The Struggle Bus of I Quit

"Is the speaking, writing and advocacy just bringing up the grief too much?" I have been asked this by more than one close loved one lately.

All you have to do is follow me on social media and see some of my recent videos to know that I've been on the struggle bus lately.

Ah, the struggle bus. But why?

Never a therapist to turn away from learning and growing in my own insight, I know it is a runaway bus for a few reasons.

We got to spend an amazing and fun weekend with three of our favorite boys while their mom and dad, some of our closest friends, were on a business vacation. It was a weekend of sports, the new Lego movie, a preschool Valentine's Day party (the one and only I will ever attend), sharing the worst part and best parts of our day over dinner together and me yelling the words, "No touching another human being for the next ten minutes!" a thousand times.

For three days Chad and I got to experience the tiniest bit of the anxiety, worry, frustration and exhaustion of parenting three boys.

For three days we got the tiniest glimpse into what life would have been like with our three.

It was incredible, and I am so grateful.

It was also super hard and had the major undercurrent of grief for me.

The weekend after, I spoke at an infertility conference. I spent the day surrounded by men and women still in the journey, my fellow warriors, while I hocked my book and presented with my good friend and fellow warrior Lindsay. Our presentation kicked ass, we got so much positive feedback.

It was amazing, and I knew I did good work that day.

It was also hard and had a major undercurrent of my grief.

So the question posed above by several of my loved ones is not out of the question. I have noticeably been in a season of struggle... again; more tearful, arguing with God, then frustrated with myself and utterly exhausted and overwhelmed.

Fucking struggle bus.

However, I know the answer to their question immediately.

My grief is always there, it will always fucking be here, my children aren't walking this earth with me! My writing, speaking and advocating honor them and help it feel like it was all worth something.

And yet, lately it feels like it is an exhausting, pointless hustle. Like all the work, sacrifice, money and time are never going to pay off. To which Chad then does his job, well I might add, of witnessing my life with his complimentary to me husband duty and asks, "What is your definition of success when it comes to this?"

"I guess I have no idea, which is even more frustrating," is my only reply, which only pisses me off more, brings tears down my cheeks and makes me pick up my wine glass.

It is clear my story will never be the first picked for the magazine or mainstream media outlet. Hell, it is proven that I usually have to literally force my way onto the local stages. The definition of success where this goes viral and my story is able to reach millions feels impossible.

To be honest, it has crossed my mind more than once these last few weeks to quit it all. To stop writing, speaking and advocating.

And then, par the course, God not so gently nudges me with a few Facebook messages and emails:

"I can't get your story out of my head."

"Thank you for being the only one to say that sometimes this doesn't work and that we can still be okay."

"Thank you for telling your story."

"Thank you for all you do for our community."

How come it is so hard for me to count this as success?

Because it is not over 22,000 Facebook likes, a million views and it is for sure not any amount of a paycheck. We live in a world that we are told we don't matter and that we are never enough. You haven't sold enough books, made enough money, gotten enough followers...you aren't pretty enough, rich enough, thin enough, happy enough...

YOU. ARE. NOT. ENOUGH.

We all have this shame and scarcity in our lives, the world we live in alone makes you feel like a prisoner to it. I don't get dibs on it as a small published author painstakingly building her platform with a sad story on a topic no one wants to talk about.

But as my life would have it, this very normal feeling of never enough majorly triggers my grief trauma.

I live in a world full of children. Everything is child-centered and child-obsessed, even the Hallmark holidays I learned this past Valentine's Day when grief reared it's ugly head and bit me in the ass.

 
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Almost everywhere I go, I am the only woman my age without children. I will never fit in. The grief and the shame trauma that lives inside of me turns this into another way for me to tell myself that I am not enough.

This is the story I must bravely work to rewrite every day. This is the story all of us must rewrite.

I rewrite it through practicing self-care, loving hard, mothering everything and everyone that comes into contact with me and through writing and speaking the story the world isn't ready to hear.

I know, I can't quit. This is in my bones and I am not done changing the world yet, especially the infertility and loss community. I do however have to shift my energy before this hustle kills my spirit.

So, I will write when I am moved. I will publish the next two books because, hell, they are already written and they are needed. And, I will let this go, laying it down, let's be honest, laying it back down at His feet where it always belonged anyway. He's got it. My success, my identity, are not in book sales, followers or a paycheck. My identity doesn't even lie in my motherhood.

