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

Reaching Through the Keyhole of Your Closet

Every day I have the privilege of witnessing my clients' bravery in session. Every day when I read my Freshly Pressed and the other blogs I follow with my morning cup of coffee I am in awe of the vulnerability and bravery people write with. And every day, I choose to live, write and love with wholehearted brave vulnerability. The vulnerability and bravery movement is in full force. The songs Brave by Sara Bareilles and Roar by Katy Perry. Authors such as Danielle LaPorte, Kris Carr, Gabrielle Bernstein, and Brené Brown. Websites like Upworthy and SoulPancake. The thousands of blogs being shared via Twitter and Facebook everyday. And best of the all, the research is backing it up. People who live wholeheartedly, authentically vulnerable and brave are happier and healthier people who have healthy, real and fulfilling relationships.

Vulnerability and bravery are also showing up a lot in my office this week. I have had several clients so excited to tell me about an instance where they finally made the excruciating choice to take the risk and be vulnerable with someone; to be their true self, honest and authentic. To witness their soul expanding amazement of feeling heard, seen and understood is something I will never take for granted.

I have also been blessed with the honor of witnessing friends and friends of friends openly talk about their IVF journeys after reading Ever Upward; whether sharing for the first time or telling a loved one, or even on Facebook, or by sharing or commenting on my blog, that IVF is how they are trying to achieve or have achieved their family. This terrifying, but incredible, courage that is required to finally break the shameful silence that IVF makes us feel we have to live by brings tears of joy and hope to my eyes..

 
 

This bravery and authentic truth telling, means we are all finally feeling it; feeling the magic of true connection, the power of being brave and the freedom of stepping out of our closets.

We all have a closet, because hard is hard, as Ash Beckhman states in her brilliant TED talk. Hard is telling someone you love them for the first time, hard is living your life openly, hard is asking for help, hard is just hard. We cannot wholeheartedly live inside our closets, only peeking through the keyhole.

All of this vulnerability and bravery coming just before I pack up and leave Tuesday for The Daring Way certification training with Brené Brown herself.  Just about two years ago my life changed when the pastor in my old church spoke about a TED talk by Brown, a shame and vulnerability researcher. Brown’s, now famous, The Power of Vulnerability TED talk is one of TEDs most viewed videos. It is also the speech that has catapulted Brown into, not only psychology and social work fame, but mainstream Oprah fame.

Living wholeheartedly and authentically vulnerable, which requires showing some major brave, have been an integral part in my recovery after the losses of IVF and in learning to accept a childfree life.

Ever Upward is my authentic truth telling.

My story.

 
 

It is also my hope to show that living it all out loud makes life better.

I guess it is my way of showing my love to reach through the keyhole of your closet, hoping you will take my hand and live your ever upward right alongside me.

I’ve Stopped; They're Still Trying

Being a mental health therapist means I have the personality, training and education for empathy. I live every minute of my life, personally and professionally, having almost too much empathy a lot of the time. The older I get the more I wish I had been warned of this hazard of my field in graduate school. Being wired this way (and also trained and educated) I never get to just be pissed at someone or hurt. I can always see all sides of everything…all of the time! I, almost always, can get you. I get it. For the most part, my job, my being, my soul all see you, know you, love you and understand you. In other words, I felt a dramatic pull to this week’s writing challenge! This post is inspired by the Wordpress Weekly Writing Challenge: Leave Your Shoes at the Door: "This week, we’re asking you to consider things from a different point of view — to walk a mile in someone’s shoes. Leave your moccasins and bunny slippers at the door, and tell us a tale from a fully-immersed perspective that is not your own. Show us your truth’s journey. We want to walk this mile with you."

I have been bravely honest about my failed journey in In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) and my struggle in learning how to accept a childfree life throughout my entire Ever Upward. Coming out to publicly state that I have said enough is enough to infertility treatments before they achieved me the intended result of a child. Publicly stating that adoption isn’t for my husband and me. Publicly, stating that we are working the Frankenstein walk of accepting a childfree life.

Living all of these truths, out loud, while also openly showing how much I love children, how badly I wanted them and how much I still love to have them in my life. Educating on all of these truths, because it is time we finally talk about them in order to shine light on the shame of infertility. Owning all of my truths, because I hope to help myself in my own continued healing, to inspire others and to help in some understanding of what my story, and millions of other women’s stories, that are infertility.

