Through the Darkness We Can Awaken4

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

What I know for sure

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

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

The dark

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

I am awake

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

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

I am finally awake

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

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

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

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

I simply choose my self-care every single day.

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

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

~~~~

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Choosing to Be Remade

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

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

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

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

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

Being our past

You can choose to be your past.

You can choose to be your past mistakes.

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

Choosing to be more

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

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

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

You choose.

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

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

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

 
 

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

Choosing to be remade

We must choose to be more.

We must choose to be more, faith or not.

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

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

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

I choose to be remade.

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

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

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

And, only then are we choosing to be remade.

 ~~~~

Housekeeping:

Ever Upward presale live now.

Ever Upward Launch Party is October 4th.

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

Recovery, Flaws and All

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

Some days feel easier. Some more of a struggle.

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

Self compassion in recovery

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

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

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

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

It is a practice.

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

The balance of embracing my flaws

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

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

Flaws and all

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

Impatient.

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

And, it is just who I am.

Potty mouthed.

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

And, it is just who I am.

Fast.

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

And, it is just who I am.

Clumsy.

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

And, it is just who I am.

 
Recovery, Flaws and All
Recovery, Flaws and All
 

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

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

As part of my recovery:

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

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

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

Because, I am enough. We all are.

Recovery, flaws and all.

And, it is just who I am.

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

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

Witnessing the Choice to Live and Love Wholeheartedly

Truly honored

"Be free my guarded heart and I shall flourish.

Tear down the walls that guard and I will thrive.

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

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

Watch her fly. Watch her grow."

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

Her work to choose to change her life.

The work I choose myself every day.

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

Bearing witness

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

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

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

The honor of bearing witness to choosing change

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

It is nothing short of a true honor.

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

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

Speaking their truth.

Embracing their whole story.

Practicing their recovery.

Owning it all.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Because, this is nothing short of amazing:

"Be free my guarded heart and I shall flourish.

Tear down the walls that guard and I will thrive.

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

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

Watch her fly. Watch her grow."

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

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

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

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

A Buried Treasure of Emerging Seashells

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

Picture frames made of shells.

Lamps filled with more shells.

Glass tabletops filled with even more shells.

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

They loved seashells.

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

Reminders of the Past

 
 

And yet, we see seashells every day.

And, I feel my lost babies every day.

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

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

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

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

Because, I am not a mother with living children.

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

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

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

Embracing Our Past

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

 
reminders-buried-treasure.jpg
 

Within the buried treasure we can find our whole.

Within the buried treasure we can embrace it all.

Within the buried treasure we can be found.

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

Our story of the work of recovery.

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

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

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

Is Recovery Just a Never Ending To Do List?

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

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

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

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

And yet, my recovery stands.

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

But, my recovery only stands through my practice.

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

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

The Practice of Intention

Practicing recovery needs to be about intention.

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

Recovery (for me):

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

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

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

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

Check. Check. Check.

All better. Done. Recovered.

Not even close.

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

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

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

That is okay.

I can practice again tomorrow.

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

Sessions of rock bottom.

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

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

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

 
 

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

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

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

Because, I know it can be enough.

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

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

 
 

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

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

The Overwhelming Unknowns

There will always be some unknowns in our lives at any given time. Life is unpredictable and people are complicated and despite our demand to be in control of everything, it just isn't up to us. There seem to be a lot of unknowns in my personal life right now, as it also seems to be a theme for a lot of my clients too. What I am finding is that if we aren't careful these unknowns can pull us under into overwhelmed darkness.

What are some of your unknowns?

Where to go to graduate school? Whether or not to get sober? How long is this injury going to last? Will I ever recover? Does this ever get easier? Will it sell? Will I get published? Can I trust him/her/it? Will he get better? Will we be okay? What it will be like? Will we get through this? Will he/she ever be happy and healthy? What will the doctor say?

The questions of life, the futures we can't tell and these overwhelming unknowns can feel like suffocating death sometimes; and if we aren't careful they become the dementors to our light.

Making us doubt ourselves.

Making us stumble and struggle.

Making us lose our way.

For me, there are a lot of unknowns. I don't know if I will ever see Ever Upward in print. I don't know if my message will reach others to help them on their journey of recovery. I don't know if I will ever feel my true purpose fulfilled. I don't know if my losses will ever be fully healed or worth it. I don't know what it will be like to have my parents live with us for a while. I don't know what my dad's long term recovery looks like. I don't know if I will find trust in my faith.

