The invalidation of the lifelong costs and losses of infertility.

The judgments on me for not choosing adoption and accepting a childfree but childfull life.

The denial of my story because it is too difficult or uncomfortable to hear.

No matter the tablespoon of shame in our lives, this sense of love and belonging can still be felt by all of us. It is in all of the daily practices we must choose in order to find this for ourselves; to find it within ourselves. Those daily practices of connection, compassion, brave vulnerability and self care. For me, it has been the work that I have learned from Brené Brown's research combined with everything I have learned working in this field for the last 14 years.

It is recovery.

It is living the wholehearted life. It is practicing happy to be happy. It is being authentic. It is being brave. It is being vulnerable.

It is in owning it all.

No matter which group we may identify with above, I think our answer through it to our happier and healthier selves is in our practice, fight and work in our own recoveries in life.

It is in owning all the parts of our stories.

It is in leaving out that tablespoon of shame in our recipe for an ever upward life.

*To read more about my story and my recovery 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

You Don't Have to be Ever Strong

The infertility world is very much focused on women; in the treatments, in the education and in breaking the silence. However, the statistics are growing that men's factor infertility could be the case in one third to one half of the 1 in 8 (sometimes stated 1 in 6 depending on the resource) couples going through infertility. And regardless of the numbers or the cause of a couples' infertility, there are still two people in that relationship suffering through one of the most difficult journeys in life. So, on this Father's Day weekend I would like to pass along a message you simply cannot escape from when it comes to me. Especially to all of you fathers, no matter what version of father you are.

Talk about it.

Ask for help.

Break your silence.

 
 

And, if it counts for anything, I give you all permission to not have to be the ever strong husband.

I wish I had been able to communicate this more clearly to Chad as we were going through our own infertility journey. To be able to assure him that he didn't always have to be the ever strong man, never showing too much emotion and being stoically strong while I lost my shit.

Even though it may be scary at first for us to see this authentic vulnerability from men, to actually see behind the armor of a man's strength, it is truly what we want and need from our partners. And, even though this is counter intuitive to how you have been raised and what our culture says, I believe this authentic vulnerability from men is what will make marriages and each of us happier and healthier versions of ourselves.

Especially as you are fighting through infertility and even more so after, no matter your ending.

Happy Father's Day to all the dads out there.

Because, just as all women are some version of a mother, please give yourself permission to feel the same as a father, especially this weekend.

Through Fear and Judgment to Own It All, I Dare You

It is not uncommon to see my clients struggling to own their stories. Struggling, especially, to own every single part of their stories. We can all struggle to own, let alone, accept, embrace and maybe even like every single part of ourselves and our stories.

 
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I've been point blank asked by a client, "How do you just put it all out there? Without any qualms or fears?"

To which I made sure to be very real, very honest and very brave.

Owning all the parts of my story, even on my strongest of days, is born only through mustering up major courage.

And, this courage simply does not exist without a dose of fear.

On the good days I say who I am, I say my choices, I say my mistakes without skipping a beat; palms dry, voice steady and my passionate light shining through.

On the harder days I say who I am, I say my choices, I say my mistakes while stumbling over my words; palms clammy and hot, voice shaking, and yet, I still make sure my passionate light shines through.

It has only been through my own brutal work with my therapist and my work through The Daring Way™ that the ownership of my story has strengthened. It is only with this continued work, practice and fight for my recovery that my shame dwindles more and more each day.

But never assume that this courageous ownership is done without any fear. As it is only through working my recovery every single day that my story is told without much shame and my fear is more easily mastered to speak and own it all any way.