I’ve Stopped ~ My Story (Short Version – Complete story in the forthcoming book Ever Upward)                  

Due to medical reasons, it has never been recommended that I carry a pregnancy. And frankly, it simply isn’t a risk I have been willing to take after two back surgeries and spending a year of my life in a body cast. We tried two rounds of IVF with a gestational surrogate, transferring a total of three embryos. A pregnancy was never achieved (as my letters from the IVF clinic always apologized for). We had only planned, emotionally and financially, to try it once. But after losing our first two embryos (our first two babies), the loss crushed us enough to try one more time. We had always known adoption was not something that we felt was a good fit for us, which is a difficult truth to own. And after two years of IVF treatments, tens of thousands of dollars spent, three lost babies and more heartache than one should ever have to bear we made the impossible decision of ending IVF, owning that adoption isn’t for us and beginning the real work.

The work of redefining ourselves and our family.

The work of learning to let go.

The work of pushing through fear to own our truth and accept joy.

The work of our Ever Upward.

This work has included finding our spark again through actually dating each other. This work has included some traumatically lost relationships with our loved ones. This work has included major love and support from amazing loved ones. This work has included getting healthier and happier. This work has been nothing short of our own miracle.

They're Still Trying ~ Walking a Mile in Someone's Shoes

I received this amazing, and anonymous, message from my dear friend. The message was referring to my Conceiving Our Chosen Family post.

“Wow didn't know you knew the blog writer personally. Can I tell you how timely your post was? I can only     imagine that God himself was involved I am laying in bed today after having my 6th egg retrieval for IVF. I was having a mini pity party when I came across that blog post. For me it was another confirmation that God is good and he forms families in so many different ways. Ways that I cannot even fathom. Your posting was meant for me today, I just know it!”

The other side of this story is the one that isn’t talked about. The women (and men) who continue to live in shamed silence within their infertility battle, and after. The ones who have the means, or figure out where to find the means, to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on treatments. The ones who spend 5, 10, 15 years trying to conceive their dream family. The ones who try 5, 10, 15 rounds of IVF. The ones who move onto adoption when all other treatments fail.

I get these women. We keep trying because you can’t imagine not being a mother. We keep trying because that is what we are supposed to do. We keep trying because it does and can work…30% of the time. We keep trying because we can’t envision life if we were to stop.

But I also hurt for these women. I know the pain that is seared into every cell of our body with every negative pregnancy test or lost soul. I know the emotional and hormonal hell of the treatments and recoveries. I know the blinding agony of knowing that we want to be done but the fear that keeps us going because of the panic of being left with nothing to show for it.

I learn from those still trying, as their strength inspires me to continue my ever upward. And I can only hope my story can provide them with even just a little bit of hope. They may not be able to completely understand how I've stopped trying, as I may not be able to completely understand how they keep trying, but I have no doubt our stories are still much the same.

Our stories, infertility or not, are all different and yet the very same. No matter how long we've tried, no matter when or if we stop, we all share pieces of our stories, for they are our shared stories. We will all suffer loss and we all must learn to redefine. Ever Upward is my story, and yet I am finding 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, to find our ever upward.

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.

 
 

I Am a Mother, a Mother to My Magic

A defining moment for me in this Ever Upward journey was during Elizabeth Gilbert's keynote speech at the Emerging Women Live 2013 Conference in Boulder. She told her story of how she first lost three other versions of her current bestselling novel The Signature of All Things before finding what is the magic on bookshelves now; much like losing my three babies in our IVF journey. Elizabeth spoke about these losses in the sense, that they were never her magic to grasp. She further described how magic will float around asking the universe, "Are you my mother? Are you my mother?", finally, settling in the space where it is meant to be nurtured and grown. "Are you my mother?"

 
 

This question has developed so many meanings to me over the last year or so, especially as I feel like I have found a major spark of my magic through this journey.

Which means, I know, I am a mother in many ways.

As I have written before, I will never be the traditional mother, raising my own children, biological or not. However, I have learned, and even continue to cultivate, my broader definition of mother. This definition made even clearer by my peers. One who assured me I would have a lifetime of meaningful relationships with my friends' children and family's children, maybe even more influential than their relationships with their own parents. One who assured me that my mothering skills would find their outlet through my dogs but, even more so, in helping my clients and others. And finally, one who wrote this comment on my Taking Off the Armor post, “For what it is worth, in my view you chose to be and are a mother even though you suffered the injustice of not being able to raise any of the babies that ought to have come from your transferred embryos.” She has helped me to see, that I am a mother, just not one who was meant to carry out the job here on the physical earth.

