Our Light Can't Shine in the Darkness of Perfectionism

The planting season.

For the last 6 months I have been working nonstop to get Ever Upward noticed, read, reviewed, Tweeted, Facebooked and loved. I have also been trying to maintain my sanity, marriage and relationships. I have also been trying to not go broke while pushing out my debut book without a big publishing house behind me and no experience in marketing or PR. All while seeing the most clients I ever have each week and being the best therapist I have ever been (only because I work my own recovery).

All this pushing and planting about topics that many don't want to talk about or even hear about.

All this pushing and planting because I believe in myself, in my message and in the need for it.

But now it is spring.

My seasons are changing.

Less than two weeks out from the bookstore launch of Ever Upward and I am realizing, again, the need to step back.

Step back to watch what I have planted grow.

Step back to make room for it to grow.

Step back to give it back to Him.

Step back to allow it bloom.

To imperfectly bloom.

As all of my work begins to bud, I am also beginning to be faced with one of my personal struggles.

Perfectionism.

Because not everyone likes what I have to say or how I go about it all.

But, no one has ever changed the world by being liked by everyone and the people who know me and know Ever Upward can trust that my intention is always to help. Besides, I only have room for those who are actually in the arena with me; living their lives every day with wholehearted courage.

And yet, the perfectionist part of me also cringes at the thought of being disliked by anyone. Or worse yet, people out there saying negative things about me and my message.

However, rising ever upward means not being defined by what others think of me and always choosing to shine my light no matter what.

Because nothing is perfect and light will never shine in perfectionistic darkness, which means nothing will ever grow.

The perfectionistic darkness

This darkness almost got me recently when I received my first 3 star Amazon review that contained good constructive criticism. Now I am not delusional, I know those negative reviews are coming; just as I have learned that I will never please everyone. But this one was my first and it stung a bit.

But just for a bit because I wasn't going to allow that perfectionistic dark to steal the moment.

Because the truth of the review was that the better (and longer) half of the review was incredible and super supportive. If I focused on those 3 stars and the criticism for too long it would completely negate the positive part of the review.

But, isn't that what we all do?

  • You were told five exemplary points during your job review and you can't get the one thing your supervisor needs you to work on out of your mind.
  • 95% percent of the evaluations are raving positive reviews and that measly 5% is haunting you.
  • You didn't get those three jobs before your dream job that you actually got and yet you hold onto those rejections for way longer than they deserve.

Give yourself permission to take the feedback, the rejection and the criticism in order to grow from it but then let it go. Because, we must give ourselves permission to celebrate and to actually pat ourselves on the back, especially when we deserve it.

The crazy part is my 3 star reviewer reached out to me after I posted about my disappointment on my personal Facebook page and the Ever Upward Facebook page. You see part of my ever upward journey is to be honest and vulnerable on social media because that is real life. Just as my friend Jen of Daring Happiness says, "Facebook Happy" is our fault not social media's fault. Take a chance and post about your real life on social media and feel how much your life and the connections in your life flourish.

My 3 star reviewer apologized and reiterated how much she loved my book and even offered to change the star review on Amazon. To which I wrote her back and thanked her for her apology but assured her it was completely unnecessary.

And then, I thanked her for her criticism.

She is now a significant part of this journey for me. I need to trust who I am, to know my message matters and will help others. I don't want to develop a tough skin because then I am not honoring the wholehearted and authentic person I am and want to be. But I do want and need to practice my recovery wholeheartedly, which means I get to learn and grow from criticism while also allowing the light in.

My 3 star reviewer allowed me this practice: to let go of that perfectionistic dark in order to allow the light in.

To let my light in.

Because none of it can bloom without that light.

 
 

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

I am doer.

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

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

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

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

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

We get it done.

We work our asses off.

We do.

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

The breath of accomplishment; I did that.

The breath of clarity; it is my best.

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

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

To let it be.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 
 

I must let it be.

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

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

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

It is enough.

