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.

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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.

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.

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.

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?

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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?

Chosen Children

A picture mail text of Lyla's drawing of us.

 
 

Snail mail of Joycelyn's drawing of the dogs.

A picture mail text of Lane with his "Justine socks" on.

 
 

A voice mail from the boys begging us to come play Just Dance.

My favorite picture of the boys cuddling with the three dogs watching cartoons.

A birthday card from McKinley.

The moms in my life will never know how much the small gesture of letting me know their children are thinking of me mean to me; as they mean the world.

I will forever spend my energy making sure these children know I love them and I am here for them and more than anything I want, and really need, to be part of their lives.

As, these are our chosen children.

The children we have the honor of being godparents to. The children we have the privilege of being their guardians. The children we get to see grow up. The children who ask to see us. The children who love us. The children we love more.

Or maybe, it's really that they are the children who have chosen us.

Surviving the losses of IVF and accepting a childfree life to redefine family for us has meant we figure out what it means to still have children in our lives. It means living my truth as a woman who wanted, and desperately, tried to have my own children. It means having the courage to say adoption isn't for us. And yet, it is also making sure my heart is not closed off to all the light and love that family and children can bring to my life, even if it comes with the bittersweet sadness that they aren't my own.

It means traveling to Vegas for McKinley's birthdays.

It means going to Noah's piano recitals.

It means sending happy birthday and happy valentine's videos of the dogs singing to all of the kids.

It means having a toy room in my house.

It means having the pool for everyone to enjoy all summer long.

It means watching the boys play the Wii for hours.

It means hosting chosen family every spring break and playing St. Louis tourist.

It means embracing my sadness that I will never get to parent in the traditional sense, in order to make room for the endless, ever upward light that all of these families and kids bring to my life every single day.

I do it because the alternative is too dark. I do it because it is my journey. I do it because I have fought for my recovery. I do it because it is ever upward.

And, because we have all chosen each other.

 
 

My Dementor: Shame and Self Doubt

Today I gave a presentation for a Lunch and Learn at a major corporation here in Saint Louis. This is my sixth Lunch and Learn with them. I always have good attendance, great feedback and they actually pay me to speak.

And yet this morning as I over-prepared, I literally made myself sick with anxiety and self doubt.

Because, today I spoke on Wholehearted Parenting.

And, I am not a parent.

And, I was scared shitless.

A few days ago my shame consumed me as the presentation got closer; "I am not a parent and I am speaking on parenting". I remind myself that this is also major public information now.

The self doubt settling over me like a thick fog casting fear inside my very core.

Shame.

Fucking shame.

Like the dementor to my light, stealing my voice, sucking away my soul, leaving my heart empty.

I reached out to my friend,Janine, who organizes the talks and she of course gave me an amazing pep talk. And then last night my friend and colleague reminded me that I am actually a parent. Kelly's words will forever and always mean the world to me. She said that I parent as much as she does, just in different ways; I parent my dogs and I parent all of the children in my life and that most of all I parent my clients. In many ways therapy is like parenting or even re-parenting with clients. She parents her two boys, but my audience of children is simply bigger as this is my purpose, and my path.

I cried and took in her words because I knew they were my truth. I drew in a deep knowing breath and thanked her for reminding me of my light. She reminded me of what I know every day in many ways, I wasn't given the chance or blessing of my own children because I am meant for this greatness of working with clients, writing and helping others. It's neither better nor worse or more or less important, it's just different.

 
 

So, this morning before I walked into that board room I wrote myself a permission slip, just like we ask ourselves and clients to do as they work through The Daring Way™ curriculum. I wrote myself my permission slip and set it right beside my notes.

I have permission to be scared. I have permission to not be parent enough. I have permission to know, and own, that I know what I am talking about and that I can help even though I am not a parent in the traditional sense.

And so I spoke. And I was painfully vulnerable in owning to them that I am not a parent but that I was there to teach them about wholehearted parenting. I called out my own imposter syndrome, and let them in to my world: I don't get to be a parent but I can still help you be a better one I think.

I also stated that I am the right person to do that because, one, I actually have the time to read the research and parenting books because I wasn't able to be a mom. And two, I parent every single day, just not my own children (and according to Kelly this probably means my house is cleaner, I am more well rested and I have more sex).

I was real, I was vulnerable and I allowed my brilliant light to outshine my shame. And because I fought for that bravery, I connected and delivered one of my best lectures. And I have no doubt that there will be some families this weekend with some new language and new ways to love and parent because of that hour we spent together today.

Doing the work of recovery and learning shame resilience doesn't mean we won't experience shame. It simply means that we will be able to better cope with it when it does come in.

Shame is my dementor. And it has been very ominous this week, floating over me threatening to take my spirit with this parenting presentation and with more activity from agents and publishers on Ever Upward, the book. But that self doubt has been further shattered today by the success of my last post. A post that I struggled with so much to write and didn't think was my best work; damn art of letting go. And yet, it has been viewed over 450 times in two days, breaking my record of daily views today alone.

