I significant part of me cringes as I put the word should in the title of this post. As a therapist who works some using Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) I have attempted to erase should from my vocabulary. I also work with my clients to do the same. As some CBT therapists say, “Don’t should all over yourself!” Should is typically riddled with guilt and shame and just yuck. What do we need and want? Not, what should we… Change should to need or want and feel the difference, both when you speak to yourself and when expecting things from your loved ones.
I should go to the gym.
Do I need or want to go to the gym?
He/She should know how I’m feeling right now.
I need to tell him/her how I feel and what I want.
I shouldn’t feel sad any longer.
Do I need or want to figure out this sadness still?
I wrote my first post for Ever Upward five short months ago. Never could I have dreamed how much my life would change. Never could I have dreamed how many amazing people I would “meet”. Never could I have dreamed how much our stories are all connected and the embrace I’ve felt through this connection.
This connection has only been further solidified through my participation in Momastery’s Messy, Beautiful Warrior Project. Our stories, all messy and all beautiful, are what connect us to one another. I think, our stories, even more so, are what connect us back to ourselves. And, it seems our stories tend to have the major theme I often times see with my clients every day: mourning what should have been or what we thought should have been.
I think at times, at least for me, it can feel like these should have beens determine my everything; my every day, and even my every minute. And if I don’t practice the work of my recovery, I risk the should have beens taking over and defining my entire being. Just Google something like letting go of what isn’t and you will be overwhelmed by thousands of quotes on how we must let go of what isn’t in order to make room for what can be. In reality, this has probably been the major encompassing theme of Ever Upward from the beginning.
But what is striking me the most lately, is how much we judge others or lack empathy for others in regards to their mourning of their should have beens; their losses, their stories.
The very stories that seem and feel so different than ours, but I am realizing are so very much the same.
I should have gone to school sooner.
I shouldn’t have stayed so long.
I should have enjoyed my younger years more.
I should be able to forgive this by now.
I should have taken better care of my body.
I should have been more honest.
They shouldn’t have left me.
I should be better by now.
I should have left them.
I should be over this.
This list could go on and on. Ultimately, aren’t we all just trying to figure out how to let go of what didn’t turn out? To redefine after all our shoulds didn’t come true?
And of course, there are the should have beens of motherhood and family, especially considering these are the ones that seem to go unspoken and judged the most.
Your child was born premature, you didn’t get to hold him/her for weeks or months and you didn’t get that happy bring them home day or first few months.
You were miserably sick your entire pregnancy and you honestly hated every second of it, while also being so thankful for it and therefore felt guilty.
You lost a child way too early for anyone to bear, let alone understand the lifelong losses that come with that grief.
You were never able to even hold that child or only held that child for a few heartbreaking but amazing hours.
You only achieved pregnancy through infertility measures and will never get to have wild drunk sex that ends up in your blessing of a child 40 weeks later.
You feel sad and guilty and mad that you didn’t start trying sooner.
You weren’t planning on getting pregnant and therefore spent most of it scared to death rather than relishing every second of it.
You are a birth mom.
You are a mom mom.
You adopted your child or children or embryos and are so thankful for children but grieve that you will never get to see you and your partner’s genes combine.
You will never get to experience pregnancy yourself.
You have had to make major IVF decisions such as how many embryos to transfer, what to do with leftover embryos, what happens if you can’t afford another round of treatments, etc., etc.
You are blessed with one or two or even three children but always wanted a big family and it doesn’t seem to be happening, you feel the gamut of sadness, anger and guilt coupled with how lucky and blessed you are to have any children.
You are a stay at home mom but wish you were working.
You are a working mom but wish you were a stay at home mom.
You have a happy and healthy children but your friends don’t, and you feel blessed and lucky but guilty, especially when sometimes you’d really like Sunday completely to yourself, on the couch watching The Walking Dead all day long.
Your infertility is due to one partner or maybe the combination of you together and it creates frustration, sadness, guilt and maybe even blame.
I am sure I am missing many, many more here.
And then there is my story, I wanted to a mom, I tried to a mom but it is not my journey to have. And I’ve worked to accept a childfree life and fight for my recovery. But now for the first time, I am beginning to experience those feelings of relief, calm and even gratitude when my chosen children don’t come home with us or they go to their own homes after visiting. Or that our Sunday is filled with whatever we want, even that day long marathon of The Walking Dead. Or that I don’t have to negotiate over meal time or wake up at the crack of dawn.
Does that mean I didn’t want our three babies enough? Does that mean I’m not sad anymore? Or does that simply mean I’m figuring out how to let go of what I wanted and hoped for. That I am figuring out my mourning for what should have been, and learning to accept my true childfree life.
It’s all so complicated; neither story better or worse or more difficult than the other. It’s just life, which includes suffering for us all. And it is our sufferings and our recoveries from them that make us who we are. As David Brooks wrote for the New York Times in his article titled What Suffering Does, “Recovering from suffering is not like recovering from a disease. Many people don’t come out healed; they come out different.”
But it is through this ongoing process of healing, of figuring out what comes after the should have been, that we find ourselves and our story again.
Because, who are we to have the power to say what should have been?
I am not meant to be a mother.
Should I have been?
Perhaps, but continuing to insist on the should only denies my truth.
But more importantly, who are we to judge or question one’s grief around these sufferings or losses? Who are we to judge one for how they mourn their should have beens? Who are we to dare ask, “When are you going to get over it?”
I think we must figure out how we can we give ourselves, and others, permission to mourn their should have beens? Can we give ourselves, and others, permission to feel it all; the blessings, the lucky, the anger, the sadness, the guilt, and even, the shame.
Because, really it is through these permissions that our recoveries can begin. It is within these permissions that I finally put the puzzles pieces into my bigger life story. It is within these permissions that I can allow myself the relief, and even gratitude, of a childfree life while also, at the very same time, feeling my sadness, anger and envy of your childfull life.
It is within these permissions that we open up the space and light for the mourning of what should have been to become what needs to be.
It is within these permissions that I have found my purpose, and of course, my ever upward.
What are your should have beens? How do you practice your recovery to make the should have beens become the need to bes?