I will continue to own and tell my story to help and change myself and hopefully others. And I can only do this with wholehearted bravery, feeling the fear and doing it anyway. Because, if I leave only one legacy on this earth, I hope it is the shining light of truth that this is the only way back to ourselves, back to peace, health and happiness and to find our ever upward.

~~~~

However, I was also recently challenged on how much I am able to own my story within the limitations of our world's judgments.

We all judge, some definitely more so than others.

We have all been judged, some definitely more so than others.

I am not sure we will ever be able to fully escape the very human experience of judgment. What I do know is that the more I accept, embrace and own my story, all the parts of my story, especially the really difficult, misunderstood, invalidated and judged parts of my story is that this judgment really doesn't have any room to grow.

Really sit with this; it is really difficult to truly judge someone who wholeheartedly accepts, embraces and owns themselves and every single part of their story.

I am not sure there will ever be a day that I am not judged on my story;

judged for not figuring out how to try more rounds of IVF, both financially and emotionally,

judged for knowing and outwardly stating that we are not choosing to adopt,

judged for accepting a childfree life and yet leading a very childfull life,

judged for living this all out loud,

judged for attempting to change the shamed silence of infertility,

judged for authentically living my work in recovery,

and judged for being the genuinely vulnerable therapist that I am.

But I dare you to hold on to your judgments as you read my words let alone hear me speak my story.

I dare you.

 
 

I am a survivor of infertility and IVF.

I stopped treatments after two failed rounds, because for us that was enough.

I know adoption is not my path to my family.

I bear the soul scars of three never to be babies, and yet I am still a mother.

I am accepting a childfree life, while having a very childfull life.

I will spend the rest of my life finding the end to my story by giving people permission to break the silence of infertility, and to break the silence of any of their sufferings.

I am resolving to know more than one happy ending.

I am an open and honest therapist who fights for her own recovery.

And, I dare you to judge me.

Because, without a doubt I have faith and trust that when I own every single part of my story, through my fear, shame and all, your judgment will become just uncomfortable enough for you that your world will open up.

You will learn. You will see me, all of me. And, with that sight I can only hope you grow a little more educated, a little more compassionate and a lot more brave yourself.

And, I assure you, I will not allow your judgment and your misunderstanding to dim my light.

I will own it.

All of it.

Because only then do I find myself again.

And, only then will this light shine bright enough to hopefully give others the ever upward courage to do the very same.

I dare you...

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

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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.

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"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.

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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.

 
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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 Complicated Gray

Several days after one of the most difficult days of the year for me, Mother's Day, I am reminded at how complicated this whole thing actually is...infertility, childfree living, loss, trauma, tragedy, faith...life. I've written it many times before; life is hard and people are complicated. It never seems to be very black or white, which sometimes would be nice and so much simpler.

But most all of life is in the complicated gray; always between the simplicity of black or while.

Albeit, beautiful complicated gray.

 
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This weekend I felt everything. Mother's Day was a good day but it was still super difficult and felt very sad, at least inside my own head and heart. All the talk of mothers and mothering at church wasn't easy to hear. Feeling torn and like a bad daughter and daughter in law because just acknowledging the day is difficult and I really needed to honor my own pain and myself. But, also spending the afternoon swimming and playing with three of my favorite little boys filled every cell of my body with pure joy, love and laughter. I am also so thankful for all the messages and cards I received and for the blogs I read about how wonderful and difficult Mother's Day can be for so many of us.

The complicated gray.

Our losses, traumas and tragedies are never uncomplicated; infertility, IVF and accepting a childfree life are definitely not an exception to this complication.

For me, especially as a therapist who has survived infertility and has fought to thrive thereafter, the complicated gray is always there.

The complicated gray I feel between the lifelong costs and losses of infertility and childfree living with the peace, freedom and happiness I have achieved through my recovery.

The complicated gray of making my almost enough moments my enough moments.

The complicated gray of honoring my losses but never allowing my heart and soul to scar over and close.

The complicated gray of the anger and bitterness at the unfairness with the trust and faith in the 'I'm okay and it's okay'.

The complicated gray of owning my shame and sadness while also educating and fighting for my story and the importance of my message and voice.

And for the many women out there struggling with any difficulty in the department of mothering and infertility, the complicated gray is never ending.

The complicated gray of living in shamed silence of infertility and desperately wanting and needing to be seen and heard.

The complicated gray of self sabotaging ourselves because we feel so damaged and shamed in our infertility battles; betrayed by our bodies, by science and, sometimes even ourselves or our loved ones.

The complicated gray of every impossible decision that must be made in the journey of infertility whether emotional, financial, moral or ethical.

The complicated gray of every parenting decision.

The complicated gray of the cautious hopefulness and the reality of the statistical un-success of infertility treatments.

The complicated gray of our real stories not being seen, heard or understood by many.

