Penned Musing: I Don't Care

Penned Musings are posts based off of my daily writing prompts. You can read more here. ~~~

"I don't care." she looks at me with eyes so full of pain I knew she meant it.

"Don't care about...?" I ask her back with my eyebrows slightly raised leaning my body somewhat forward, exuding the love and blessing I desperately need her to feel from me but more so from herself.

"Anything." she declares now more with a frustrated adamancy that I know as the stubbornness that is the suffocating stuck we can all feel in the dark.

"Then what made you show up today?" I question with love, curiosity and a tad of that I-know-the-answer-and-I-know-you-do-too sarcasm.

Her eyes shift downward as they fill with tears and her body relaxes softly into the dark brown leather of my couch. The geese fly overhead in the picture window of my office which makes it feel as if we are sitting in a sunlit washed tree house rather than a therapist's office. The geese are practicing their V formation as I feel the shift of change both in the room and the season they are doing flight practice for.

Change of the work ahead.

Change of the glimmer of fear and faith of something better.

Change that she dreams, hopes and wants it to be different.

I across from her sit knowing the journey as I've walked it myself, some days still walking through the dark into the light and love of the life I choose.

Drowning the I don't care.

Because I do.

Through the Darkness We Can Awaken4

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

What I know for sure

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

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

The dark

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

I am awake

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

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

I am finally awake

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

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

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

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

I simply choose my self-care every single day.

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

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

~~~~

Make sure to click the picture for a special video update!

 
Click photo for a special video message!!
Click photo for a special video message!!
 

Click photo for a special video message!!

Ever Upward launches in bookstores on April 7th. Please consider helping me spread the word through my Thunderclap campaign. Just a few clicks and it posts for you on April 7th, consider it a social media flash mob!

The Latest in Ever Upward

Ever Upward book
Ever Upward book

The presale is live!

Help us get an idea of demand by preordering your copy of Ever Upward: Overcoming the Lifelong Losses of Infertility to Own a Childfree Life. This will help us to order at the lowest price point from the printer and help in shipping costs (much needed in this self/entrepreneurial publishing deal).

Ever Upward launches on October 1st and will be available on Amazon in February and in bookstores in March 2015.

If you are in the Saint Louis area (or want to make a trip in) I would love to see you at the book signing and launch party on October 4th!

I have several more reviews going up in the next several weeks but, for now make sure to check out the reviews so far.

Thank you so much for all the support, the shares, the feedback, the love and friendship!

In ever upward light and love,

Justine

Can We Embrace the Complexity of Mental Health?

A Recovering Therapist's Perspective

It has not been easy to be a mental health therapist in the world this week, especially here in Saint Louis.

Hell, it hasn't been easy to be human this week.

So much pain. So much violence. So much suffering. So much judgment. So much intolerance.

So much powerlessness.

And, yet I believe in the power of forgiveness; of ourselves and others. I believe in the power of recovery. I believe in our abilities to heal. I believe in the power of connection and love. And, I really believe in the power of courage.

As a mental health therapist I have been educated, trained and my professional experience speaks to embracing all sides of everything. To not only seek understanding of all sides of everything but to also have empathy for all sides of everything.

Sometimes, this can feel like a heavy burden to carry, especially when it comes to my personal life. It also means that I seek answers in many places and from many different angles. Such as been the case in the heartbreaking suicide of Robin Williams.

 
 

And, needless to say, many angles have been presented.

I have found myself frustrated and angered and I have found myself understood and thankful. Which I guess just brings us right back to that feeling, seeing and understanding all sides of everything.

But today in one of my sessions I was able to bring the many angles to light with one of my fellow survivors of anxiety and depression. And, within that light, I think and hope, I opened up enough space for all of us who struggle with anything to breathe a little easier.

I have depression

As a survivor of mental illness I have been paralyzed by the depths of depression. The kind that hurts your whole body. The kind that leaves you exhausted  in every way imaginable. The kind that destroys friendships. The kind that hurts your schooling or work. The kind where nothing means anything and yet everything seems like too much. The kind that is so dark that you simply cannot see any light; where you don't recognize yourself or anyone else for that matter. And, the kind that makes the impossible choice somehow seem like the only choice.

I can practice my recovery

As someone who practices recovery I know the choices I must make every day to acknowledge, embrace and treat my depression. The choice to take meds when I need them. The choice to really work in my therapy. The choice to practice self care. The choice to embrace the dark, move through it and let it pass because on some days that feels like all I can do. And, the choice to do this all with wholehearted courage.

I am a therapist practicing recovery from depression

As a mental health therapist I understand the disease. I understand the causes, both environmental and genetic. I understand the chemical, emotional and spiritual make up of it. I understand that the disease is not a choice but fighting for recovery and holding onto hope is. And, I can understand that sometimes that choice just feels too difficult to make.

This understanding all sides of it sometimes feels like too much and even too confusing. Leaving me with several different voices in my head:

It's not fair. Why do I have to suffer from depression? Why do I have to work so hard at just being okay? Why does it always linger somewhere in the background just waiting to cut off my light?

or

It's too hard. I can't keep trying. It never gets better. I am exhausted. I don't want to fight any longer.

or

Just get out of bed. Just make the choices that make it better. Just take the meds. Just set a schedule. Just freaking do it. Just...

or

Yes, I have depression (or anxiety or addiction, etc.) and I have to choose to do these things every day to be the best version of myself. Some days are good and some days are rougher. I don't need a reason or an excuse as to why I have depression. But, I can do the work to understand myself. Because this understanding will move me closer to who I am supposed to be and who I want to be.

and

Everything can and will pass. We are never really alone. And, love, light and hope are always there.

The last few days I have been plagued by opinions, judgments and the research coupled with my own experience as a sufferer, a survivor and a practitioner; with all of the voices above.

What I was able to understand today with my client was that maybe we can embrace that it is all just really complex. That most of the time we will never get the exact, sure fire answer as to why or how. But, within that we can still understand.

We can still have compassion, for ourselves and others.

We can choose courage.

And, it is only through this compassion and courage that we can and will find our truth.

And, that this can be and is enough.

I promise.

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

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 http://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

Start Again, Not Over: Ever Upward Book Cover Reveal

Stop starting over, start again. I've said these words to clients many times over.

I've reminded myself of these words many times over.

These words have also been at the core of the creation of the book cover of Ever Upward.

At the heart of it all, they are the true spirit and essence of ever upward.

But, this week they have seemed to be significantly powerful. Especially in giving a few of my clients the permission to move forward.

Starting Again Instead

Every time we start over we also attempt to erase us or at least parts of us. I know many of us are struggling to forgive ourselves of our past mistakes or struggles or regrets. Or we wish we had been or done differently in the past. But when we look to erase these parts of our story or completely start over, we don't honor who we are today.

I would not be this happier, healthier, healing person without my past.

I would not be this happier, healthier, healing person without my mistakes.

I would not be this happier, healthier, healing person without the previous unhappy, unhealthy, suffering person I was before.

Therefore, I would not be this happier, healthier, healing person if I had started over.

My work in my ever upward recovery has been in the spirit of starting again.

Putting one foot in front of the other and choosing the best next step.

Not the right step or the perfect step or the reset start over step.

The best start again step.

Ever Upward Book Cover

And true to my life, this was also the case for the cover of my first book. My cover designer, Kristen Ashley designed an initial concept. It was stunning. We fell in love with that first cover. The story behind it was amazingly parallel to my ever upward journey.

It was perfect.

Until, it wasn't.

We couldn't get the rights to the image.

We started again with the amazing help and teamwork of several people who care a lot about me and believe in Ever Upward.

We started again, not over.

Within this starting again, we've developed the best version possible of the cover.

Not right.

Not even perfect.

But, the best version.

Much like my continually healing self.

Because, it is only in owning all the parts of our story; mistakes, struggles and all and practicing our recovery that we become the always growing, the always healing, the ever upward best version of ourselves.