It is my job to get off the damn struggle bus, even if it is to squeeze into a struggle Fiat for now. So, with the help of my community, a new coach, my self-care and His mercy and grace the struggle is now in a tiny car that will zoom in and out of the traffic of living this wholehearted life with lifelong grief.

And, I will pull over once in a while and remember, I am a daughter of the King. He made me a mother. And, through Him, in Him and because of Him, I am enough.

Understanding More of My Why While Practicing the How

It has been a whirlwind of a few weeks for me with the birth of my namesake and newest chosen child Abigail, the signing of my book contract for Ever Upward and my first podcast interview for infertility advocacy with Julie at Fertility Revolution. It has been a few weeks full of fear, exhaustion, love, excitement, pure enough moments and a sense that my ever upward is truly settling into my core, my spirit, my everything.

Building the platform for the book and doing my first interviews for infertility advocacy and for marketing Ever Upward has forced me to zero in on my message (more to come on this in a future post). It has also helped me to continue to wholeheartedly own all the parts of my story with brazen courage. It has also lit a fire inside of me that has brought me some considerable clarity.

Telling my story has brought me this clarity and the words to understand more of my why. This sense that even the painful, unlucky and just plain crazy parts of my story are okay; they are my path. They are simply my puzzle pieces of life.

These crazy twists of my life:

  • not one, but two, back surgeries both with a body cast.
  • IVF and gestational surrogacy not working for us and losing our three babies.
  • and the unexpected expansion of our surrogate's family, and therefore, my chosen children family.

are really enough to make anyone bitter, angry and forever scarred.

However, on this side of surviving infertility and recovering thereafter, I have come to embrace that I may never get the good enough reason why these things have happened to me. And I don't have to have this understanding to be okay or to even be fulfilled and happy.

And, as I have worked within my faith recently, I am also realizing that perhaps this is simply meant to be my story while also having the faith that it is not the end of it. Because I know with my whole heart that I have never done anything to deserve this amount of hurt and pain in my life. And even though I've always deemed myself as just unlucky, on this side of recovery I can truly say that this has nothing to do with luck at all.

 
 

Because as this light becomes more and more clear within me, what I am finding is that this is simply the reason I am here. This is my star soon to shine. I have loved which means I also have to choose.

I have to choose what I do with my story.

I have to choose what I do with my soul scars.

I have to choose to make it ever upward.

So, it is with more and more clarity and understanding of my why that I am still figuring out the how. Because, really, it is the how that everyone wants to know.

How did you survive two back surgeries? How did you survive living in a body cast? How did you survive losing three babies?

How have you not only survived but thrived?

In all honesty, I am not sure.

I have survived by fighting.

I have survived by practicing recovery.

I have survived because I didn't give myself any other choice.

I have survived because I have let go of needing the complete understanding of my whole why.

I am surviving because I am here; writing, struggling and owning it all every single day.

I am surviving, recovering and thriving because that is the light, the love, the soul of ever upward.

Thriving Growth - Tell Me How You Feel and What You Think!

 
 

Ever Upward, the blog, has changed my life. It has been ever influential in my healing process and recovery. It has brought so many amazing people, new and old, into my life. And, it seems to be helping some people along the way through connection and story. Ever Upward, the book, is officially finished. And, as I am in the trenches attempting to get published, the feedback I tend to get is that I need a bigger platform.

And yet, I am wholeheartedly grateful for the success of Ever Upward, the blog. Ever Upward is six months old. I have posted 60 times. I currently have 115 followers, have been viewed over 14,000 times and in over 55 countries.

But, six months and 60 posts in, I want to hear from my readers, both to make sure you are getting what you need from Ever Upward and in an attempt to improve my brand, platform and Ever Upward. I would greatly appreciate it if you would take 5-10 minutes out of your day and click the link below to answer my 12 question survey.

Take the survey here! Thank you so much!

In ever upward light and love, Justine

My Full Circle of the Personal Analysis Bureau

This post inspired by the WordPress Weekly Writing Challenge: Object. Look around your writing space. Pick object(s) you see (or hear or smell or feel) and reveal them to your reader. How do they represent you? How do they tell your story? Writing has changed me on a cellular level. Writing has been a miraculous piece of my recovery. Writing is the purpose I’ve found impossible to live without. And, the magic I can’t seem to stop from finding it’s way into the world.

