Choosing in Alignment With Who I Want To Be

I have been blogging for over a year and half now. A lot of learning, growth, healing and connection has happened in that year and a half. 204 posts of learning, growing and healing to be exact. As I am continuing to work on growing the platform of Ever Upward, I am growing my Justine Froelker’s YouTube channel. You can find Self-Care Tip Tuesdays, funny videos of the dogs, tapping scripts, my appearances on Great Day St. Louis and videos of me speaking to old blog posts, so please subscribe!

I originally wrote Being the Happiest and Healthiest Version of Ourselves in April of 2015. This is a slightly reworked and updated version of it, along with a NEW video explanation.

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Working my recovery is never easy.

It is always simple though.

Some days I love it, some days I do it even though I can think of a thousand other things to do instead.

And, some days life simply gets in the way.

The frustration of falling off track with the choices of recovery. The sense of it never getting easier. The inaccurate inner critic telling us that we are a failure and that we will never _____________ (get better, lose the weight, be happy, achieve success...).

When this happens it can feel easier to just stay down, to wallow and sit in the shit.

How long does this have to feel like such a struggle? Will it always be this hard? Will I ever feel motivated to choose better?

Some of my clients look at me and think this recovery I fight for every day is easy and that I have it all figured out, which really only means they must not be keeping up on the blog ;). They think that the only way I practice my self-care daily is because I feel like it and I am super jazzed and awesomely motivated to (sarcasm).

And, sure, there are days this can feel true, but not every day, in fact probably not most days.

There are days that I must simply choose it.

Just do it.

And no, it is not easy. But it is simple. However, I know choosing recovery is definitely not easy, and maybe not even simple, in the depths of severe depression and anxiety. But, I do believe that we still always have the ability to choose again.

Practicing recovery daily means that I make the choices that are aligned with who I want to be.

I choose to meditate, color, journal, exercise, tap, take my supplements, drink water, write, get enough sleep, etc. because I want to be the happiest and healthiest version of myself.

I choose in alignment with who I want to be and I want to be happy, healthy, present and engaged in my life.

There are days that I am not motivated to do my morning routine. My thoughts and my feelings aren't pushing me towards choosing self-care. But I choose it anyway because it is in alignment with who I want to be and I make sure to at least do something that moves me toward that person.

We can choose this person. We can choose who we want to be. And better yet, we must choose daily the steps that move us closer to that person. What if you took that next best step toward the happy, healthy, engaged and present person you want to be?

 
 

Making It Well With My Soul

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

Clarity. Light. Love.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The light. The guide. The help.

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

Not necessarily fair but well, okay, at peace.

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

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

Clarity.

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

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

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

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

Being the red shirt.

 
 

I carried that into my sessions last week.

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

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

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

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

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

My choice lies in the power of moving ever upward.

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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.

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Housekeeping:

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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

The Lifelong Loss of a Due Date and Still Choosing to Be Ever Upward

August 31st, 2012 The day we dreamed our first child (or children, as we transferred two embryos) were to be born. We would have hoped to welcome one or two babies into the world around this time. But they were never our babies to have on this side of eternity. I was never meant to mother them in the traditional sense. Always to be just a dream and yet so much more.

But instead we spent time together in Lake Tahoe redefining after infertility treatments, side effects, financial stressors and no babies to show for it.

I had to walk back into myself that day. Because if I didn't make that choice I think I may have literally died of a broken heart.

As the day passed...I chose myself again.

As the day passed by I chose to find a piece of ever upward.

August 31st, 2013

They would have been one year old today. So much work and healing in the last year, on myself especially but, also in every single relationship in my life.

But instead we moved into Mason House; the family home we created to share with our loved ones for years to come.

As the year passed by...the pain began to subside just a tiny bit and it stings a little less every day as we actively find other love and joy.

As the year passed by I chose to make my ever upward.

August 31st, 2014

I felt off all day. But I didn't even notice the date necessarily, I actually was a day off. Obviously, I knew in my heart and soul that our babies were due this day and that today they would have been  two years old.

But instead I spent the day with my namesake, Abigail Justine. I held her, I loved on her and played with her. We went and saw butterflies together and rode the carousel. I have no doubt she is the enough in my life after so much almost enough.