She is enough.

~~~~

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

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

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The Hard Work (and Art) of Forgiveness

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

And, forgiveness of our loved ones.

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

We must learn to forgive

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

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

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

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

The art of forgiveness

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

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

The hard work of forgiveness

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

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

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

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

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

For myself.

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

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

 
 

We forgive to find peace.

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

We forgive for ourselves.

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

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

Simple but not easy.

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

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

An art of ever upward.

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When We Become a Mother or Father

A deep knowing breath. The warmth of a soul scar healing just a bit more.

A sense of truth, understanding and validation.

This is just a tiny sense of what I felt when I read these words from Lindsey Henke in her Still Standing post.

"But in my opinion a mother isn’t born when a child is born. A mother and father are born when the dream of a child is conceived."

There are times when I allow my comparison, scarcity and shame to dim my light and I am fearful of sharing my story. This fear is born out of the messages I tell myself. The messages that have actually been said out loud to me. And, the messages that society drills into me.

There will be some who will never ever consider me a mother. The ones who say I didn't try enough. The ones who judge my decision to not adopt. The ones who say I must not have wanted to be a mother badly enough. The ones who say I didn't lose because our three babies were only eight cell embryos.

I will never get full understanding from everyone, let alone validation. But, I will still speak my story. I will own all the parts of my story. And, I will continue to fight and break the shamed silence that surrounds infertility, miscarriage, infant loss and recovery.

But, I will not do so to convince my deniers.

I will do so because if I don't I simply am not living my ever upward.

If I don't I am not practicing my recovery, that I fought like hell to get to.

If I don't I am not following my light.

Becoming a mother

I became a mother the minute I posted my ad on the surrogacy message board. I became even more of a mother when I met Michelle. I became even more of a mother when our embryos were transferred into her loving and mothering uterus. I became even more of a mother the days we received the call that none of our babies were strong enough to even implant.

I am a mother with empty arms here on this earth. I am a mother who parents her children on this side of eternity. I am a mother to many people and things in my life.

Simply, I too, was born a mother the day I dreamed of becoming one.

I am a childfree mother who lives a childfull life.

This is me.

This is my light.

This is my ever upward.

Always redefining, finding ever upward

We dream and then sometimes we lose.

We suffer and then we rise.

We struggle and then we thrive.

These are choices we must make each and every day. These are my choices to let go of what was never meant to be mine and to make sure it wasn't for nothing. Because I know I am a mother and more.

These are our choices to embrace our stories, to redefine and own it all.

This is life.

It is sad.

It is amazing.

It is ever upward.

*To read more about our surrogacy story and my recovery to 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

In a Whisper or a Shout, Owning It All

Through fear. Through judgment.

To own it all.

But how?

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

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

This is not easy work.

But, it is simple.

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

It is not easy but, it is simple.

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

It is simple.

But, good God, not easy.

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

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

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

And, this got me thinking...

In a whisper or a shout

 
 

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

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

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

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

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

We accept what cannot be  changed.

We forgive.

We let go.

We talk about it.

We practice recovery from it.

Giving ourselves permission to do this work.

Giving ourselves permission to believe that it could help.

And, we own it.

To ourselves.

To a couple of loved ones.

To the public.

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

Trust it.

Quietly in a whisper or loudly in a shout.

Owning it all.

*To read more about my recovery make sure to pick up a copy of the soon to be published Ever Upward: Overcoming the Lifelong Losses of Infertility to Own a Childfree Life. Now expected to be available EARLY fall!*

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

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

A Buried Treasure of Emerging Seashells

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

Picture frames made of shells.

Lamps filled with more shells.

Glass tabletops filled with even more shells.

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

They loved seashells.

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

Reminders of the Past

 
 

And yet, we see seashells every day.

And, I feel my lost babies every day.

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

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

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

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

Because, I am not a mother with living children.

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

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

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

Embracing Our Past

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

 
reminders-buried-treasure.jpg
 

Within the buried treasure we can find our whole.

Within the buried treasure we can embrace it all.

Within the buried treasure we can be found.

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

Our story of the work of recovery.

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

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

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

A Quick Lesson in Forgiveness for LeBron and Dan

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

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

 
 

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

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

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

Letting Go of Regret and Resentment

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

alg_knicks2.jpg

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

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

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

Learning to Forgive

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is Recovery Just a Never Ending To Do List?

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

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

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

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

And yet, my recovery stands.

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

But, my recovery only stands through my practice.

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