~~~~

I always work with my clients on finding the middle, seeing the gray and not thinking in such black or white terms. For the most part, our health and happiness lie in the middle; in the gray.

Through my infertility journey, my recovery and my ongoing acceptance of a childfree life I am learning that maybe we really must also truly embrace this complicated gray.

Because, I think, it is within this complicated gray we will find our permission for it all.

Permission for our stories.

Permission for our recoveries.

Permission for our light.

Permission for finding our ever upward.

Happy Mother's Day to All the Mothers of Many

Happy Mother's Day! Happy Mother's Day to all the mothers. Happy Mother's Day to all the mothers to be. Happy Mother's Day to those who have lost mothers. Happy Mother's Day to those who hope to be mothers. Happy Mother's Day to those of us who are mothers of angels. Happy Mother's Day to those of who who never get to mother in the traditional sense of the word.

Actually, I challenge... Happy Mother's Day to all women!

Because if I have learned anything throughout my own recovery I have learned that we are all mothers of some kind especially considering we tend to be full of compassion and putting others above ourselves almost always.

However, this Mother's Day, I will not be woken up at the crack of dawn by my little ones surprising me with handmade cards and pancakes in bed. I will not get a bouquet of dandelions picked from the yard. I will not be acknowledged by the majority of people in my life as today being any different than any other day.

But, I will be woken early by Gertie's growling tummy, Gracie's cold nose and Bosco's gentle snoring. I will spend the day with my furry children and my husband, not unlike any other regular Sunday but all the while knowing that Mother's Day will be bittersweet for me the rest of my life.

I will spend the day allowing myself to feel the anger at how unfair it can feel that I won't ever get the joy of my children making this day all about me. I will spend my day allowing myself to feel the sadness at the lifelong costs and losses of infertility. I will spend the day at peace with my recovery and my work in accepting a childfree life. I will spend the day happy with my enough moments, my struggles and my light.

 
 

I will spend the day thinking of those three tiny souls in heaven  never meant to bloom here.

And, I will honor myself this day because I am a mother to many.

I will remind myself, as I want to remind all the mothers out there, to take care of ourselves, especially on this day. Make sure you receive care, from your loved ones and from yourself, because it is only through filling ourselves up that we can truly give and care for others.

So, on this angering, saddening, peaceful and happy day for me, I wish us all an ever upward Happy Mother's Day because I have no doubt we all mother something or someone in our lives.

Scarred But Never Closed

Singing my heart out, holding back tears, as this seems to be what I do lately in church as I am wrestling so much with myself, with trusting and my faith journey, I had one of my first true writer moments. Smack in the middle of the song, I grabbed my bulletin and pen and wrote the title of this post and a line from the song down. The song: Let Our Faith Be Not Alone by Robbie Seay.

The lyrics: "May our hearts be not of stone, give us souls that never close".

 
 

As a therapist I hear terrible things every day from my clients. And, it is not unusual for the thought to cross my mind that someone has every right to stay sick, to stay angry, to have hearts of stone and closed souls after what they have been through.

After infertility and the lifelong losses of three babies, I have also felt as if I have three very good enough reasons to allow my heart to become stone and my soul to close.

But I am learning, this is not meant to be the end of my story. Nor do I want it to be the end of my story; just as I help my clients every single day to make sure that their losses, traumas and tragedies are not their endings either. Because, I also get to hear amazing stories of hope and recovery every single day.

But this recovery requires the choice to choose hope and to do the work.

I will always have the soul scars of infertility and losing my babies. And if I am not careful these scars could very easily harden my heart and close my soul to the amazingness that is this life. As they are forever scars much like the four inch back surgery scar I have. Except, my soul scars are invisible to the outside world, and many times are completely misunderstood, invalidated, minimized and sometimes even ignored.

