divorce, writing

recovering perfectionist.

Guys! There are exactly 28 days left until the end of the term. Twenty-eight. Also, this is my LAST TERM of grad school. Coincidentally, in the same month I graduate – I turn 32 AND it marks 2 years since the end of my nearly decade long marriage. WHEW. To say I’m ready for a new season is an understatement. It’s been over 2 years of late night classes, weekends of homework, recordings of sessions… right along side two years of being a newly single mom, recovering from heartbreak I thought would kill me, and getting to know my genuine self for the first time in a long time.

Going to school to get a masters in counseling isn’t just learning how to let someone lay on your couch and tell you their problems… it is about looking at your own issues closer than you ever wanted to. Instead of writing papers about the history of counseling or the theories used I wrote papers detailing my own personal developmental issues like identity foreclosure in adolescence, how I came to understand my race and my sexuality, and my own biases and shortcomings. I understand myself so much more now. But the one thing that has changed the most… I’ve learned it’s ok to be imperfect.

See, the thing about being a “helper” (Enneagram 2, anyone?) is that I am so quick to give love, acceptance, safety, and encouragement to everyone… but myself. Throughout the last two years of school and personal work (ya’ll – GO TO THERAPY. *end rant*) I discovered that somewhere early on in life my brain correlated the idea that perfectionism leads to love, acceptance, and attention and anything less than perfection is unacceptable and will lead to loneliness and disappointment.

I spent 30 years of my life chasing perfection.

I was raised in church and was the textbook church kid… missions trips, small group leader, bible memory verse champion. I never drank, smoked, did drugs and of course “I kissed dating goodbye.”

I went into JROTC in high school and earned every award possible, becoming the Commanding Officer my senior year.

Despite graduating in the top 10 of my class of 400 and having multiple scholarship opportunities and military recruiters offering me amazing opportunities I decided to go to a church internship program after high school. I fundraised an outrageous amount of money because I felt called to this program where I worked insane hours (yes, I PAID to work…) and despite my best efforts felt like I was never “good enough” for their standards. So, of course, I stayed a second year. I travelled the country putting on weekend youth conventions. I made the drama team and was one of the actors on the big stage. I checked all the boxes I was supposed to.

While on the road I met the guy. You know, THE GUY. We dated long distance for a short time and then eloped. We didn’t have sex until our wedding night. Because that was what we were “supposed” to do. I followed the rules.

I then spent the next 10 years attempting to become what I perceived was the “perfect” wife. We had a kid, a few businesses, bought a house, had the dogs and everything but the white picket fence. We were supposedly living the American Dream.

But instead of feeling proud of myself, grateful, content, or accomplished I was constantly terrified. I lived in a cyclone of anxiety. That thing my brain learned at a young age? Perfection is the only thing that leads to love, acceptance, and attention… that core belief sat like an anvil on my chest.

accepting imperfection was nearly impossible in the smallest instances, so when my marriage of almost a decade fell apart almost overnight… i was completely shattered. I had been holding on to the shards of imperfection trying to hide them from everyone, including myself. The tighter I held on to them the deeper they cut me.

When my marriage ended I had no choice but to stop trying to hold it all together. The sound of my world crashing around me was so loud. I simply couldn’t go on living the way I was. I was a tightly wound, insanely anxious, deeply wounded, and completely exhausted shell of a human.

I had to learn (and i’m still learning) that it is ok to simply exist, to just be. Not to try to try to be perfect or good enough or anything enough…. but to embrace myself exactly as I am in this moment. So when it came time to change my online names @imperfectlycourtney was the most authentic, genuine expression of who I have learned to be over the past two years. It also embodied the message I feel inspired to live out and share with my clients, my readers, and ultimately the world. Borrowing the wording from my ultimate career crush and inspiration, Brene Brown… that YOU, in all your imperfections and struggles, are worthy of love and belonging.

so, welcome to imperfectlycourtney.com. Here i’ll be sharing the lessons I am learning on my journey to become a recovering perfectionist. You can also find me on instagram, facebook, and pinterest … I always love connecting with other imperfectionists!

divorce, Life

Happily ever after is right now.

