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

Hopefully the First of Many

My first television interview on the book and blog. So thankful that Great Day St. Louis on KMOV was willing to help me break the silence.

 
 

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

This post included in Amateur Nester's Link Up.

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.

More Than Brevity

Taking the scariest step in my short writing career, I nearly panicked when I submitted to a well known mom blog as a childfree mother. And yet, here I am, in complete awe of the warm embrace I’ve received from the light and love of this ever upward lighted path.

 
 

This post inspired by the WordPress Weekly Writing Challenge: Fifty

WRITE YOUR FIRST “FIFTY”: No rules. Just stick to the word count — no more, no less than fifty words.

The Childfree Mother-My Messy Beautiful

I am not a mother. I wanted to be a mother.

I fought very hard to be a mother.

I paid a lot of money and put my body (and my surrogate’s body) through synthetic hormonal hell to be a mother.

But, I am not a mother.

At least in the common definition of mother.

And yet, here I am, a fan of Glennon, her Momasteryblog and her book Carry On, Warrior, contributing to her Messy, Beautiful Warrior Project… but I am not a mother.

Talk about messy and scared to death.

But I choose beautiful and courage instead.

Messy, Beautiful Warrior

My story could be considered epically sad and tremendously messy. But, I like to think of it as beautifully flawed and filled with ever upward light and love, and every piece of my life puzzle in this Messy, Beautiful life is proof that I am a Warrior. Because, it is messy and beautiful to live our lives authentically brave, and so, everyday I choose to live as a Messy, Beautiful Warrior.

Being a warrior means living all the parts of my story fully, wholeheartedly and brazenly authentically courageous.

It means never shying away from the most asked question of every woman my age, “How many children do you have?”, and answering it in my own honest way.

“We tried, we tried really hard, but we can’t have kids.”

It means never allowing shame to steal my story when I am asked the inevitable second most asked question, “Well, why don’t you just adopt?”

“We know adoption is not our path. We’ve been through a lot, financially and emotionally, with In Vitro Fertilization (IVF), surrogacy and losing three babies already. We have decided to accept a childfree life.”

Owning My Story

I will not apologize if my answer makes you uncomfortable. I will not allow your need to fix or take away my pain to silence my story. I will not let shame, self- or societal-induced, steal my light.

So I will educate. I will write and speak my story, owning my shame, every day of my life. I will live it because it is the only way to honor myself. I will live it because it is the only way the landscape of infertility will change. I will live it because we all have our epically Messy, Beautiful journeys. Because hard is hard and maybe, just maybe, openly owning my story will make you just uncomfortable enough to open your eyes and heart to someone else’s story and therefore lead you to some compassion and understanding.

In short, my life and the stories I write in Ever Upward are the epitome of Messy, Beautiful. They are about what happens when we don’t get what we so desperately wanted and hoped for. What happens when we don’t get what we thought we deserved?

Ever Upward

Ever Upward is about letting go of what isn’t and embracing a new purpose.

Every day I live and write about my Messy, Beautiful.

Every day I live and write about the epic stumbles followed by every purposeful rise.

The following may look like a mess of words to some, but to me they are my Messy, Beautiful story told through some of the titles of my writings...

Where Do I Belong?

Searching through Our Soul’s Way Through Invisible Sufferings, where I must speak my Fear In Owning My Truth where I am Taking Off the Armor of My “Choice”. Because, only then will Shame Die a Little Bit More.

Learning the hard lessons of seeing the limitations of others as they become Our Fellow Warriors, True Friends, Limited Supporters and Incapables. And then, continually asking the question, Can Our Incapables in the Stands Become Our Warriors in the Arena? As I am constantly figuring out The Frankenstein Walk of Feeling Left Behind.

To make sure Shamed Silence is Broken, I must work on Embracing It to Truly Let It Go and fighting for and finding my Resilient Dreams. Where I must learn The Paradox of Letting Go. Maintaining the balance between my need to Wallow, But Just For a Bit, Then Stop Sitting in the Shit to learn the lesson that it is Worth Every Raindrop and Thunder Strike.

Pushing back My Dementors of Shame and Self Doubt to Reach Through the Keyhole of Your Closet. Because only then will I be able to help others learn to Tread or Float. As I have done in Conceiving Our Chosen Family, which is Never a Consolation Prize and always leaves me Filled with Awe.