And I’ve never considered myself a writer.

Every minute I spend sitting in my writing chair in my writing room with my writing candle lit I feel a universe of emotion.

Awe in the magic and ideas that are surging out of me.

Frustration of judgment in the middle when I allow self-doubt to invade the process.

Wholeness when I see ordinary words weave together into the powerful story of myself.

And occasionally my eyes will settle upon the vintage secretary desk in the corner that holds vintage books. The desk and the books were left in the home we purchased that was formerly owned by a hoarder. We kept the desk because it is a beautiful piece. We kept the books because they were an intriguing collection of small books of poetry and literature and mysteriously charming.

 
 

And then there was this book, mismatched and not quite fitting into the collection. Personal Analysis and Development Volume II Physical Fitness published in 1928 by the Personal Analysis Bureau. Simply the main title alone was too fitting for this mental health therapist in the midst of her own recovery (and arguably the “are you crazy?” status of our decision to purchase and remodel a hoarder’s home).

I kept the book then because somewhere deep inside I knew I could not let it go. Then, though, it was simply an old, smelly but intriguing book. For, the spark of my own book had only just begun inside of me. I had submitted my first round of query letters for Ever Upward that spring on what would have been my first Mother’s Day. But the blog, Ever Upward, was not even the slightest flicker in my being.

And here I am, about 9 months later, irony not lost, feeling the lightness of the small book in my hands. Running my fingers over the series title; feeling the words that, in reality, have embodied every second of my recovery. Smelling the old as I flip through the yellowed pages. And, feeling a sense of completed wonder as I notice, maybe for the first time, the titles of the volumes of the entire collection inside the book.

The parallels they run with the chapters of Ever Upward, the book, feels eerily perfect. The parallels they contain with my life in recovery fills me with a sense of wholehearted honor and dignity.

I. Analyzing Yourself II. Physical Fitness III. Mental Ability IV. Building Character V. Utilizing Time VI. Working With Others VII. Speaking Effectively VIII. Writing Effectively

Noticing this book again and truly seeing the objects around me enabled me to literally feel the physicality of ever upward in my hands.

The awe inspiring and spirit completing reminder that there are no mistakes and everything is exactly as it is supposed to be.

As, this is not only my story, my spirit and light, but also every single page of the book of me. And only one of the many volumes.

That, and the spiritual grasp that I am a writer.

For this is a book, for me, soulfully filled,somehow, with my history, presence and the hope of my ever upward.

The Almost Finished, Yet Unpublished, Ever Upward

EVER UPWARD: Owning My Childfree Life in Our Child Obsessed World

by Justine Brooks Froelker, LPC

“Why don’t you just adopt?”

The ever present, innocent, and well meaning question everyone asks when they learn of my motherhood status and how I got here. Yet, to those of us 1 in 8 couples who undergo infertility treatments, this question does not feel at all innocent or well meaning. It not only feels invalidating to the battle we’ve just been through, but it minimizes the difficulty and pain involved in the adoption process.

Ever Upward is a surprising story of triumph over terrible luck. As a professional therapist and survivor, really thriver, of the infertility journey, this is the story of how I have redefined my childless life into a full and happy childfree life. Ever Upward fills the current gap on the infertility bookshelf. It is also the voice for those who have been silenced by the battle of infertility. Ever Upward is my story. The story of how I learned to be okay, whole and happy, even when life just didn’t turn out how I had hoped. Ever Upward is also a story that resonates with that of many; a story of pain, triumph and acceptance. Finally, Ever Upward opens the conversation to the other side of infertility, the side asking for understanding and acceptance of the path that sadly doesn’t include children.

Ever Upward is Justine’s story, and yet it is every woman’s story; mother or not, because behind the wall of silence, shame, the smile, and the ‘I can do everything’ attitude lies millions of women suffering in silence with the pain of infertility. And yet our connection to our stories is the only way back to the truth of who we are, to own ourselves again.

Today's post is inspired by the Wordpress Daily Prompt: Write the blurb for the book jacket of the book you’d write, if only you had the time and inclination.

* Ever Upward: Owning My Childfree Life in Our Child Obsessed World will be published with Morgan James Publishing in the Fall of 2014.*

Can Our Incapables in the Stands Become Our Warriors in the Arena?

