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. 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?
In the last year of writing the blog and the publication of Ever Upward I have found the same theme I often see with my clients; mourning what we think 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.
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.
We all have should have beens...
I shouldn't have stayed so long.
I should be able to forgive this by now.
I should have taken better care of my body.
I should be better by now.
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?
Then there are the should have-beens of parenthood, especially considering these are the ones that seem to go unspoken and yet often judged.
- Your child was born premature and you didn't get to hold him/her for weeks or 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.
- 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.
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 Orange is the New Black.
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. It's all so complicated but it's life, which includes suffering for us all. As David Brooks wrote for The New York Times in his article "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.
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 we open up the space and light for the mourning of what should have been to become what needs to be.