 
Lifelong losses of due date choosing to be ever upward
Lifelong losses of due date choosing to be ever upward
 

This and my loved ones are beginning to read my book, Ever Upward. As I watch them feel the book in their hands and take in the beauty of the cover, I see the smile come across their faces, their eyes fill with tears and true love and support exuding from them. In all of this I feel many of the same feelings I think I may have had had they been holding my child.

Ever Upward has been a labor of my love and pain. It has been conceived through the dream of becoming a mother and the loss of that dream. And, it has been birthed with the help and love of so many. Ever Upward is my baby many years in the making.

As the years pass by...the scars heal a bit more, I embrace it all and trust my ever upward.

As the years pass by I choose to be ever upward.

And, most of all I make sure to be open to the ever upward that has come from the lifelong losses of this journey through my work.

These choices are not consolation. These choices don't erase the losses. These choices can never make it better.

These choices are simply the lights of what happens when I do the work to let go of what isn't in order to grasp what is.

This is the light, the love, the essence of ever upward.

This is the choice to be ever upward.

*To read more about my experiences through two back surgeries, the survival of infertility and how I chose to change my life 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

This post linked up with Amateur Nester's Link-Up!

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

My Story with Amateur Nester

My interview with Lisa at Amateur Nester is an excellent sneak peek into my book, Ever Upward. A huge, wholehearted thank to Lisa. Thank you for being a friend in this big amazing world of infertility blogging. Thank you for being a fellow warrior in sharing my message. Thank you for being you!. To read the full story, click here!

 
 

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

14 Reasons This is Just the Beginning

The growing momentum of Ever Upward. My continued ownership of my whole story.

The continuing opportunities to share this ownership.

All leading me to more and more clarity with which I am seeing, feeling and growing this light inside of me.

My essential truth.

Which I hope can become part of many of our essential truths; maybe even, the essential truth.

Talk about it.

Embrace it.

Practice recovery ofit.

Own it.

No matter what it is.

For my first televised interview on the book and blog, Ever Upward, I was blessed enough to be interviewed by Virginia Kerr of KMOV's Great Day St. Louis. I have appeared monthly on Great Day for over four years, in many ways I feel part of their family. I am so grateful for their love, support and the opportunity on the show to break the shamed silence of infertility.

Our six minutes went so fast, too fast. After the interview Virginia looked at me and said, "Did we cover everything? I don't think we did, I was just having an amazing conversation with you on air!"

It was real.

It was authentic.

It was amazing.

And, no, we didn't even begin to cover everything...

But, I will make sure it is just the beginning.

The clip has been one of the most shared posts I've had. It has also sparked some of the most amazing words of encouragement, support and love from friends, new and old.

And, this is just the beginning.

My essential truth was definitely highlighted throughout the interview but, what our short six minutes didn't allow for was why this essential truth is so important, especially in the world of infertility and in the world of whatever you need to recover from.

It's now been a few days since the interview. As I continue to navigate through the shares, comments, support and love, I am also overwhelmed by random moments in awe with glimmers of but wait this is part of my message too moments.

Things like:

1. We must talk about infertility so the public is more educated.

2. We must talk about infertility in order to get any of the understanding we want and need from our loved ones.

3. We must talk about infertility in order to be healthier and happier versions of ourselves both throughout treatments but, especially thereafter no matter the ending to that part of our story.

4. We must talk about infertility because only using our doctors and our partner for support is too much for just about any relationship.

5. We must talk about infertility because then, maybe, it could actually result in a higher success rate.

6. We must talk about infertility to educate on how expensive, painful and difficult the process is.

7. We must talk about infertility to challenge the message that you must keep trying because it will eventually work and to give permission to stop.