 
 

As I sit in my writing chair; writing candle lit, warm blanket on my lap and the light of the laptop and my salt lamp casting a glow around me, I am overcome by how much this blog, Ever Upward, has changed me, even in just a few short months. The people I have ‘met’ through the blogging world.

The people I have reconnected with through my writings.

The strangers, who are no longer strangers because of this sad but full of understanding connection.

The ‘I get it’s’.

The ‘thank you’s’.

The authentically braves.

The warriors in my arena.

The connections.

Telling my story to heal myself, and to also practice and build credibility for my book, has really led me to more wholeness through connection.

The biggest lesson of my IVF and finding my childfree journey?

Connection is what it is all about it, as my relationships have been a huge part of my survival and continued thriving.

Relationships are the continued focus in positive psychology and research continues to demonstrate how much relationships heal us all; making us better and happier people.

My continued lesson is that this healing is through all of my relationships; the fellow warriors, true friends, limited supporters, and even, the incapables. Because, relationships change and grow, because we change and grow.

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The relationships I have with my limited supporters, and even the incapables, may not be the most poignant, meaningful or deep right now. But that doesn’t mean they will remain that way forever. However, it may mean I need to limit how vulnerable I am with you, how much I let you into my life, and how much effort I put in, as you choose to simply not get it. You choose to not see me or know me, and therefore not love me unconditionally. As Brené Brown, writes and speaks, if you aren’t “daring greatly” in my arena, I’m not interested in your feedback.

And though, the limited supporters and incapables can make it feel as if they are in the stands of our arenas; denying, shaming and not getting us, they are still there. Sure, maybe we need to ask some of them to leave our arena altogether, but maybe, just maybe, one day the spectators can become our fellow warriors.

Because things change, and people change.

I've changed...

This limited love and understanding may not be forever. And the only thing I can do is to continue to live my authentic truth, asking for what I want and need from my loved ones, and accepting their limitations.

Because one day, the incapable just might finally see my bravery in battle and decide to join me in the arena. But, only if I never stop believing in my own “daring greatly” and ever upward.

Because our light, our path, our ever upward is in owning our story no matter the understanding we receive back.

Filled with Awe

On this fresh start to the New Year I feel more myself than ever before, as 2013 was filled with every kind of awe.

Taking chances

To let go of and sell the home we had bought being sure IVF would work for us.

To conceive the vision of our dream home in a house previously owned by a hoarder.

To fight for and build Mason House, our home for our destined family.

To invest in myself and attend Emerging Women Live.

To write my heart in the book and blog, Ever Upward.

Reconnecting

With myself through practicing self-care.

With Chad through our survival of IVF, redefining our family and reigniting us.

With family through the acceptance of our losses.

With old friends through Facebook and working on Mason House.

With true friends through love, support and work.

Thriving

By accepting what is.

By speaking my truth.

By feeling the lifelong losses.

By making room for the light.

By practicing happy.

By trusting.

By embracing.

By braving.

By choosing.

By owning.

By being my own Ever Upward.

2014…

No Seriously, Dance Like No One’s Watching: Practice Happy to Be Happy

I had two clients ask me this week, “Do you really do all of this stuff yourself?” By “stuff” she meant the to-do list of self care I have been recommending to her for a while now. And, for the first time in probably my entire career I was able to wholeheartedly say, “Yes!” Therapists struggle too. We struggle with being brave. We have difficulty in some of our relationships. We make mistakes. We too can suffer from anxiety and depression. We have hurts and traumas. We have shame. And we fall off the wagon of good self care, ultimately struggling to practice what we preach at times.

In other words, we’re human.

I didn’t become a therapist for the money or the freedom of being self-employed, I became one because of where I came from. My story, my struggles and flaws, all brought me to exactly where I needed to be, helping others. My story has always helped me to be a good therapist. However, the work I’ve done this last year of my life after enduring the losses of IVF, has helped make me the best version of myself, and therefore an even better therapist.

Surviving IVF, but more importantly, choosing to thrive after the losses of IVF, has culminated into changing my entire life. I’ve changed the way I eat, the way I move, how I cope and how I take care of myself.

I chose change.

I chose the work of change to get back to the real me; the me, I honestly, hardly even remember ever existing.

