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Archive for the ‘childhood trauma’ Category

Note: Triggers are miserable reminders that the past is never far away. And the truth is that they happen all the time. The challenge is to remember to ride the wave without getting lost in the pain for too long; we also need to remember that pain is part of the journey and we have no choice but to go through it. And regardless of how broken you may sometimes feel, don’t forget that you are whole just the way you are.

Shattered - Believe you are whole even within the cracks

Thirty-nine years ago, I faced the most crippling year of my childhood and young adulthood years. For the most part, I have moved forward, but that doesn’t mean I have forgotten the damage that was done to my soul. When I was fourteen years old, my spirit was trampled and no one was there for me. So instead of living my teenage years with the craziness that being a teenager includes, I found myself treading water with the hope that the world would swallow me up.

During that year, I was violently abused by mother, neglected by the father I adored, and drugs became my refuge, my haven from life’s storms. Just as I believed that my best friend’s family would save me and protect me from the raging violence of my childhood, my best friend’s stepfather started molesting me during a family vacation and then ended my time with them by raping me. In an instant, the last vestige of my childhood was ripped from me.

This horrific year left an ugly imprint on my spirit. And yet, even though it was full of pain, it has been an anchor to keep me balanced. Instead of going over the edge when life’s challenges leave me gasping for air, I tend to believe that all will be ok.  I made it then; I can make it now. The pit that nearly destroyed my life didn’t swallow me up. I understand that pain and vulnerability is part of life.

Unfortunately, each and every fall since I was 14 years old, I am often paralyzed by complete dread. On a good year it may last a few days, but more often it lasts for a few weeks. As the summer winds down and the weather turns a little cooler, I can feel the agony like it was yesterday.

In Judaism, we remember the death of someone by saying a prayer and then lighting a candle for their yahrzeit, the memory of their death. I think it is time for me to starting mourning and remembering that fall day by lighting a yahrzeit candle for that little girl who had her childhood ripped thread by thread from her being.

Once Gary raped me, my soul was permanently shattered. While I have emerged, it wasn’t easy. It took decades to plaster my many broken pieces together. AND like an old building, sometimes the pieces need to be replastered. The damage was devastating; it has impacted my every breath and probably my every decision.

And if that wasn’t enough, it was less than a month later that my mother amid a violent and very drunken outburst took what was to be her final blow at me and landed me in foster care. She lifted a butcher knife and tried to stab me – again and again. For those moments in time, I felt fear like I had never known and I was no stranger to my mother’s episodes; I endured physical pain at the hands of my mother on a regular basis. To this day, I am not sure that I have ever felt a worse fear in my life. And to this day, I still cringe every time I see a huge knife. As luck would have it, my older son has had a love affair with knives since he received his first one at age four. I will never understand how I was able to navigate his love and often fixation of knives, but somehow I not only survived it, but encouraged it.

Years passed before I absorbed how being raped as a child forever impacted how I walk in the world. And it didn’t help that a couple of years later, I again came face to face with the rapist, Gary, who threatened my life if he ever caught me alone. (Fuck the bastard!)

Only recently have I begun to navigate the atrocities that my young spirit endured. But today, I am so grateful that I found the inner strength to move forward or to what I now think of as ‘rising like a phoenix from the ashes’.

Onward with love, light, & blessings,
Chava

PS: Thanks for reading what will likely be part of my memoir which at this point is being called, Living Out Loud: A Thriver’s Journey. If you like what you are reading, please take a moment and like it on WordPress or any social media site, AND if you have feedback, I’d love to hear it.

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broken hearted(Trigger warning: This excerpt may be harsh for those who have experienced childhood trauma or who love me.)

My mother tried to kill me.

I don’t say these words lightly nor do I know if my mother’s intention was in fact to kill me. I will never know that. And in truth, the moment she started swinging the butcher knife towards me may not have been a conscious one for her. Marilyn was mentally ill, a drug abuser, and a very sick soul.

But none of this matters. What matters is that I had no where to go to be safe. No one loved me enough to take me in or to protect me from the barrage of eruptive energy that I faced daily. I was alone. Or should I say that I felt alone.

The feeling of loneliness has never left me. My childhood impacted me on a cellular level and while I have family, friends, and tools that fill me with love and often show up when I need to be physically or metaphorically held, it doesn’t always help. The shattered feeling that has been part of my life since birth is still part of my life; it just is. And the good news is that I have filled my world with so many beautiful people that I can usually push through my default sense of loneliness.