Family and mother, has many definitions. I have no doubt, these definitions will be the topics of future posts, as I continue to discover and nurture the magic of my Ever Upward journey.

I am a mother, but not in your conventional sense of the word.

I am a mother because...

I am a nurturer.

I am a helper.

I am a mentor.

I am a healer.

I am an advisor.

I am a coach.

I am a teacher.

Most of all, I am mydefinition of a mother. One that the people who know and love me understand and root for.

One where my magic grows.

What magic are you a mother to?

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!

Wallow, But Just For a Bit, Then Stop Sitting in the Shit

I will fully admit I had a rough day yesterday. I wallowed. I really wallowed for a bit.

Going to the OB/GYN is never fun for a woman, but it can definitely be hell for a childless woman. Let alone getting news that is it quite possible that IVF triggered my useless ovaries to develop painful cysts which are now causing major back pain, and having to remind my team of doctors that IVF didn’t work for us, there is no baby, and yes we are done trying.

I cried.

I pouted.

I talked.

“I’m frustrated.”

“I’m pissed”.

“It's not fucking fair.”

Then life somehow pulls you out if, but only if you have your eyes wide open to it.

I had some amazing sessions with clients. I reminded myself of my own session with my therapist. The puppies finally played in the deep snow and made me laugh just when I needed to. And three of my favorite little boys left me a voicemail and sent me a video text message.

 
choose.jpg
 

As my therapist reminded me earlier this week, “You have chosen what to do with all of this. You could never not be Ever Upward; always growing, learning, changing, educating, evolving, and figuring it out. “

And she’s right

I didn’t get to choose that I would spend a year of my life in a body cast after two back surgeries. I didn’t get to choose that IVF did not work for us. And I definitely didn't choose that my body feels like it is rebelling against my childless status right now.

But I can choose resiliency. I can choose to speak the truth about IVF and loss. I can choose to connect with others through our stories. I can choose where I go from here and who I want to be. I can choose my ever upward.

My clients also reminded me this week as they continue to fight for themselves, change for the better and not be their pasts, their  struggles, traumas or losses.

I choose to fight too.

My dogs reminded me to get out of my head and to just laugh; watching them play in the snow is pure joy.

I choose joy.

And finally, three of my favorite kiddos, begging me to come play Just Dance 2014… well nothing makes me smile more than that.

I choose love (and fun).

Life, God, Mother Nature, Humanity, whatever you believe in, will always send us the message to remind us that there is a higher purpose to our journey.

We simply have to be open enough to choose it.

So wallow, but just for a bit, we are totally allowed.

But be careful of sitting in the shit for too long, you just might miss the message; the moment of pure joy, the love, the choice of your ever upward.

Making Room for the Light

We loathe discomfort. We can’t stand to feel sad. Depression and anxiety make us want to escape our bodies. We all struggle to feel the unpleasantness of life. We struggle so much we often times go to any length to self medicate and numb. Whether we drink or use. Or shop or gamble. Or watch hours of mind numbing television. Or pull our hair. Or binge and purge. We would so much rather hurt ourselves in the long term because all of these things provides us some sense of very temporary relief. But they work. My clients are shocked when I say their “vices” (or in some cases addictions) are doing something positive for them. We, as human beings, don’t do things that don’t feel good or work. It’s just many times these very things that work to numb us out to our pains and hurts often times stop working at some point, and they begin to create even more problems, especially shame and darkness.

I think, at times, emotions can become one of these vices, especially anger. Anger tends to be an emotion that many of us are comfortable feeling. Many of us would rather feel angry than sad. What I am learning about myself, after spending the last year of my life changing everything after the losses endured with IVF, is that this anger is definitely my go-to emotion. The bitter, and thank God very fleeting anger, the anger I’ve worked so hard on coping with and letting go of, but still seems to swoop in to save me. I hate this anger, especially because I want to let go of the biggest trigger for it.