Either scar, back or soul, if ignored by me only worsens; the scar tissue building up, increasing the pain and decreasing my quality of life. For my back it is only through my physical therapy, exercise and self care that this old injury and scar tissue can be as healed as possible. Nothing I do will ever make that scar go away but I sure as hell can make sure I do what is in my power to make it as better as possible. And, almost 20 years later, I wouldn't want that scar to go away anyways as it is a constant reminder of how much strength I truly hold.

As for my soul scars, I must do much of the same work. If I do not do the work of recovery from the trauma of infertility, the lifelong losses and costs of IVF and the ongoing work of accepting a childfree life, I will only allow the scar tissue to grow. And if I am not careful my heart and soul will scar over leaving room for only bitterness, anger and sadness.

Our trauma, tragedies and losses (infertility related or not) make us who we are. I have learned that I am a better everything because I wanted and loved those babies so much. I am also a better everything because I lost them. Sure, the losses left my heart and soul shattered at first, but now with daily work in recovery I have a scarred but healing heart and soul.

Scarred but better and complete, and most definitely open.

This openness is not possible without the daily practice of recovery, authentic living and courage. My choices in recovery, in daily practice, and my faith are what is required for me to not allow the scar tissue to close everything. And I did not survive infertility and lose my three dreams to only be left scarred, closed and hardened like stone.

I am still wholeheartedly figuring this whole thing out, awkwardly stumbling through this life in recovery. And, sometimes I am not a very pretty picture while doing it. What I think I am finally coming to terms with and learning is that I can trust that the end of my story isn't supposed to be a heart of stone or a scarred, closed soul. That I can trust my faith, doubts and all, because within this journey I will always have Him*. And it is with His acceptance, love and help that I will continue to fight for, find and redefine my ever upward.

*For me, my faith is in God and Jesus as my savior. This is something I am newly figuring out, with a lot of doubt and struggle and questions. But it is something that is helping me, especially in my recovery. My only hope is that we can all find something to have faith in.

*This post submitted to the Tuesday Infertility Link Up on Amateur Nester.

Celebrating To Embrace Jealousy

The commercials have started airing to remind us all to get the perfect gift for some of the hardest working people on earth; mothers. I will assume I don't have to go into exactly why Mother's Day tends to be difficult for us women who are childfree whether by choice, chance or circumstance. And, rest assured, you are safe to assume I have a post scheduled for Mother's Day anyway ;). As a woman who can't have children, seeing these commercials or hearing my loved one's Mother's Day plans is some of the, thankfully few and far between, times I feel my jealously come up. Admittedly, it is scary and difficult to even type that sentence...

Throughout my work of recovery I have come to understand jealously a little differently. It first started at the Emerging Women conference last October in Boulder when I saw an interview with Tami Simon and Alanis Morissette. Tami interviewed Alanis about the book she is writing and about her work with Relationships First. One of the points she spoke about was what she thinks the difference between jealousy and envy is. She said that jealousy is about connection; that when we are jealous of someone or something it is about self improvement, we want it too. But when we are envious of something we not only want it for ourselves but we want to take it away from the other person, making it not about connection but disconnection. She used a really simple example of her hair. She said something to the effect that she knew many of us in the audience were jealous of how great her hair looked (it was the shiniest most beautiful head of hair I've ever seen). She said that some of us were probably jealous of it (for me, she was completely saw my green accurately). She said we just wanted some of the hair gods to shine on us too. So her suggestion was to go out and buy the pomade she used to make it look that gorgeous. She then explained that if we were envious of her hair it would be more about chopping it off her head for ourselves so that not even she could have the luxury of this beautiful mane.

This definition makes sense to me. And, by this definition, I am jealous that the majority of women get to be mothers and I don't, but I am not envious. I am sure of this because it is one of the best parts of my life, and of my recovery, to see my loved ones be mothers.