My work is to keep showing up, living authentically, and sharing my stories so that others don’t have to be alone and so that we can all inspire one another. And today, I know I can reach out to my tribe. While I will not necessarily ask for help or even share the specifics of what is hurting me, I am so much better at letting those who love me know that I am having a hard time and that I need to be held. Perhaps one day, I will learn to better ask for help.

Back to the knife . . .

As a child I used to love living across the street from my synagogue and celebrating the Jewish holidays. Judaism was always in my blood and the fall holidays when I was in 8th grade were no different. I would walk out of my house, turn right and walk up Pikeswood Drive. I knew just about everyone who lived on my block. Once I got to the traffic light at the top of the street, I felt somehow more relaxed, safe, and free. I would cross over Liberty Road and my synagogue would be awaiting my return. I loved Beth Israel.

The deal had always been that I could stay home from school on the Jewish holidays if I went to Beth Israel for services. This was a no brainer; I loved going to shul, which is what I called my synagogue growing up. I loved everything about the congregation. I loved the services, the onegs (nosh after services), my friends, their parents, and all of the older members. As long as I was at Beth Israel, I felt a sense of solace in my stressful life.

Nearly every Shabbat/Saturday, I went to the morning services and on most every holiday too. After services were over, I would read and do homework during the afternoons and evenings.  By junior high school, now known as middle school, I was a fairly good student. I did have some challenges, but I generally tried to do well.

On the night my mother came into my room swinging a butcher knife, I was so worried about a biology test I had coming up. I hated the teacher who seriously had it out for me. I was hyper-focused and trying to learn the material; I didn’t want to fail. But life took a dark turn that would forever impact any false sense of security I had.

Initially, I was hearing my mother screaming, slurring her words and banging something against my door. This was not unusual, so I tried to ignore it or maybe I screamed that she shut up. By junior high school, I was done withstanding abuse, but that didn’t really change anything. I was bigger and stronger which helped, but my mother was still a mentally ill addict.

When the noise didn’t quiet down, I opened my door in exasperation and was stunned at what I saw. A huge knife getting ready to come down on me or into me or wherever. I was scared shit-less. All I remember is somehow pushing my mother down and hearing her yell obscenities at me as I ran out of the house and to a neighbor. I can’t imagine what my friend’s parents thought of me when they opened the door to see me sobbing and shaking.

Sadly, I only have a vague recollection of what transpired over the next few hours. The police came followed by social services and I was taken away to temporary foster home. As time went on, I realized that no one in the foster care system believed that a young Jewish child could be abused by her Jewish mother.  The nightmare was horrific, but the aftermath was even worse.

Without anyone there to believe me or see me, I was forced to navigate the world differently. And my mother was mortified about all that was going on and begged social services not to put me into a Jewish home. She was really worried about what would the neighbors think. So they did the next best thing, they took me to live with a couple that were active in their beautiful Methodist church. So during my time in that foster home, I went to church every Sunday. Sigh.

So not only did I lose my home, my school, Beth Israel, my friends, I lost my spiritual home. I was really on my own.

Not being seen and not being heard started me on a path of self-destruction. I did drugs with little or no worry for what I was taking, I climbed moving trains and jumped off the top of them, and I had little regard for my life. I wasn’t worthy enough to be heard so I started to embody a life that reinforced just that. I also learned that my voice didn’t matter, so silence became my closest friend. Over time I stopped sharing my stories and started lying. Nothing I said mattered so I learned to share what I thought people wanted to hear.

Months later, I returned home. The alternative was going to a girls’ group home where the girls were brutal to one another. At least at home, I only had to keep myself safe from my mother not another 15 – 20 teenage girls. The good news is that I don’t remember as much violence once I returned. The eruptions never stopped, but I don’t remember any more physical pain upon my return.

But 14 years of hell and many more years of volatile outbursts caused a lifetime of healing ahead of me. While I accepted that I was broken, I also understood that I was a thriver and actually quite whole too. I am a work in progress. My work has always been to keep taking one step and then another. I had lived through hell and I had ultimately found my voice.

And the good news is that my mother didn’t kill me.

Hineini, I am here!

Onward with love, light, and blessings,
Chava

PS: Thanks for reading what will likely be part of my memoir which at this point is being called, Thriving: No Option. . . . If you like what you are reading, please take a moment and like it on WordPress or any social media site, And if you have feedback, I’d love to hear it.