~~~~

So without any further ado...

 
froelker-everupward-cvr-lg.jpg
 

Here is the cover of my first book (yes, there are plans for others, three more actually...for now ;) ).

I hope you love it as much as I do.

I hope you find hope, healing and power within it. I hope you see the struggle and the recovery within it. I hope you sense the brokenness and healing within it. I hope you breathe in the light and love from it.

And, of course don't forget the chance to win a giveaway of a free signed copy of Ever Upward (expected late fall/early winter) and the chance of artwork by the amazing Jen of Daring Happiness!

Blog giveaways

FB giveaways

  • 400th like on Ever Upward's FB – free signed copy of the book

*To read more about my story 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

Mental Health Blog Day

apa-blogdaybadge-2014.jpg

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 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.

Lights in the Tunnel

I can’t keep doing this. Things will never get better.

Why can’t I just do this?

I’ve never been able to change before.

It will never work.

Will I ever get better?

It’s too hard.

Why can’t I stop?

It’s too good to be true.

It won’t last.

Why do I keep doing this?

I can’t.

I won’t.

The words of battle scars. The words of recovery wars lost thus far. The words of pain, hurt, loss and shame.

The words before the true fight.

Life is hard, people are complicated and we simply just don’t get the joy without the pain and work. Which means it can be tempting to give up, to quit; to accept what is but not in the healthy letting go way and only in the learned helplessness give up way.