I love children, I love when my loved ones get to have children; I even love when strangers, hell, people I don’t even like get to have children. But where I am still struggling are the people who “don’t deserve” them. The super fertile 16 year olds. The couple who have already lost custody of their other 3 children. The people who don’t even want them. I’m sure this list could go on and on, just watch the news.

And as usual, no emotion is uncomplicated for a therapist. This brief, but very strong, bitter angry emotion momentarily knocks me down. And as I continue to do the work to redefine myself, I’m learning to rebound more quickly. I’m also understanding more about myself and how I feel about it. Yes feeling about a feeling, oh the professional hazards of being a therapist!

- I am NO ONE to judge who gets the joy of children. I am neither judge nor jury, nor do I want to be.

- I do have faith that there are no mistakes, at least in the long run.

- Even though it feels really, really f*cking unfair, it really is neither fair nor unfair. Sure maybe it's unlucky, but it just is, and it is not mine to necessarily understand right now.

- And most importantly, I am coming to understand that this anger is coming in to save me from feeling what I really feel… which is simply really sad.

And that is okay. Sometimes things are just sad. It's sad IVF didn't work for us. It’s sad we lost our 3 babies. It’s sad we lost those 3 dreams. Giving myself permission to continue to feel that sadness, as needed, will help to stave off that anger that seems to set me back so much every time. I have to embrace it in order to let it go. When I allow myself to feel it, I don't become it. And only when I do this, is there enough space to truly find the ever upward. The ever upward that is this work of learning to be happy and healthy, and even okay and fulfilled, without children.

We all must work to accept that we are not wired to escape ourselves, no matter how hard we try. We have to feel, we have to feel it all, even the darkness, because when we allow ourselves to do that, it will pass and make room for the light.

 
 

Embracing It to Truly Let It Go

A client texted me to insist I go see the movie Frozen. She said it is about everything I always talk about in our sessions: accepting ourselves and being vulnerable. She also added that the music was amazing and Olaf the snowman was hysterical. So on Tuesday after seeing several clients, I went and saw a children’s movie in the middle of the afternoon…by myself. And I will fully admit, it was the perfect afternoon! My client was right, the film was laugh out loud funny and the music was truthful, inspiring and captivating! All of this, and an amazing message that wasn’t all about prince charming saving the girl. And it backed up what I teach to my clients every day and how I try to live my own life; accept, let go and live your authentic truth. The title track, Let It Go, being the perfect vehicle to deliver all of these messages.

The theme of embracing who we are, accepting ourselves and moving through has also been the popular topic in my office this week. Every day I work with clients on their struggles; their anxieties or depression, their addictions or negative coping. I try to help them find the balance of learning the lesson in order to change and improve, while also accepting themselves. We all have our struggles, our fears, our weaknesses and faults. We all have our traumas, losses and flaws. Living our authentic truth means finding a way to make all of these things part of who we are and not all of our identity. Finding this balance myself has been the biggest challenge and change in me after IVF, embracing that I will never be a mother in order to let go of the pain and being forced to reexamine myself, ultimately embracing my flaws in order to let go of the hurt.

Some used to call me angry, I would refute and say I was passionate. Looking back after the work I have done, and continue to do every day, I can admit that more times than not my passion did come across as agitation. I inherit this characteristic from my dad; we have a lot of passion and if we are not careful it very easily can become agitation and sometimes even anger. And what I have found is that if I am not mindful, it can be one of my major flaws and road blocks to happiness. However, I’ve also come to realize that it is not necessarily a part of my personality that I can “get rid of”, but instead have to learn to manage better.

Surviving IVF and thriving after the major loss of motherhood dreams, I was forced to look at myself and truly change for the better. I had to redefine my happy.  I will never not be fiery, it is everything of who I am. I feel every emotion, a lot. I see every side of everything, all of the time. This is who I am, this is what I love about myself, but it is also the part of me I must cope with to make it work for me. I must embrace the passion to let go of the distress.

I am passionate, and it is the single most important part of who I am, for it is what makes me the friend and the therapist I am. Fighting this part of me only crushes my authentic spirit.  Being fearful of what others may think only keeps me from accepting myself.

So maybe the key to letting it go is actually embracing it. Just as Elsa in Frozen, embracing the very fear that is holding us back, allows us to love and accept ourselves.  Only when we embrace our failings, our faults, our weaknesses, and our losses do they no longer become all of who we are. Through this embrace they become the things we can learn to manage, love and let go.