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I have my books
And my poetry to protect me
I am shielded in my armor
Hiding in my room, safe within my womb
I touch no one and no one touches me
I am a rock
I am an island
And a rock feels no pain
And an island never cries

~From Paul Simon’s ‘I Am A Rock’ 
For most of my childhood and even my adult life, I grew to treasure Simon and Garfunkel’s “I Am A Rock” as a mantra in my life. As soon as the song played, I would feel like this song was written just for me. My heart would begin racing quickly, my spirit would feel at peace and I would sing out the words, “I AM A ROCK; I AM ISLAND” as if I were greeting my best friend.
Subconsciously, I always understood that I needed to protect myself from being hurt by others. And this song reminded me that I had my armor; I was actually doing just fine. Of course, I wasn’t. . . I was alone and even if I wasn’t alone, I felt like I was.
And then I met Louis at my senior prom. I am sorry Shai. I went with one of my closest friends and met the person who would become my first real boyfriend. Louis was and still is one of the most amazing people I had ever met. He loved me deeply and accepted the brokenness that must have been a pain to deal with. Or maybe he didn’t see how broke I was because it took me nearly twenty years after meeting him before I understood the ramifications of my traumatic childhood.
Either way, Louis showed up and held me. He helped me find my voice and allowed me to be who I was. Of course what does any 18 year old really understand about who they are? Louis loved who I was and who I believed I was at that time.
When I say that Louis helped me find my voice, that is true in every way. He listened to me and helped melt away the years of ice that had wrapped my spirit. He wrote me beautiful poems that let me know how loved I was. And he invited me to sing with him and to him. He welcomed me into his world and loved me for who I was.
And later when our relationship ended because Louis came out, he always held a space for me in his life. I was shattered when he told me could no longer be my beloved boyfriend because he realized that that wasn’t who he was. I couldn’t imagine my life without him. And in truth, since the day we met, my life has never been without him. Louis was the first person outside of my family who really loved me forever.
Fifteen years later, when I brought my father to the hospital for what would become his last six weeks of life, Louis was the first person I called and he was the one person who sat with me as one of the worst nightmares of my life unfolded. I was saying good-bye to my father who I had always deeply adored and somehow forgiven for not being able to keep me safe, for not being the father he should have been. I was beyond devastated; and my sons, nieces, and nephews were losing the best Zaydie Morry, grandfather, in the world.
As I sat crumbling in the depths of despair, Louis held me and told me that everything would be OK. Only I didn’t believe him, but he was right, eventually a new norm unfolded and everything became OK once again. Louis has always been there for me.
Chava and Louis - Passover 2016

Louis and Chava – Passover 2016

I jokingly refer to myself as the wandering Jew; I will probably always feel that way. Regardless of where my family moved, Louis has stayed part of my life. When my family moved back Washington DC, he started coming to our Passover Seder every year and then when we again moved away, he still kept coming back every other year. He has been with me through every life cycle event and major life change since I met him. He has showed up even when I didn’t expect him to.

Meeting Louis also meant that I was blessed to connect to his beautiful family. His parents were really sweet to me and I grew to love one of his sisters nearly as much as I loved Lou!  And when we were in college, he introduced me to the most amazing women who while I don’t see them enough, I treasure beyond words.
While I still struggle with feeling alone at times and “shielding myself with armor”, it was Louis’ commitment to loving me that opened the door to me becoming the person I am.  I may sometimes feel like “a rock” or “an island”, but it is also the lie I tell myself as way of protecting my spirit.
May we all have at least one person who embraces us for who we are.

Onward with love, light, and blessings,
Chava

PS: Thanks for reading what will likely be part of my memoir which at this point is being called, Thriving: No Option. . . . If you like what you are reading, please take a moment and like it on WordPress or any social media site, And if you have feedback, I’d love to hear it.

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Have you ever felt invisible?

  • You know the moment when you have a FABULOUS idea and no one will listen.
  • Or perhaps, when you were waiting for a call from someone who simply chooses to disappear without warning.

For me, I think I was invisible for nearly my entire childhood until I went to Israel for high school when I was 16 years old. And even then, I wonder if I was mostly invisible until I was in my forties. I may never really know.

As a child, I am not sure that I understood how to engage in normal ways. I had no idea how to interact as others did. My guess is that I learned to fake it because I was an actress. In truth though, I was invisible. No one really knew me or much less saw me. If they did, they would have had to look inside themselves in order to understand why they stood by and did little or in most cases nothing for a thoroughly battered young girl.

I grew up in what many refer to as idyllic neighborhood outside Baltimore. Yet I will never understand how the neighbors growing up on Pikeswood Drive, my extended family that lived within 3 miles, and my school community could have closed their eyes to the child that stood in front of them, next to them, or within their worlds. Perhaps I was a fabulous actress, I doubt it. More than likely, the adults simply did what felt easiest for them. They closed their eyes, their ears, and their hearts; more likely than not they choose to stay disengaged.