And yet, I will admit feeling this jealousy doesn't necessarily feel good either. Through my recovery I have found that there are times I need to allow myself to feel sorry for myself, to feel that jealousy. To ask the impossible questions of why didn't I get to be a mom? Why does she? To feel that jealousy consume me, especially around the holidays or the first days of school or any other popular put your kids on your social media wall day. Don't get me wrong, I love seeing these pictures and posts and it isn't uncommon that I am showing your adorable children to my friends and family but I would be lying if I didn't admit that when I only have dog pictures to post, even though they are literally the cutest pups ever, my green eyed jealousy monster definitely rears it's ugly head.

But if I allow these thoughts and feelings to overtake my light my recovery suffers. For me the only way through this jealousy, to embrace and truly own it, has been through celebrating. I didn't know I was celebrating until a client of mine told me about one of her church small groups where they talked about celebrating as the cure to jealousy.

 
 

That's exactly what I do, I cure my jealousy through celebrating the very things I so badly want for myself in others. I surround myself with my chosen children because through this celebration my jealousy wanes. I ask to be as involved as possible in my friends' parenting and in their childrens' lives because through this celebration my jealousy loses some of it's negative power.

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

And, for me, it works. Celebrating through my jealousy provides me with what life is all about, connection. Sitting in jealousy doesn't feel good and celebrating others' happy feels pretty amazing, simple but not an easy choice but a choice nonetheless. Besides, I know that my mom friends can sometimes have some jealousy of what my childfree life provides me.

If we aren't careful we can all get tripped up on wanting what we don't have and staying stuck in jealousy. And while, I will always suffer the lifelong losses and costs of infertility and my childfree life, I am also learning that I have some amazing things to be thankful for only because of this very bittersweet journey I have been on.

I don't want to be angry or envious, so I will allow myself to sit with jealousy but just for a bit. Then I will take that breath, find my gratitude and celebrate through to embrace it because only then do I honor my ever upward.

Resolve to Know More Than One Happy Ending

 
 

This week was National Infertility Awareness Week and it seems I needed the whole week to allow the theme of Resolve to Know More to really sink into my soul so my message could be clear. Especially considering that everything about infertility seems to be anything but clear, both to the general public for the most part and sometimes to those of us in the midst of it. However, the gut wrenching and crystal clear part of infertility is that it affects one in eight couples.

And, I am One in Eight.

And, I am one of the one in eight that refuses to stay in my dark, shamed silence.

Of course, there are the technical and medical definitions of infertility (see below).

There are countless ways a family finds themselves seeking further testing or trying assisted fertility treatments; recurrent miscarriage, Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, Endometriosis, chromosome disorders, physical limitations, medical sterility, unexplained infertility, etc.

The paths that lead any of us to the world of infertility treatments are so different and yet can feel so much the same once in the humbling hell of the world of infertility treatments.

The so different and yet the very same theme also carries us straight through the synthetic hormonal hell of infertility treatments. No matter what your protocol looks like, how long it lasts or how many times you try different versions; Clomid, Intrauterine Insemination (IUI), In Vitro Fertilization (IVF), traditional or gestational surrogacy, embryo adoption, adoption, etc. The impossible decisions of infertility are decisions only to be made by each family individually. How much can you physically take? How much can you afford financially? How much can you give up and take emotionally? Ultimately, how far do you have to go in order to be okay with letting go of a lifelong dream?

Each of us will also survive through infertility in our very different, and yet I think, the very same ways. Some of us will tell absolutely no one besides our partner; the shame and fear and cautious hopefulness feeling like too much to put out there. Some of us will tell everyone, seeking support and opinions, attempting to break the silence and also knowing that this journey is just too difficult to not have as much support as possible. All of us just stumbling forward, trying to figure out how to survive what feels like an impossible journey. Shielding ourselves from judgment and misunderstanding of the impossible decisions we must make. Protecting our hearts from invalidating and minimizing questions every day from strangers and our loved ones. All while just fighting for what so many take for granted...a family.

Some of us will try for many years. Some of us will only be able to try for a couple of years.

Some of us will never get try to multiple rounds of expensive treatments. Some of us will get round after round paid for by insurance.

Some of us will stop at IUI. Some of us will stop at IVF. Some of us will just stop.