What a year 2018 was. It was my first “full” year as a divorced woman. Wow, never thought that would ever be anything I would be. I would like to think that I have handled it well. I guess when I am writing for it to be read I want to put forward my best side. The ever optimistic “What doesn’t kill me makes me stronger” and “look at all the lessons I’ve learned” and the “I’m so much stronger for having survived this” and all the other beautifully penned cliches. I oftentimes tell my clients that I don’t want to hear their regurgitated therapeutic cliches and other bullshit. I tell them I want the reality of where they are right now. If it’s angry they have to be in my program, I want it. I just want them present and expressing themselves. But then I sit here like some polished piece of shit doing the same things they try to get away with. Maybe that’s why it irritates me when I see it in them, because I see what I try to convince myself of every day. That I have this flowery optimistic point of view. That I joyfully choose to look at every challenge as a “opportunity for growth”… The reality isn’t that pretty. Not by a long shot.

This year has been hell. That is not me being negative, that is my bloody and bruised soul looking at you with eyes of fire saying I’ve seen the darkness… I lived there. And I am fighting with everything within me to embrace the light. I have great days. This year was filled with more beauty and adventure and LIFE than I can explain. I felt every heartbeat, every smile, every beautiful moment. And I felt every disappointment, every gut punch, every failure, every tear. I felt it all with every fiber of my being. I’ve felt unstoppable and I’ve felt hopeless. And through it all, I held on. I held on to the hope that it gets better, some days just by a thread.

Oftentimes people only want to share the struggles once they have achieved the success. We hide the struggles as we live them, we will tell our story when we have a happy ending. We don’t share our before until we have an after that seems “good enough” for us to justify the struggle we have survived. But fuck that. When I’m in the darkness bracing for the next deathly blow I don’t want a success story, I just want to know I’m not alone. I don’t want the happily ever after to tell me how much better it gets. My eyes, having adjusted to darkness, are searching for others like me. Those who don’t have it all together, so we can all struggle together – helping each other where we can. But so many of us are afraid to admit that we don’t have it together. Or if we do, those who have it all together just want to give us the lectures of what we need to do to get where they are. I don’t want that. I don’t need that. I don’t need to be fixed. I’m not some success story to add to your repertoire to impress those above you so you can “level up.” I don’t want your advice or “3 easy steps to fill in the blank.” I don’t even want someone to fight for me. I just want someone to take my hand and say “You got this” and stand by me as I embrace the struggle. So, here I am promising to be that person for you. I will stand with you in the messy, dirty, dark struggle and look you in the eyes and say “beautiful soul, you got this. fight when you can, rest when you must. you are not alone. don’t look away… I see you. I see your soul, every part of it. and I will not look away. I see you and I am with you, always”

Today I dropped my daughter off at school after one of the most emotionally draining winter breaks I’ve had with her. Not for any fault of hers, she is perfection, but because life is heavy. I have unhealed wounds from my relationship with her father and sending her away to spend the week with him still stings. I am struggling in every area of life. I am entering my last 9 weeks of grad school in a few days, searching desperately for a job – I’ve been getting by on hope, charity, and public aid – and while I’m grateful, so grateful – it still isn’t enough and the bills are piling up. This past year I’ve lost my stable job of almost 8 years, lost people so incredibly important to me, and lost a year long court battle. Each one of those deserve a time of grieving that I am not able to provide. I go to bed exhausted, but I can’t sleep. This is my darkness, my struggle, my reality. The weight of it all disappears when I keep myself busy. I find myself falling back into that place I lived for years. The numbing buzz of keeping busy. A million lists. So many projects. Check it off and move on. If I’m moving I can’t feel how heavy it is. But that isn’t living. Those are the moments I need you to show up for me. It’s like a trance, I’m asleep – not alive. I miss out on the weight of it all for those moments. But I miss out on the joy of it all. And I am so incredibly lucky to have a few great people who know me well and love me enough to remind to me stop… breathe… live. And I feel the weight of the struggle, but I also start to see the joy of it too. Those moments when the little voice says out of no where “I love you mom, you’re the best” … I stop and I live. Those moments when you make me laugh when I don’t want to… Those moments when you walk up behind me and hug me tight and tell me you love me… Those moments when you text me just the right thing at just the right time because we have BFF ESP…. Those moments are the ones I don’t want to miss. Because that… that is what living is. The weight of the struggle will always be there. I hope someday it won’t be this heavy, but I know it will never go away. If I try to avoid it I miss those things. Those little things that make life so sweet. It’s not the “happily ever after” … It’s the right now. Happily ever after is just a lot of right nows put together day after day after day. Happily ever after is right now… and i’m going to live it with purpose.