I almost let shame and self doubt stop me from writing that post earlier this week, I almost let it steal my light this whole week, and especially today.

It was only through courage, compassion and connection  that ever upward prevailed.

What do you need to give yourself permission to do, say or feel in the crazy journey of life or in your recovery? How can you practice courage, compassion and connection to remind yourself of your ever upward light? 

**This prompt later linked with the WordPress Daily Prompt: The Great PretenderAre you full of confidence or have you ever suffered from Imposter Syndrome? Tell us all about it.**

Worth Every Raindrop and Thunder Strike

It has been a week of witnessing the dichotomy between the sheer terror and the joyful hope of change. A week of asking clients to trust that if they feel the fear and choose change anyway there is light waiting for them. The fear of the storm that must be felt at the same time as having the courage for riding out and fighting through the storm, along with the bravery for the calm after it.

The work my clients do each week will be the scariest and most difficult of their lives. And yet it can, and will be the work that changes everything. The work that leads them back to their true, whole, healthy and authentically happy selves.

Even though we know we want, deserve and can do, be and have better, we are so fearful of it and scared to death of what it will take to get it.

So we settle and stand in our own way because it feels safer, even in the dark misery of it.

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I know, because I did it.

I know, because I didn't define my rock bottom for myself and life did it for me.

I know, because I've finally gotten out of my own way and fought for myself.

I know, because I felt the fear and I chose recovery anyway.

Our recoveries will all be different, but have no doubt, eventually we will each need to choose to recover. Because life is beautifully flawed and heart breakingly difficult.

But through the fear and the work of the storm, after we make the choice to change, lies the calm and brilliance of recovery.

Because we must be afraid and brave at the same time as Brené Brown has found in her research. We must feel the fear and choose ourselves in order to fight the fight of recovery.

I have my story, myself, to show as evidence. And I will model that every minute of all of my days.

I will model that it isn't easy; that there are setbacks and it definitely doesn't feel fair most of the time.

I will model that on the other side of the storm is ever upward light.

And, all I can hope and work for is that my clients, and my loved ones, see my fight and my light every day.

Because through me, I hope they can trust and have faith that I will fight alongside them. Constantly reminding them that their light is worth both riding out and fighting through the storm because the ever upward calm of recovery is worth every raindrop and thunder strike.

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.

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.

Conceiving Our Chosen Family

 
 

Sandwiched in the third row seat, between 11 year old Nathan and 5 year old Lyla, on our way to Monster Jam and Disney on Ice, respectively, she catches me off guard with her 5 year old curious love. “You’re like our family, but not our family, but still family,” she says while looking up at me with her big blue eyes.

“That is why we say you are our chosen family,” I try to explain.

Her big blue eyes focus in on me with a confused tender smirk as she tries to figure out what that exactly means in her 5 year old brain.

Nathan, her big brother, interjects trying to explain how we all came into each other’s lives in a way she can understand. “Justine can’t have babies, so Mommy was going to carry their baby for them. But it didn’t work, and we got Tipton instead but they are still our family.”

Bright blue eyes glazed over, she leans in closer to me and we have completely lost her. I reassure her that sometimes we aren’t related to our family like she is to her brothers. She didn’t get to choose Nathan or Tipton to be her family, but we all got to choose each other as family.

5 year old brain satisfied for now.

We set forth to conceive our own children, with Michelle’s help, or at least the help of her healthy body (and uterus). However, neither Chad and I, nor Ben and Michelle, could have ever imagined the destined family that would eventually be the result of our IVF journey.

They have been in our lives for 3 years, and yet it feels like we have known each other forever. We all began our journey with the hope of babies for Chad and I when Michelle answered my ad on a surrogacy website. We did two transfers, 3 embryos, never to get pregnant. And now, we continue our journey with us learning to accept a childfree life and the unexpected expansion of Ben and Michelle’s family with their new son Tipton.

It isn’t exactly what we all had hoped for.

It isn’t exactly what we all had expected.

Hell, it isn’t what we paid thousands of dollars and put our bodies through synthetic hormonal hell for.

It’s better.

Sometimes bittersweet.

But always better.

And, without a doubt, exactly as it is supposed be, as I've been able to consider it pure joy.

When I look into Michelle’s eyes and I hear her voice, I am reminded of that powerful moment in the operating room during the first transfer. We looked into each other’s eyes all gowned up with her on the table ready to become the home to our babies for the next 40 weeks. Tears of complete fear with unbridled joy filled both of our eyes, and in that 30 seconds of life, we held each other and hoped and loved with every cell of our bodies, hearts and souls.

Never could we have imagined what was ahead for us. Never could we have imagined the ups and the downs we’ve survived through together. Never could we have imagined we would have the story we have, or the one that has yet to be written.

And never could I have imagined I would find myself, my home and my destined chosen family all from a woman I met online.

In her, I have found my ever upward family.

 
 

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.