How our infertility journey eventually ends also seems to be so very different and yet the very same. There are many different ways for our families to look after infertility. I think the most accepted and expected happy ending is when the treatments work and you end up with a healthy baby, and preferably also a sibling, or two or three, one day.

 
 

And yet, here I am, recovering and resolving to know my own happy ending, and yet it looks nothing like what is accepted or expected as I am a childfree mother.

We must resolve to know that there isn't a perfect answer or ending to infertility. Some of us will get one child, some of us many. Some of these children will be our biological children, some will be adopted and some of us will never get to have children. We will all have scars, especially on our souls, from infertility, no matter the ending. And, we will all have losses and lifelong costs.

We must resolve to know that we must break the silence of infertility. We must own our stories. We must own our impossible decisions. We must give voice to all versions of the happy ending. Because sometimes treatments just aren't going to work. Because sometimes the ending doesn't include children. Because our infertility journeys are so very different, and yet the very same.

We must resolve to know that once we open ourselves up to all that life has to offer us, children or not, we will find our peace. We will find our recovery. We will find ourselves again in our ever upward happy ending.

~~~~

This post has been submitted to the National Infertility Awareness Week Bloggers Unite project.

For more information about infertility please click these links: Infertility 101 and National Infertility Awareness Week (NIAW)

The Almost Enough Moments

I've been having a slight existential crisis lately; between finishing up the book, Ever Upward and coming up on a year of submitting to agents and publishers (over 220 of them) and the success (although the desire for more) of this blog and my continued journey in finding my faith again and today being the two year anniversary of the bittersweet day of the last negative pregnancy test, ending IVF and learning to accept a childfree life; I am finding myself feeling all sides of everything, over-feeling and over-thinking, doubting and just plain struggling.

How can I balance this desire for the blog to blow up and the book to get published, both for validation of my story and for the wider outreach to help others but also because I think it just has to with knowing my story has already touched and helped so many? How do I let go and trust that what is meant to happen will happen, as it has never been in my hands to begin with?

How do we sit with the be all, end all questions, what is this all supposed to mean? Why did this happen?

Aren't we all wondering the why?

Why does the 35 year old mother of two young children get late stage colorectal cancer?

Why did he cheat?

Why did she have to die?

Why did he have to fall?

Why did they leave?

Why didn't I die?

Why are they lying?

Why did this have to happen???

Why?

But, I'm not sure we will ever get to know the why.

And, what I think I am learning is that some of our answers can maybe be found in our almost enough moments.

 
 

You know those moments where you look up (to who or whatever you believe in, for me it is God) and say okay, I get it. I would not have this if that had all worked out. Or I would not have this if I had not lost that. But really, that just doesn't feel like it's quite enough? So we question it; I get it, I'm thankful, but it's still not enough for all that pain, all that suffering, the never to be's; I sure hope you have more, better, in the works.

I am also learning we all have to figure out how to open ourselves up to these almost enough moments, really embracing their capacity for awe.

Can I have the presence and gratitude to embrace that piece of almost enough? And, have the faith that I might get to see the pieces all fit together one day? Better yet, can I have the presence and gratitude, and patience, enough to have the faith that I just may not get to see them all fit together and that the almost enough is, well, enough?

Because without a doubt, I have some pretty amazing almost enough moments...

Being McKinley's godparents.

Being asked to be in the delivery room to help bring baby Smith into this world.

Having every moment with our chosen family.

Attending all the piano recitals, church concerts and ball games of all our chosen children.

My friends through Emerging Women, The Daring Way™ certification and this blog.

Our Christmas morning tradition of going to see what Santa brought our chosen children.

The healing journey of writing my book.

A better marriage.

Building our family home, Mason house, for all our friends and family to grow and enjoy with us.

The continuing journey of my blog.

Becoming a better therapist.

Our dogs.

 
 

My improved relationships.

The happier, healthier me.

Fighting for me, fighting for my recovery and rediscovering my light.

I could go on and on, because I am able to wholeheartedly say, the list of my almost enough moments truly is endless.

My soul will always have the scars of my three lost babies, of three lost dreams, of three never to be's. But, I can choose if this is my whole story and I can also choose to move forward, having the faith that everything is exactly as it is supposed to be, no matter the why.

But, can I trust and have the patience that these almost enough moments will lead me to more understanding and that my suffering, better yet, my story, will end exactly as it is meant to? Learning to have the patience and faith that I just might never get that final moment of what I think would be completion, understanding and the good enough reason for my sufferings.

So I must figure out how to be okay with that. I must learn to be whole without those enough moments. Trusting that the sole purpose I think I have found is really only my plan, and I'm not sure I really get that say.

But I also have to keep that in check with this part of me that yearns for my losses to mean something bigger; to change the world and help others. It is this part that asks, why else would I have been given this path in life? Why else would I have suffered the way I have and lost what I have? What would the point be of that? Am I that undeserving? Or is this my punishment for something? Surely, it has to mean something; two back surgeries, a year in a body cast, two rounds of failed IVF with a surrogate, three lost babies and fighting for recovery can't just be it, can it?

And, there it is again... Why did this have to happen to me?

I am not sure these questions come from the best part of me. However, I also know I wouldn't be honoring myself if I didn't allow this doubt a space to question; and maybe that is the point exactly.

There is only so much we are capable of, and probably allowed to, understand in this life. Maybe, it will always be this constant balance between finding my purpose through my story of struggle, making sure it means something more, at least to me, and trusting that it will still mean just as much without the soul completing clarity I so desire.

Because, all those almost enough moments...well, maybe it's up to me to embrace them as my ever upward, which really makes them the more than enough moments.

But, it has only been through my sufferings and my fight for recovery that I have been able to really see, let alone embrace, these moments as being more than enough.

 
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This is ever upward.

My recovery.

My story.

My purpose.

My path.

My light.

And even, my soul scars.

Allowing every single almost enough moment to really be more than enough...this is my ever upward.

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.

 
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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.

Mourning What Should Have Been

I significant part of me cringes as I put the word should in the title of this post. As a therapist who works some using Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) I have attempted to erase should from my vocabulary. I also work with my clients to do the same. As some CBT therapists say, "Don't should all over yourself!" Should is typically riddled with guilt and shame and just yuck. What do we need and want? Not, what should we... Change should to need or want and feel the difference, both when you speak to yourself and when expecting things from your loved ones. I should go to the gym.

Do I need or want to go to the gym?

He/She should know how I'm feeling right now.

I need to tell him/her how I feel and what I want.

I shouldn't feel sad any longer.

Do I need or want to figure out this sadness still?