This work has included everything I have always taught to my clients.  But now, I practice it myself every day.  I don’t do it perfectly, and there are definitely the days I stand in my own way and fall off track, to only then have to shake it off, and start it over.  I practice it daily so I can model to the people in my life, clients and loved ones, that’s its possible and worth it.  I practice it so I can push them forward and cheer them on.  I practice it so I can empathize with how easy it is to get off track.  And, I practice it so I can get how annoying it can be doing this hard work.

This practice is time consuming and a downright pain in the ass some days.  But I know if I make it a priority and truly practice it all, my life will continue to improve.  So every day I try to exercise, dance (stupid dance, really just bouncing around and kicking to my happy songs), meditate (even just 5 minutes of concentrating on a mantra helps), read, write, journal, color (yes in an actual coloring book with crayons), do yoga (which is never very pretty), listen to happy music (my favorites are Roar, Brave and Shake It Out), play with the dogs, and watch something happy or funny or uplifting (www.24hoursofhappy.com or www.upworthy.com).  There are days where everything on this list gets done, and then there are the days that life only allows enough time for a few. But I know, we all can find the time to do a good portion of this list every day, whether or not it is cutting out 30 minutes of television or turning off the technology for an hour at night.  The best part?  I promise, it’s worth it.

Practicing all of this of self care provides me the strength and the space to live as my authentic self. With this I can I live feeling the fear but being brave, embracing my flaws and losses, and living my authentic truth.

So, I practice happy to be happy. And, I choose, every day, to live the true spirit of ever upward.

Resilient Dreams ~ The Essence of Ever Upward

Looking through old records from my back surgeries to help finish one of the chapters in the book was like being transported back in time.  I was flooded with memories of the pain and heartache but also the laughter and determination, of both myself but more importantly of my family and friends.  Through this search, I found a paper I had written after my first back surgery when I was 14.  Towards the end of the paper was a paragraph that frankly brought me completely full circle.  Reading it to myself I took a knowing deep breath, felt the chills of goose bumps and felt the sense of all is exactly as it should be fill my soul. In it I write, “I lost a lot of things because of all this.  I lost dreams, I lost friends, I lost my dancing career and I even lost some faith and trust.  But I also gained some things too...  And I began to dream new dreams.  I also gained a new outlook and attitude on life.”

Like, I’ve written before, my life has been the embodiment of starting over, of redefining.   A constant lesson of learning how to not only let go and accept but also of how to put one foot in front of the other and dream new dreams.

Is this resiliency inborn?  Is it a result of how my parents wholeheartedly raised me?  Is it the result of trauma at a young age?  What I can be sure of now, is that it is probably all of the above but that it is also something that we all can choose.   Something we all must choose.

Life is difficult and people are complicated, terrible things happen and none of us come of out this unscathed.  All of us have the bumps and bruises of this amazing thing called life.  Having 2 back surgeries, surviving IVF without becoming a mother and losing 3 babies are my bumps and bruises.  The only thing left to do is pick myself up and put one foot in front of the other, fully embracing my story and all of who I am.  And truthfully, I believe, this is something we all must eventually choose.  We all must choose to change.  We all must choose to grow.  This doesn’t mean it isn’t painful, uncomfortable or at times downright torturous and full of fear, it just means we get to find our ever upward.

Avoidance or Progress?

I've been told to start a blog but have always found myself completely intimidated by it.  But what's the worst that could happen?  No one ever reads it?  Or worse yet they read it and hate it?  I think I'll make the jump, because it's been advised and because this is how I'm choosing to live my life, being brave enough to show up. However, I must be honest....  Am I starting the blog because I'm feeling stuck in the book writing process and overwhelmed or am I starting the blog because I know it's one of the ways to get my story out there and make it more credible?  Not sure the intention behind starting it tonight matters much.

I am working on my first book, but historically I wouldn't call myself a writer...

I have one hell of a story to tell and I'm a great storyteller but, admittedly, I'm still figuring out how to channel that into writing.  So I'm going to start here, not from the beginning but from now.  I will write about the themes I am seeing in my private practice each week, because they also inevitably influence my own personal life and recovery.  I will write about what I'm experiencing in the book writing process.  I will write about my journey of figuring out how to be okay, despite my past heartaches and losses and the continued reminder that no I'm not a mother (at least to human children) but I do still matter.  I will write about the shame and secrecy IVF  strangles people with.

Ultimately, I will write about my triumph over just proving that I'm okay into the full embrace of owning it.