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

The Practice of Intention

Practicing recovery needs to be about intention.

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

Recovery (for me):

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

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

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

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

Check. Check. Check.

All better. Done. Recovered.

Not even close.

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

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

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

That is okay.

I can practice again tomorrow.

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

Sessions of rock bottom.

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

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

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

 
 

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

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

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

Because, I know it can be enough.

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

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

 
 

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

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

The Tablespoon of Shame

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

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

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

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

 
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And, we are all worthy of love and belonging.

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

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

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

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

The complete mis-education and misunderstanding of infertility.

The invalidation of the lifelong costs and losses of infertility.

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

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

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

It is recovery.

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

It is in owning it all.

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

It is in owning all the parts of our stories.

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

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

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

The Dates Seared into Us

I am a numbers person. No, not the add, subtract, divide and multiply numbers kind of person (just ask my accountant husband).

The kind of numbers person who remembers dates, phone numbers and birthdays pretty well and for a very long time. I have clients' phone numbers committed to memory, for no reason, as I no longer work with them and my cell phone remembers them for me. I also usually, and very easily, remember birth dates of friends, family and all the chosen children in my life.

I also have many dates throughout the year that are forever seared into my very being.

I have always known the power of the dates that will haunt us forever as I often remind my clients of this. It is not uncommon that we begin to struggle some; anxiety is higher, depression is heavier or we just start to feel off and, then we stop to think of the date, or the time of year, and are reminded of that loss, trauma or tragedy that happened way back when.

I too have these kinds of dates seared into my heart and into my soul. My soul scars that never go away and in some ways haunt me all throughout the year.

August 25th, 1994 ~ My first back surgery.

June 19th, 1997 ~ My second back surgery.

December 28th, 2011 ~ The first phone call that stopped our lives, Michelle, our surrogate, was not pregnant.

April 16th, 2012 ~ The soul crushing and clarity providing phone call that our second, and last, embryo transfer did not take; Michelle was never going to be pregnant with our child.

June 26th, 2012 ~ The day we made another impossible decision to let go of our Maddie. The day of my true rock bottom.

 
 

August 31st, 2012 ~ What would have been the first birthday of our two embryos transferred in the first round of IVF.

 
 

December 21st, 2012 ~ What would have been the first birthday of our last embryo transferred in the second, and last, round of IVF.

June 17th, 2013 ~ The birth of Tipton, our chosen family's wonderful surprise, our bittersweet reminder that is outweighed by the the love we have for another of our chosen children.

 
 

I wish I could have been better prepared by the infertility blogs, message boards and even doctors that these dates never leave us.

Especially, the birthdays of our never meant to be babies, at least never meant to be in our arms on this physical earth.

They are forever, for better or worse, seared in my head, on my heart and within my soul.

Today, I am able to say for the better.

And, through the work of my recovery I am beginning to have more of the magical, full of love, moments seared into every piece of me.

Last night, on June 22nd, 2014, I publicly declared the private decision I was finally able to make for myself on May 6th, 2014.

 
 

I was baptized.

Just a few days shy of my rock bottom when we lost Maddie 2 years ago, after surviving IVF and losing 3 babies, I walked into the waters of baptism last night a renewed, a redefined and a continually healing woman.

I walked into those waters with a scarred but never closed heart and soul and, with my three babies watching from above.

On May 6th, my prayer that Jesus would show His love to me in a way I could finally understand, embrace and accept was answered. As I have written before, there is nothing like being a mental health therapist for over 14 years who has also struggled with infertility to make one doubt God and faith. But, what I realized on May 6th, is that I can still doubt and question. I can even still hold feelings of anger and feel like my life hasn't been fair.

And yet, I can still believe.

Doubt, questions, anger and all.

Wonder.

I can believe in His love for me. I can trust His plan for me. I can live my life knowing the ending of my story will be His way, whether or not I get to know it on this side of eternity. I can honor that He will take this life and let it shine.

My heart is full. My soul is continuing to heal. My ever upward wonder grows.

Seared dates, soul scars and all.

And, that this wonder, my wonder, is exactly what makes it faith.

*To read more about my seared dates make sure to pick up a copy of the soon to be published Ever Upward: Owning My Childfree Life in Our Child Obsessed.*

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~~~~

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

We all judge, some definitely more so than others.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

judged for living this all out loud,

judged for attempting to change the shamed silence of infertility,

judged for authentically living my work in recovery,

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

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

I dare you.

 
 

I am a survivor of infertility and IVF.

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

I know adoption is not my path to my family.

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

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

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

I am resolving to know more than one happy ending.

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

And, I dare you to judge me.

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

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

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

I will own it.

All of it.

Because only then do I find myself again.

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

I dare you...

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

The Complicated Gray

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

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

Albeit, beautiful complicated gray.

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

The complicated gray.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The complicated gray of every parenting decision.

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

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