~~~~

I wrote my first post for Ever Upward five short months ago. Never could I have dreamed how much my life would change. Never could I have dreamed how many amazing people I would "meet". Never could I have dreamed how much our stories are all connected and the embrace I've felt through this connection.

This connection has only been further solidified through my participation in Momastery's Messy, Beautiful Warrior Project. Our stories, all messy and all beautiful, are what connect us to one another. I think, our stories, even more so, are what connect us back to ourselves. And, it seems our stories tend to have the major theme I often times see with my clients every day: mourning what should have been or what we thought should have been.

I think at times, at least for me, it can feel like these should have beens determine my everything; my every day, and even my every minute. And if I don’t practice the work of my recovery, I risk the should have beens taking over and defining my entire being. Just Google something like letting go of what isn’t and you will be overwhelmed by thousands of quotes on how we must let go of what isn’t in order to make room for what can be. In reality, this has probably been the major encompassing theme of Ever Upward from the beginning.

But what is striking me the most lately, is how much we judge others or lack empathy for others in regards to their mourning of their should have beens; their losses, their stories.

The very stories that seem and feel so different than ours, but I am realizing are so very much the same.

 
 

We all have should have beens…

I should have gone to school sooner.

I shouldn't have stayed so long.

I should have enjoyed my younger years more.

I should be able to forgive this by now.

I should have taken better care of my body.

I should have been more honest.

They shouldn’t have left me.

I should be better by now.

I should have left them.

I should be over this.