8. We must talk about infertility and fertility because it is the only way to broaden the story and increase understanding no matter the situation.*

  • The couple who has any kind of infertility diagnosis or a lack there of.
  • The same sex couple.
  • The single man or woman who desperately wants to be a parent.
  • The couple who cannot have a healthy baby with their own genes.
  • The couple who chooses to adopt.
  • The couple who chooses not to adopt.
  • The woman or couple who courageously gave up her/their child for adoption.
  • DSC_0507
  • The couple who use a donor egg or sperm.
  • The couple who adopts an embryo.
  • The couple who uses a traditional surrogate.
  • The couple who uses a gestational surrogate.
  • The couple who has embryos left.
  • The couple who has no embryos left.
  • The couple who were able to have one or some biological child(ren) and then chose adoption.
  • The couple who chooses to have one child.
  • The couple who can only have one child.
  • The couple who has children many years apart because they suffered miscarriages or endured infertility treatments between.
  • The couple who chooses no infertility treatments.
  • The couple who is able to try infertility treatments many times with success of children.
  • The couple who is able to try infertility treatments many times only to never have it work.
  • The couple who had kids before they were really ready or even really trying.
  • The couple who has suffered a loss of any kind, of any gestation, of any age.
  • The couple who has suffered a loss of any kind, of any gestation, of any age and is blessed with healthy children still.
  • The couples who are still parents no matter what the loss.
  • The couples with children.
  • The couples who live childfree but childfull lives.
  • All the families who don't know their loved ones are suffering.
  • All the families who know their loved ones' suffering but are flailing for the words to support.
  • Any couple, any family, because in reality life hardly ever turns out how we hoped, how we planned or even sometimes what we paid for; loss is loss.

9. I must educate about infertility and thriving thereafter because it is how I have fought for and continue to practice my recovery; in it I have found my calling and purpose.

10. I must break my silence because within this fight I have been found by my ever upward.

11. We must talk about all our losses, traumas and tragedies in order to heal.

12. We must embrace all the parts of our stories.

13. We must fight for and practice our recoveries to be healthier and happier versions of ourselves.

14. We must own it all to find and be found, to live our ever upward.

As I continue to practice my recovery, write Ever Upward, the blog (especially as it has taken on it's own amazing life) and build the platform for Ever Upward, the book, I hope we all find permission.

 
 

My essential truth of giving myself permission.

The essential truth of giving us all permission.

Permission to talk, to embrace, to practice and to own it all.

Because, this is just my beginning.

As, I will make damn sure my infertility journey is just one of my many epic journeys in this story of my ever upward life.

*Sometimes it is difficult to make sure I include everyone, if I've forgotten a situation please comment below so I can edit the post and add (giving you credit if you like).

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

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

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

 
istock_000002709202small.jpg
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We all judge, some definitely more so than others.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

judged for living this all out loud,

judged for attempting to change the shamed silence of infertility,

judged for authentically living my work in recovery,

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

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

I dare you.

 
 

I am a survivor of infertility and IVF.

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

I know adoption is not my path to my family.

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

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

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

I am resolving to know more than one happy ending.

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

And, I dare you to judge me.

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

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

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

I will own it.

All of it.

Because only then do I find myself again.

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

I dare you...

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

Mental Health Blog Day

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

We must fight for our recovery.

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

~~~~

"You see a therapist?!?"

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

Only really crazy people have to see a therapist!

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

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

You must not be strong enough to deal.

~~~~

I struggle and I am a therapist.

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

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

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

 
 

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

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

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

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

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

 
rays.jpg
 

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

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

I will help.

I will walk alongside.

I will pull forward.

And, I will push.

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

The 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.

Resolve to Know More Than One Happy Ending

 
 

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

And, I am One in Eight.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 
 

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

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

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

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

~~~~

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

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

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.

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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 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.

 
rays.jpg
 

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

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

I will help.

I will walk alongside.

I will pull forward.

And, I will push.

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

Mourning What Should Have Been

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

Do I need or want to go to the gym?

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

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

I shouldn't feel sad any longer.

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

~~~~

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

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

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

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

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

 
 

We all have should have beens…

I should have gone to school sooner.

I shouldn't have stayed so long.

I should have enjoyed my younger years more.

I should be able to forgive this by now.

I should have taken better care of my body.

I should have been more honest.

They shouldn’t have left me.

I should be better by now.

I should have left them.

I should be over this.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You are a birth mom.

You are a mom mom.

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

You will never get to experience pregnancy yourself.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 
 

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

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

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

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

I am not meant to be a mother.