~~~~

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

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

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

Permission for our stories.

Permission for our recoveries.

Permission for our light.

Permission for finding our ever upward.

Happy Mother's Day to All the Mothers of Many

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

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

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

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

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

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

 
 

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

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

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

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

Resolve to Know More Than One Happy Ending

 
 

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

And, I am One in Eight.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 
 

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

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

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

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

~~~~

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

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

The Almost Enough Moments

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

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

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

Aren't we all wondering the why?

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

Why did he cheat?

Why did she have to die?

Why did he have to fall?

Why did they leave?

Why didn't I die?

Why are they lying?

Why did this have to happen???

Why?

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

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

 
 

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

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

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

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

Being McKinley's godparents.

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

Having every moment with our chosen family.

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

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

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

The healing journey of writing my book.

A better marriage.

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

The continuing journey of my blog.

Becoming a better therapist.

Our dogs.

 
 

My improved relationships.

The happier, healthier me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 
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This is ever upward.

My recovery.

My story.

My purpose.

My path.

My light.

And even, my soul scars.

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

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!

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.

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.

 
 

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

I read once in a yoga magazine, which sat in my own waiting room, that in order to let go we must set up the circumstances in our lives that allow us to let go. In other words, as I always tell my clients, letting go is more of an art than a science. And, if I had the power to make it a science, or better yet an easily followed recipe, I'd quit my day job as a therapist and pursue my backup career (makeup artist in case you were wondering).

The Art of Letting Go

Letting go is an art we must grapple with, I think, throughout our entire lives if we are going to have any sense of peace, contentment and happiness.

A practice really.

A practice, that I will admit, I must continually put effort into, sometimes daily.

I can stamp my feet and scream at the top of my lungs that it's not fair! That it's just too hard to let go, let alone accept. But, it doesn't really change the fact that many of the things I need to let go of and accept are things that were never really in my control to begin with.

What can be even more frustrating is that I really do feel like I have been able to let go and accept one of the toughest circumstances of my life in surviving through IVF and accepting a childfree life. Although, only through practice, as there are definitely still days of major struggle on this front

Yet in my own recovery and in my work with clients, letting go will always be a battle of life that we must rumble with, and if not continually challenged and worked on can have major consequences on our happiness and well-being.

The big ones I struggle with myself and continually see in my office with clients tend to be the soul crushing and spirit stealing ones that have the staying power of tattooed eyebrows (which I'm not sure I'd ever recommend, even if I did become that makeup artist). They're the ones that can leave us empty, defeated shells of our authentic self.

The Five Hardest Things to Let Go

So here they are, the five things we tend to continuously hold on to and how we can attempt to set up the circumstances in our lives in order to allow ourselves to let them go...

1. The past.

We can't change it.

What's done is done.

It is what it is.

If it isn't okay, it probably isn't finished.

Instead of dwelling or wallowing, we need to begin asking ourselves things like: "Where do I go from here?" or "What's my next best step?".

And we must remember to have self-compassion around it, "Well, that sucked or I messed that one up. What now?".

For the most part, we all do the best we know how in any given moment. If we had known better, we would have chosen better or differently. Even when we are really messing up or hurting others or when someone in our life is really messing up or hurting us, it is the best they had in that piece of time; learn from it and move forward.

2. The what ifs.

We are not mind readers.

We are not fortune tellers or clairvoyant.

We tell ourselves, playing out the what ifs is a way to protect ourselves from being hurt and a way to prepare us for the worst case scenario. But really, it is just a waste of our time, energy and spirit. If we must play the what ifs, play it fairly and play both sides of it. And put a time limit on this type of worry.

Asking ourselves things like, "How possible is it? How probable is it?" or "What is the concrete evidence? What actually is?".

Life is uncertain; we loathe uncertainty and yet we must embrace it, because if we don't we simply just miss it completely.

3. The need to be understood by everyone and the need to understand everyone.

Sometimes we just won't get it or we just won't get someone.

Sometimes they just won't get us.

That doesn't mean we judge or pity. Within our differences we must find respect and compassion for one another, and we only find this through authentic connection and practicing empathy. Focus on what we do have in common and set clear healthy boundaries if needed.

Love and belonging are inherent needs for us all, we thrive through and within connection. But we must also give ourselves permission that this connection can look and feel differently for everyone. And, at the end of the day, we will not find belonging through fitting in, peace will only be found within our own self-validation.

4. Things not in our control.

The harsh reality that we all must face is that there isn't much in our control; only how we think, feel and behave.

My reactions to life, or better yet my response to life is completely within my power. When I embrace this limited power, of just myself, I actually gain full control of my life.

5. What isn’t.

Not thin enough.

Not rich enough.

Not happy enough.

We must stop living in the never ______________ enough.

Because we are enough.

Not accepting what is and what isn't, especially when it isn't what we wanted or hoped for is one of the biggest thieves of happiness and well-being.

We must trust and have faith that everything is exactly as it is supposed to be.

There are no mistakes, no failures, just lessons and moments.

Very few things actually last forever, and even if they do we're still changeable.

And in reality, this brings us right back to the beginning of our need to learn to let go. I suppose, putting us right back where we started; kind of a paradox of ourselves.

And yet, the only way through is to continually work on letting go, as this can be our guiding light out back to our true self.