Pushing Through Fear to Accept Joy, Hell, to Fight For It has meant loving my Chosen Children. It has meant taking My First Step Out of Rock Bottom to Start My Walk on the Moon and looking for the Lights in the Tunnel to Thrive and Not Just Survive.

And trusting that through this battle I will find my Faith in Something. And that this faith will help me fight The Gravity of Relapse especially in Making Room for the Light.

Because I know, I am a Mother, a Mother to My Magic.

My messy is the random anger and bitterness that can over take me at times. My messy is the underlying sadness that comes and goes because I didn’t get what I wanted or hoped for. My messy is that in every traditional sense of a woman my age, I won’t ever really fit in because I am not a mother. My messy is owning my struggle in my recovery. My messy is the risk I am taking in asking to be considered part of this project and, better yet, my courage to own my shame in my childless status.

But, I choose beautiful in my ever upward mess.

My beautiful is surviving failed IVF and surrogacy. My beautiful is accepting and redefining my childfree life. My beautiful is finding my chosen family within the love of our surrogate family especially with their unexpected pregnancy after our failed IVF tries. My beautiful is finding my role in the lives of all our chosen children. My beautiful is having the patience to find my faith again. My beautiful is owning my story, for the world to see, in order to break the silence of infertility but more importantly in claiming my ongoing recovery. My beautiful is knowing that I am a mother in more ways than most are open to considering. My beautiful is in trusting my gut wrenching ironic path to my ever upward light in being a childfree mother.

As, my beautiful is living my light, authentically brave, mess and all, no matter what. Because life in recovery is always a Messy, Beautiful ever upward journey.

This essay and I are part of the Messy, Beautiful Warrior Project — To learn more and join us, CLICK HERE! And to learn about the New York Times Bestselling Memoir Carry On Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life, just released in paperback, CLICK HERE!

Reaching Through the Keyhole of Your Closet

Every day I have the privilege of witnessing my clients' bravery in session. Every day when I read my Freshly Pressed and the other blogs I follow with my morning cup of coffee I am in awe of the vulnerability and bravery people write with. And every day, I choose to live, write and love with wholehearted brave vulnerability. The vulnerability and bravery movement is in full force. The songs Brave by Sara Bareilles and Roar by Katy Perry. Authors such as Danielle LaPorte, Kris Carr, Gabrielle Bernstein, and Brené Brown. Websites like Upworthy and SoulPancake. The thousands of blogs being shared via Twitter and Facebook everyday. And best of the all, the research is backing it up. People who live wholeheartedly, authentically vulnerable and brave are happier and healthier people who have healthy, real and fulfilling relationships.

Vulnerability and bravery are also showing up a lot in my office this week. I have had several clients so excited to tell me about an instance where they finally made the excruciating choice to take the risk and be vulnerable with someone; to be their true self, honest and authentic. To witness their soul expanding amazement of feeling heard, seen and understood is something I will never take for granted.

I have also been blessed with the honor of witnessing friends and friends of friends openly talk about their IVF journeys after reading Ever Upward; whether sharing for the first time or telling a loved one, or even on Facebook, or by sharing or commenting on my blog, that IVF is how they are trying to achieve or have achieved their family. This terrifying, but incredible, courage that is required to finally break the shameful silence that IVF makes us feel we have to live by brings tears of joy and hope to my eyes..

 
 

This bravery and authentic truth telling, means we are all finally feeling it; feeling the magic of true connection, the power of being brave and the freedom of stepping out of our closets.

We all have a closet, because hard is hard, as Ash Beckhman states in her brilliant TED talk. Hard is telling someone you love them for the first time, hard is living your life openly, hard is asking for help, hard is just hard. We cannot wholeheartedly live inside our closets, only peeking through the keyhole.

All of this vulnerability and bravery coming just before I pack up and leave Tuesday for The Daring Way certification training with Brené Brown herself.  Just about two years ago my life changed when the pastor in my old church spoke about a TED talk by Brown, a shame and vulnerability researcher. Brown’s, now famous, The Power of Vulnerability TED talk is one of TEDs most viewed videos. It is also the speech that has catapulted Brown into, not only psychology and social work fame, but mainstream Oprah fame.

Living wholeheartedly and authentically vulnerable, which requires showing some major brave, have been an integral part in my recovery after the losses of IVF and in learning to accept a childfree life.

Ever Upward is my authentic truth telling.

My story.

 
 

It is also my hope to show that living it all out loud makes life better.

I guess it is my way of showing my love to reach through the keyhole of your closet, hoping you will take my hand and live your ever upward right alongside me.