With that disengagement, I had to learn how to navigate a world that made no sense. As a young child, I never wondered why folks didn’t show up. I do now, but back then, it was simply my norm. And that norm was so lonely to navigate.

I have a distinct memory of believing that all my screams were silent when I was a little girl. They weren’t. I have one distinct memory of seeing my mother passed out from one of her many drunks and me screaming at the top of my lungs.  There were no words just what I would describe now as a guttural cry. At a ripe young age, I learned that no one could hear my cries and no one really cared. As I got older, I remember creating a silent scream, I would feel my mouth open, my heart race, and my tears roll down my face, but no sound came. My life experience had taught me to hold my pain inside.

To make matters complicated, I was seriously hearing impaired as a young child. If my memory is correct, I didn’t really hear until I was about 5 years old. I am not sure how I communicated or even if anyone understood me before that time. While I remember other sensations, I don’t remember real communication.

And even when I did start to hear, I knew without a doubt that I spoke funny, everyone struggled to understand me, and besides I could barely hear what people were saying anyways. Somehow along the way I was blessed to learn how to read lips. And over time, I learned how to “act” normal. I even learned how convince my schools that I understood what was going on in the classroom, but that was another one of my lies; I was simply acting.

Reading lips opened up the door to real communication. I am not sure when I figured out that I needed to see people’s lips in order to hear them, but wow did my life get a little easier. While I have never read lips fluently, what I do does help me connect with people.

Lock EyesAs I got older, I learned that I could really connect with people by looking at their lips, reading their expressions, and really locking deeply into their eyes.

Eyes speak volumes and when you look deeply into the eyes that you are facing, you remind yourself and the person in front of you how present you are. When you are locking deeply into the eyes of whoever you are facing you are actually saying “Hineini/I am here”! Our conversation is the most important conversation in the world.

While I don’t always lock eyes, it truly is one of the most holy ways to fully engage with another human being. After a childhood of believing I was invisible, being seen and heard and doing the same for others feels INCREDIBLE.

SARK, my spirit mentor and teacher ends many of her letters with:

You are seen, You are known, You are loved.

After years of being invisible, I believe that the only way that I can see people, know people, and love people is by listening to both their spoken and unspoken words.

To this day, I still have brief moments when I feel invisible, the only difference is that all I have to do is reach out to my beautiful tribe of beloveds that are there for me.

Make sure you take time to lock deeply into other’s eyes. I promise you that it will by one of the holiest connections you will experience.

Onward with love, light, and blessings,
Chava

PS: Thanks for reading what will likely be part of my memoir which at this point is being called, Thriving: No Option. . . . If you like what you are reading, please take a moment and like it on WordPress or any social media site, And if you have feedback, I’d love to hear it.

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Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart.
~ William Wordsworth

As a young child, the girl learned that silence was the only way to walk in the world. Since no one heard her screams of terror or noted her continuous falling apart at the seams, it must have meant that her words and her experiences were of little consequence.

No one responded to the cries of this little and very wounded child; no one reached out to the traumatized teen that used drugs to shield herself from the brokenness of her life. No one called the police when the rage in her home yielded screams that must of reverberated through the brick walls and into the streets. No one cared enough about the little girl and her brother that were forced to navigate some very stark realities.

As time moved forward, the girl’s brother moved away and found the inner strength to leave so that he could ultimately find his way. I’m not sure what that little girl felt at the time; my guess is that she understood that her brother was doing exactly what he should be doing post high school; he was growing up and becoming independent. Once he was gone, dysfunction emerged even more volatile and ruthless than before.

And still. . . no one listened.

Even the SWAT team that was called to her residence when her mother had a psychotic episode didn’t amount to her being safe. Returning home from a bike ride with friends, the little girl found the SWAT team surrounding her house because her mom was terrified when her son had been taken hostage; the only problem was that the sick woman’s son was actually living in another country by that time. Once the ‘ordeal’ was over, the SWAT team left, leaving behind the then preteen girl to navigate whatever realities were there. The little girl always had to navigate and when things were really rough, she had to keep herself safe too.

With nearly everyone turning their back on this precious child, she learned to become silent too. As she grew older, she would take tentative steps to find “her tribe”, sometimes they were the “right” people and sometimes they were not. Eventually she found moments when she would have just a little reprieve and she learned to treasure those moments of safety.