Sometimes we can’t even fathom putting one foot in front of the other because we’re still trying to pull ourselves back up from falling.

Sometimes we simply cannot see the light at the end of the tunnel anymore.

Dark hopelessness.

Except, I can always see your light.

~

I help.

I can’t not help.

And, I love what I do. I was born to do what I do. My life, and my survivals, have made me very good at what I do. Every day I fight alongside amazing people who are setting forth to change their own lives. To choose themselves. To choose to fight. To choose their ever upward.

This war of change can, at times, feel like the most impossible choice ever. But it is also the most necessary choice ever. And it is a war that is won through each small battle, each small step taken forward in that long dark tunnel of recovery. That tunnel that, hopefully, you can see the light at the end of.

But oftentimes, this just isn’t how it works. We will want to quit and the light will disappear and we will even lose some of the battles. But that is exactly when I ask my clients to have faith. Because, when they can no longer see their light at the end of the tunnel I need them to trust that I can see it for them.

Because that light just isn't their recovery, it is their light, the light of their spirit, soul, being.

I need them to trust that I can see who they are truly meant to be

That I can see what really lies beneath all of the struggle.

I see them, I see their light. Always.

~

But, sometimes that light isn’t always at the end of the tunnel. Sometimes, in our fight to get back to our true selves the tunnel can work against us, creating a blind tunnel vision. The tunnel vision that keeps us stuck. That keeps us trying the same things over and over that just aren’t working. We have been losing the battles and have to force ourselves to put one foot in front of the other with our heads down because we simply don’t have the strength in us to keep going if we look up and see that the light isn’t there anymore.

But this is when we miss it. This dark stuckness that keeps our heads down makes us completely miss the lights beside us. The other outs. The other helps. The hands reaching out for us.

 
 

The lighted detours.

I work every day to not only see the lights within my clients, but to also remind them of that light throughout their journey through the dark tunnels of recovery. But it is also my job to help them find the other lights beside them; the lighted detours.

Because recovery isn’t this straight up trajectory of perfection. It is usually hell filled with deep dry valleys, cold thin aired mountains, swamps, quicksand pits and even tight ropes across ravines. And it has many detours, both dark and light detours.

Recovery definitely includes those darker detours, the ones that just didn’t work. We didn’t quite make the best choice possible. And a lot of the times, this can set us back, but never back to the beginning and we just need to take the best next step. It is then that we must remember to keep our eyes open to those lighted detours. The detours that we easily miss because we are trudging along so painstakingly in the war of recovery searching for the light at the end of the tunnel.

Many times, these lighted detours can be our outs. Our escape from the cycle of hurt. The path to our recovery. Our lighted path to our ever upward.

~

Recovery, from whatever, is brutal, the tunnel is almost always long and dark. Having someone to walk alongside you through that path is helpful beyond measure. Someone who can always see your light. Someone who can see the light at the end for you when you lose track. Someone who can remind you of your own light. Someone to nudge you to look over to the lighted detours.

Someone to fight for you, but most importantly, with you.

Inspired by the WordPress Weekly Writing Challenge: 1,000 words.

Tread or Float

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

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

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

They will question.

They will resist.

They will work.

They will change.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our own cement blocks drowning us in ourselves.

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

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

They must let go in order to begin again.

 
 

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

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

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

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

And they will save their own lives.

They will find their own ever upward.

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

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

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

Conceiving Our Chosen Family

 
 

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

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

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

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

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

5 year old brain satisfied for now.

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

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

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

It isn’t exactly what we all had expected.

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

It’s better.

Sometimes bittersweet.

But always better.

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

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

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

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

In her, I have found my ever upward family.

 
 

Pushing Through Fear to Accept Joy, Hell, to Fight For It

In her Golden Globe acceptance speech, Amy Adams thanked her daughter for teaching her to accept joy and let go of fear. This is a lesson we all need to be reminded of.

Amy Adams found it through becoming a mother.

I have found it through accepting I will never be a mother.

Choosing to change my life, practicing happy, finding my definition of a childfree life and living it all out loud has meant feeling the fear but doing it all any ways.

Being brave, living authentically and showing up means we feel fear and discomfort. Rather than letting go of the fear, I challenge all of us to push through it.

Feel the fear, and do it anyways.

Because this is growth.

 
 

This is fighting for joy.

Moving through this fear allows us to trust the bravery that is required to accept joy.

If you are living your truth authentically, loving wholeheartedly, finding your faith and being brave enough to connect and practice vulnerability you are pushing through fear to accept joy.

Which is what life needs to be about. It is here you will find yourself, your journey, your happiness.

It is here that ever upward lies.

Step toward it.

Open yourself up to it.

Embrace it.

And fight like hell for it!