I don't know... a lot.

And if I sit too long in these overwhelming unknowns my heart begins to race, my jaw clenches, my thoughts become sluggish and racing all at the same time and I begin to lose me. And when I lose me, I struggle to practice my self care, my happy and my recovery. And when I struggle to practice these things the only thing guaranteed to happen is more struggle, more numbing and the return of the old me.

So the only thing I know to do when the suffocating fog of overwhelming unknowns begins to descend upon me is to go back to the basics; sleep enough, eat right, exercise, color my mandalas, read, write, meditate.

I practice and I do in order to really get back to being and feeling. This is what works for me at least.

 
 

Because, this much I know is true:

If I work my recovery, practice self care and practice happy, I will be okay no matter what.

If I reach out for help and own my struggle it will not overtake and own me, and I will and can help others.

If I practice patience, all of the overwhelming unknowns will eventually become known; like it or not, they will come to be in exactly the way they are supposed to be.

Because, I know at least one thing for sure, if it isn't okay it isn't finished.

But, as I have also learned, sometimes we also have to reevaluate and redefine our okay, in other words we must always find our essence of ever upward.

My True Witness of 30 Years

 
 

We've known each other since we were four years old. She can tell you every single memory of our lives; what we were wearing, who was there, what was said and the craziness that ensued.

She probably knows me the best, as she as known me the longest. But, in reality, she probably knows me the best because she has witnessed my deepest lows and stood by me through finding myself again.

She is my childhood friend who has seen me through my darkest of times, literally helping me bathe and go to the bathroom while in a body cast.

She is my faithful friend as she let me go when I chose to go to college out of state.

She is my adventurous friend who moved to the big city with me after college.

She is my humble and forgiving friend as we survived a terrible falling out.

She is my family as we have survived tragedy together.

She is my fellow warrior in fighting for her family and understanding the difficulties of infertility.

We've survived distance of all kinds to only come back together because of our own individual struggles.

The unspoken shame. The impossible decisions. The heart stealing and soul crushing losses. The life long costs of IVF.

Only to strengthen this lifelong friendship.

And, soon we will enter another chapter of our friendship when she becomes a mother for the first time in early June. When she asked me to be in the delivery room to coach her, along with her husband, there were only tears of joy as I realized I would be there for that magical moment to see one of our chosen children take her first breath.

kelly-group-as-kids-01.jpg

It has been an honor to walk beside her through this journey of life. I am immensely thankful for our bumpy path as it has prepared us for the brutal survival of our own battles with infertility. And it is truly with a full heart that I look forward to this next chapter of seeing her become a loving, and grateful, mother.

I guess there really is only one thing to say to her.

Thank you... for being a true witness of me, for always seeing, knowing and loving me.

And, thank you for allowing me to be along for your ever upward.

The Myriagon of Ever Upward Light

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

 
 

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

Top 5 Most Viewed Posts

5. Tread or Float

4. Taking Off the Armor of My "Choice"

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

2. Conceiving Our Chosen Family

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

Top 5 Most Commented on Posts

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

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

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

2. The Almost Finished, Yet Unpublished, Ever Upward

1. Taking Off the Armor of My "Choice"

Top 5 of My Most Healing Posts

5. My Dementor: Shame and Self Doubt

4. Making Room For the Light

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

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

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

We Hold the Pieces to Our Puzzle

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

I often get asked things like...

"How long will I hold onto this?"

"Will this ever get easier?"

"Will I ever stop thinking about it?"

 
 

The thing is, our lives are our puzzles.

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

puzzlethat will always have some missing pieces.

As it takes our lifetime to complete.

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

As they are missing pieces of us.

 
 

A puzzle that only we hold all the pieces to.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tread or Float

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

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

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

They will question.

They will resist.

They will work.

They will change.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our own cement blocks drowning us in ourselves.

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

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

They must let go in order to begin again.

 
 

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

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

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

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

And they will save their own lives.

They will find their own ever upward.

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

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

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

Embracing It to Truly Let It Go

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In other words, we’re human.

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

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

I chose change.

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

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

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

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

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

I am...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I am …

a daughter

a wife

a friend

a sister

an aunt

a helper

a therapist

a storyteller

a writer

a dog mom

an educator

a speaker

a spark

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