Unfortunately though, being silenced was already instilled. That silence lead her through the years of new beginnings. The default was her protection. She learned to encapsulate any pain and to withhold her traumatic stories. She learned to close off even the deepest hurts.

And then came the day that the little girl stopped remembering, stopped feeling, and disassociated from her previous life. She married, had children of her own, and created a beautiful life with an amazing friendship circle. BUT with time she began to feel the trickling of a breaking reservoir.

At first, only brief memories floated to the surface, but as time went on her heart exploded into shards of glass that sliced open her spirit and caused unrelenting pain.  But again she learned that no one could hear her and no one could look into her eyes while she released the dam. . .there was no one to hold the little girl’s spirit that lived inside a woman’s body.

Years passed and eventually that little girl grew. She found her “tribe”, beloved friends who could handle the trickling of her stories. And that was enough. That little girl had become a woman who felt seen and heard. The woman understood that her loved ones couldn’t bear hearing the stories, they loved her too much for that. But that little girl now a woman understood. . . she was not alone!

Onward with love, light, and blessings,
Chava

PS – After decades of silence, I know that silence is one of my natural defaults. Talking is still sometimes hard for me, but I have found other ways to unleash my silence through writing, art, and sometimes drumming. I have emerged and I am blessed to know that I do have a tribe that could now handle my stories even the hardest ones. I also know that I am loved.

Always Healing

Picture by Chava

 

 

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(Note: This blog is full of raw honesty and may be hard for some of my beloveds to read. Please don’t feel obligated. With my 53rd birthday on the horizon, I am being to drawn to share an awareness that has been emerging over the last month as I have been writing for my upcoming book, Thriving: No Option.)

img_2681As a young child, I saw my father as my knight in shining armor. I adored him with every fiber of my being. I could never get enough time with him. Never. Wherever he went, I wanted to follow. His love for people and music was so contagious that I followed in his footsteps. He adored me and showed me in so many ways. But in truth, he didn’t show me in the most important way he should have. He left me navigating a life of pure unadulterated darkness. My father was the first man to leave my spirit shattered. A cycle that I’ve allowed to perpetuate itself time and time again.

While there is no question that my father loved me, he didn’t keep me safe. In fact, his silence permanently scarred me by allowing me to be regularly beaten, verbally assaulted, and ultimately raped. It is only recently, that the full impact of his actions and inactions have left my spirit gasping for air.

How could a man that loved me as my father did allow my own mother to beat me? How could a man that loved me as he did stay with a violent and mentally ill woman instead of providing a safe place to call home. My mother’s violence lead me into foster care and into the hands of a man that would rape me. My best friend’s family wanted to take me as their foster child, but I knew enough to say no even though I couldn’t stop the initial assaults.

My father might have been able to make a difference if he had been stronger, but that wasn’t my father. Instead I never learned that I was worthy of love and care. . . not really.

A few weeks ago, I was stung by the onslaught of this very  unwanted realization. Since then my sleep has been troubled and I have found myself shedding tears at some of the most inopportune moments. The nightmares and clenched teeth of my sleep have become unwanted guests. Although, as soon as I identified what was going on, the healing began.

At first, my awareness was about what my father had done and not done, but later I was stunned by what has become an even more problematic realization. The first relationship I ever had with a man overshadowed every interaction with men that followed. Instead of finding loving relationships with men that loved and cared for the person I was, I found loving relationships that ultimately left me hurting. How could it have been any different, I didn’t know how I needed to be cared for and loved. Besides that, relationships can be challenging. . .especially when they are ending.

The men were not intentionally hurtful,  I think I just struggled more because of the baggage I was holding. I lacked the inner strength to navigate reality.  Some relationships aren’t right or meant to last. Some relationships offer you the most treasured packages, but not forever. I believe that that’s life. The challenge is that my heart and spirit just didn’t have the grace when it was time to release old loves so that we could both move as we needed.

Today, I know this: I want someone to hold me when I need to cry inconsolable tears. I want to be loved through the pain of major surgery. I want someone who loves me when my entire being is on overload and I am celebrating both silly successes and major programs. I want to love someone who can listen to Elizabeth Gilbert’s wisdom and “embrace the glorious mess that I am.”

I have chosen people that can’t show up for me, but that cycle is breaking now.

Hineini, Here I am!!!

Onward with love, light, & blessings,
Chava

PS – I am sad that my father never kept me safe or loved the fullness of my spirit, but my responsibility to make healthy choices now. I learned a lot from my beloved father. I am just sorry I learned some really hard lessons too.

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