divorce, Life, parenting

what i didn’t know six months ago

six months ago my life as i thought i knew it flipped upside down. it was my 30th birthday, that life milestone you spend your twenties simultaneously dreading and looking forward to. on one hand it is that “omg i’m so old” freak out moment… and on the other it is this unspoken life milestone i pictured as a marker of ending the uncertainty and panic that your twenties are known for.

oh how unbelievably naive of me.

instead of having the coveted “dirty thirty” celebration i spent my actual birthday telling my seven year old daughter her father and i were going to be “taking a break” and living in separate houses. and thus began the roller coaster of the last six months.

it’s easy to see snapshots of someone’s life on social media and assume all is well. and for the most part, it is. but some days it’s not. some days are heavy, sad, confusing, overwhelming. the first few months i was a mess. i was in shock. i spent a long time trying to live up to the expectations of myself and others and when those expectations shattered in my hands i struggled. i was disappointed in myself and terrified of disappointing others. mourning the loss of the marriage i thought i had, the future we had planned, the family we had created… it was (it still is) a hard and painful process. this is the ultimate “embracing imperfection” challenge for me. failing at marriage – one of the foundational blocks i’ve built my life on – has created cracks in a lot of my expectations and ways of viewing the world. and i don’t think that’s a bad thing. if i can learn to thrive after what i would classify as one of the biggest disappointments i could face there isn’t much else i couldn’t handle. it has been a catalyst for freeing myself from the cage of people pleasing i’ve felt locked in for most of my life. which i’m thankful for. i’m getting to know myself for the first time in a long time, without the panic of wondering if who i am is enough or acceptable. while this entire process exhausting and painful at times, it’s been refreshing in a lot of ways too. i have to continually be reminded to look for the positive in even the most challenging, frustrating situations.

but… i never wanted this. this wasn’t supposed to be me. it happened so fast. the first few months of living on my own was scary. there is just so much i had never done on my own before… so much you just don’t realize changes with divorce…

  • i never expected to be a “part time” mom (i know i am always her mom… even when she’s not with me… that’s not what i mean). i never wanted to spend long stretches of time apart from my daughter. i didn’t want to miss getting her ready and sending her off for her last day of school. i didn’t want to miss tucking her in every night. the first weekend she was away i had so many mini panic attacks trying to figure out where she was because i was so used to her always being around…. BUT it has made me far more aware of making the most of every moment we have together. we made memories this summer out of moments that would have never happened otherwise.

  • i didn’t realize how heavy simple life decisions were when you had to make them on your own. in the first month of being separated i had to buy a new car and find a new place to live on my own. i moved from the suburbs to right smack dab in the middle of downtown stl. ya’ll – for most of the ten years i’ve lived in this area i refused to drive downtown at all. it induced a high level of anxiety. now it’s just another day. i’m braver, stronger, and more aware of my personal taste and desires. making decisions on my own is still scary sometimes, but rewarding.

  • untangling nearly ten years of physical and emotional connection is messy. he moved out of the apartment that we shared with just what he needed to get by the weekend after my birthday. the lease on that apartment was expiring in a month so i had to move too. that meant the whole apartment and storage unit had to be sorted. packing up a decade of accumulated belongings is exhausting, emotionally and physically. i had to decide what i wanted to keep, what was his, and what to get rid of. our lives were completely intertwined so separating them has been difficult financially, socially, and legally. just when you think you have it figured out something else you forgot about pops up.

this weekend marked the end of the thirty day waiting period that the state of missouri requires when you file for divorce, so it could be legally finalized any day now. this coming sunday would have been our ten year anniversary. so, to say this week has felt exceptionally heavy would be an accurate assessment. but, i’m stronger than i’ve ever been. and i have a healthy support system to hold me up when i don’t feel strong enough to do it on my own.

if you’re struggling through any type of challenging situation, know that you are far more capable than you ever thought you could be. look for the positive. be honest with yourself about your struggles. and find a community of people to be the healthy support system you will inevitably need… because we were never meant to do life alone.