Should I have been?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!

Faith in Something

 
 

"Hold it all together Everybody needs you strong But life hits you out of nowhere And barely leaves you holding on

...You're not alone, stop holding on and just be heldYour worlds not falling apart, its falling into place..."

These are the lyrics to the song a friend posted on Facebook the week I really needed it, Just Be Held by Casting Crowns. Sure, it is a Christian band and song, but I dare you to listen to some of the lyrics and see if they can apply to your life, even if Christianity isn't your path.

Mostly, because in the really hard times, I think, we have to believe in something; having faith in something, I think, is a requirement of surviving this life, let alone thriving through recovery.

As, I work with my clients, I don't really care what you have faith in; God, Mother Nature, Karma, Life, Family, Relationships, Coffee or that Pencil sitting on your desk. Life is too hard to not have faith in something outside of ourselves. To believe in something or someone bigger than you, to know we are always understood and never alone.

I have spent most of my adult life struggling with religion while maintaining a decent amount of my own faith. Because frankly, there is nothing like being a mental health therapist who has struggled with infertility to make one doubt faith, a higher power, and especially, organized religion at times.

However, within this doubt I never stopped searching. It has been through my recovery and what has felt like the never ending search that I feel like I have finally found my home in faith and in religion.

I will not use Ever Upward to preach. I will not even use Ever Upward to let you into my faith life, as this is something that I'd like to cultivate and figure out myself and with my family for now.

However, I cannot not write about faith when I share about my recovery. I guess, I just wish for all of us fighting the fight of recovery to seek something in the faith department. Seek something outside of yourself. Seek something bigger than you.

Because within that search you may just finally find yourself again. You may just find your own ever upward.

**I'm fully aware this post could evoke some strong reactions, however I am not looking to engage in a theological debate here. Rather, I'd like to spark the search for something bigger in all of our recoveries. So, rather than preach, what is it you have faith in? Let's educate one another and therefore find compassion in our recoveries.**

The Gravity of Relapse

It's been two weeks since my dad's life changing accident. I've been back home for a week playing catch up with clients, paperwork, writing and housework. I'm also playing catch up with recovery.

Life happens; we fall behind in our self care, behind in our recovery, and all of a sudden we are fighting our own gravity of relapse.

The song Gravity by Sara Bareilles is powerful in it's own right. As a mental health therapist who works with clients struggling with addiction the power of the lyrics were solidified when Mia Michaels choreographed a dance to it on So You Think You Can Dance years ago. Today the lyrics hit home as I can feel the pull of old ways on me; the gravity of my own relapse.

Being home helping family meant I didn't make myself, my recovery, a priority. I am the first to admit that recovery is multiple choices I make every single day to be the best version of myself; it is exercise, it is writing, it is meditation, it is reading, it is a nighttime routine, it is expressing myself...it is a huge pain in the ass. But they are daily choices I must make to live my wholehearted recovered life.

I am carefully minding the balance between being gentle with myself in that I did the very best I could given the situation I was in and being frustrated that I didn't fight harder for myself and my recovery. I wasn't in my own home. I was helping during a very stressful time for all of us. I wasn't eating the way I normally do. I was around someone who doesn't believe or honor, and sometimes even actively denies, my story and recovery. I was way behind on sleep. I did the best I could but I know now I need to choose better next time.

 
 

Fighting the gravity of relapse, meant that I still made sure to listen to my play list every morning I got ready. It was the one daily choice of my recovery I made sure to practice even during the stressful time.

Fighting the gravity of relapse, means that I slowly get back on track with my daily choices, adding new ones each day until I am back to what it takes to maintain my ever upward light.

Fighting the gravity of relapse, means asking for help from my loved ones and getting in to see my own therapist this week.

Fighting the gravity of relapse, means doing better next time but giving myself a break on this time.

Fighting the gravity of relapse, means giving myself permission that I am always learning, growing and figuring it all out along the way.

Fighting the gravity of relapse, means writing this to own my struggle because it is in this ownership that I will find my recovery again and simply take the best next step forward.

Because, it is only within the honoring of this battle that I will make it part of my journey in my ever upward life.

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