This list could go on and on. Ultimately, aren't we all just trying to figure out how to let go of what didn't turn out? To redefine after all our shoulds didn't come true?

And of course, there are the should have beens of motherhood and family, especially considering these are the ones that seem to go unspoken and judged the most.

Your child was born premature, you didn't get to hold him/her for weeks or months and you didn’t get that happy bring them home day or first few months.

You were miserably sick your entire pregnancy and you honestly hated every second of it, while also being so thankful for it and therefore felt guilty.

You lost a child way too early for anyone to bear, let alone understand the lifelong losses that come with that grief.

You were never able to even hold that child or only held that child for a few heartbreaking but  amazing hours.

You only achieved pregnancy through infertility measures and will never get to have wild drunk sex that ends up in your blessing of a child 40 weeks later.

You feel sad and guilty and mad that you didn’t start trying sooner.

You weren't planning on getting pregnant and therefore spent most of it scared to death rather than relishing every second of it.

You are a birth mom.

You are a mom mom.

You adopted your child or children or embryos and are so thankful for children but grieve that you will never get to see you and your partner’s genes combine.

You will never get to experience pregnancy yourself.

You have had to make major IVF decisions such as how many embryos to transfer, what to do with leftover embryos, what happens if you can’t afford another round of treatments, etc., etc.

You are blessed with one or two or even three children but always wanted a big family and it doesn’t seem to be happening, you feel the gamut of sadness, anger and guilt coupled with how lucky and blessed you are to have any children.

You are a stay at home mom but wish you were working.

You are a working mom but wish you were a stay at home mom.

You have a happy and healthy children but your friends don't, and you feel blessed and lucky but guilty, especially when sometimes you'd really like Sunday completely to yourself, on the couch watching The Walking Dead all day long.

Your infertility is due to one partner or maybe the combination of you together and it creates frustration, sadness, guilt and maybe even blame.

I am sure I am missing many, many more here.

And then there is my story, I wanted to a mom, I tried to a mom but it is not my journey to have. And I’ve worked to accept a childfree life and fight for my recovery. But now for the first time, I am beginning to experience those feelings of relief, calm and even gratitude when my chosen children don’t come home with us or they go to their own homes after visiting. Or that our Sunday is filled with whatever we want, even that day long marathon of The Walking Dead. Or that I don’t have to negotiate over meal time or wake up at the crack of dawn.

 
 

Does that mean I didn’t want our three babies enough? Does that mean I’m not sad anymore? Or does that simply mean I’m figuring out how to let go of what I wanted and hoped for. That I am figuring out my mourning for what should have been, and learning to accept my true childfree life.

It’s all so complicated; neither story better or worse or more difficult than the other. It’s just life, which includes suffering for us all. And it is our sufferings and our recoveries from them that make us who we are. As David Brooks wrote for the New York Times in his article titled What Suffering Does, “Recovering from suffering is not like recovering from a disease. Many people don’t come out healed; they come out different.”

But it is through this ongoing process of healing, of figuring out what comes after the should have been, that we find ourselves and our story again.

Because, who are we to have the power to say what should have been?

I am not meant to be a mother.

Should I have been?

Perhaps, but continuing to insist on the should only denies my truth.

But more importantly, who are we to judge or question one’s grief around these sufferings or losses? Who are we to judge one for how they mourn their should have beens? Who are we to dare ask, "When are you going to get over it?"

I think we must figure out how we can we give ourselves, and others, permission to mourn their should have beens? Can we give ourselves, and others, permission to feel it all; the blessings, the lucky, the anger, the sadness, the guilt, and even, the shame.

Because, really it is through these permissions that our recoveries can begin. It is within these permissions that I finally put the puzzles pieces into my bigger life story. It is within these permissions that I can allow myself the relief, and even gratitude, of a childfree life while also, at the very same time, feeling my sadness, anger and envy of your childfull life.

It is within these permissions that we open up the space and light for the mourning of what should have been to become what needs to be.

It is within these permissions that I have found my purpose, and of course, my ever upward.

What are your should have beens? How do you practice your recovery to make the should have beens become the need to bes?