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Posts Tagged ‘survival’

 

 

best photo ever!

Writing,
the song of my heart;
the meaning of my mind;
the feeling of my soul; 
Is what makes me WHOLE.

Without writing, I would be nothing. I probably wouldn’t even be alive. Writing is how I have been able to navigate the world, found my voice, and coped with life’s challenges. The only time I am truly whole is when I take time to write.

And yet writing also reminds me that while I am vibrant and alive, I also feel pain a little too deeply. If I am not writing, it probably means that I am struggling with a part of my soul and deeply afraid that the words I write will bring me towards the one-way journey to darkness. And yet again, writing is the only way I have ever been able to nurture my soul towards living.

The gift is the challenge.

Without question, I am so much more alive when I am writing. So what has kept me from over the past months? This is simple, initially I have been struggling with the inner demons that tell me that I am not good enough to bring my stories alive.  And who would want to read my writing anyway. This is something that I may always wrestle with even when I am choosing to silence that I am not worthy or I am not enough.

Fortunately, I did not let the demon voices control me for too long. Instead I decided to take about seven weeks off this summer so that I could focus on my writing. And I have been writing every day since I started. Some of it good, much of it not. I am only now getting into a healthy rhythm and finding my voice with each word.

Over the past several months, I have been pushing through my self doubt by writing my about what I endured as a child in a book that I am currently calling Thriving: No Option. . . In my book, I will share some of my childhood traumas, how I initially navigated them, and how I am thriving onward now. I am also hoping to include the stories of other thrivers who have emerged from traumas, found their footing and ultimately found their wings.

To my knowledge, very few, if any thrivers, start off knowing that they will find a way to soar from whatever traumas they have endured. How can anyone believe that all will be ok when they are in the messy middle of survival. Over time, though, they take one step and then another; they find a way to walk through the world that works for them. And if they are lucky they find a new and beautiful way to live. Some may call this growth, others may call it healing, and I tend to think of this time as a rebirthing.

Over the coming weeks and months, I will disengage more from idle chatter and I will take the time to focus on writing my memoir. I am also making a commitment to sharing a piece of my writing daily on my blog. Whether my book is self published or finds a publisher isn’t really the most important thing to me. What I want is to inspire people and to create a platform for sharing our stories. And ultimately, I’d love to create more healing retreats that can utilize the many tools (and more) that I have used as I have embraced in my own healing journey.

In the words of my beloved friend Rabbi David J. Cooper, I want to end with:
We bless the Source of Life, that we are alive, that we have survived and that we have arrived at this time. (Interpretation of the Shecheyanu blessing which is part of Jewish liturgy.)

Onward with love, light, and blessings,
Chava

 

 

 

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I  AM LOVED

Two Naked Trees - Santa Monica California Beach - Jill Berkson Zimmerman

Photo Courtesy of Rabbi Jill Zimmerman

You are seen, You are heard
You are loved for who you are
You are enough, You are complete
You are loved

I am seen, I am heard
I am loved for who I am
There is nothing I need to change
I am loved, I am loved

I am seen, I am heard
I am loved for who I am
I am enough, I am complete
I am loved, I am loved
I am seen, I am heard, I am safe,
I am enough, I am worthy, I am loved
Words & Music by Karen Drucker

Life has given me incredible moments to stretch, grow, and thrive. Sometimes I  see these opportunities with awe, but other times, not so much.

I’ve always said that ‘the gift is the challenge’ which means that I strive to find light in even the darkest hours. Mostly I am able to reach that goal and at other times that goal feels like an impossibility.

Over and over again, I have faced some daunting struggles. Mental illness and violence destroyed some of the people closest to me and sometimes left me battered not only emotionally, but physically. Loss of too many pregnancies and adoptions forced me to question my belief in God. And watching my son Aryeh face life and death challenges again and again within his life as both an infant and later a teenager could have destroyed me. Dovi, my younger son, also had a very serious health challenge as a toddler.

When life is at it’s most painful, you don’t have time to cry or lash out at the world. You are forced to go through whatever it is you need to do. Survival has never been an option for me. Breathing deeply and pushing forward is truly the only viable option. At least this is so for me.

In 2007, I legally changed my name to Chava Gal-Or. I wanted my name to be a testimony to who I was and what I wanted to continually be. I chose the name Chava as a celebration to my surviving a sometimes traumatic existence. In my heart of hearts, I have always seen myself as a thriver; regardless of what experiences have come my way, I find a way to soar. And my last name is reminder that I want to find light in those I meet and to find the beauty or light in that which I endure regardless of how it appears on the outside. For the most part, I have done what I set out to do.

And over the years, I have also created the most amazing village that has supported me emotionally, spiritually, and even financially. My world has been full of gifts at every turn. Without a doubt, I know that blessings abound.

Today I shared with my chanting siblings how a recent car wreck challenged me physically and emotionally; in fact what I didn’t say is how broken I was actually feeling since the accident.  Just before the car crash happened, I was finally landing on my feet after a roller coaster ride that has been going on longer than I care to admit. The grand finale, in particular, caused me enormous self-doubt. How could I end up in a community capable of causing such spiritual chaos? As my position in Tucson came to a crashing halt, my spirit tumbled. The good news is that I chose not to openly stay in the rubble; I chose to do what I had to do so that I could ultimately emerge. But the being rear-ended suddenly reinforced that I was not doing nearly  as well as I thought.

The last few years have been hard, really hard. And there have been so many times that I felt alone and afraid how I could support my family; I honestly did not know how I would feed my family or handle another serious illness. Going to the dentist was and maybe still is a luxury. And I wasn’t sure how my closest friends could continue to hold me metaphorically or otherwise. And in truth, I was blessed with friends that were there in most ways. Some couldn’t be, but most chose to be.  When I felt most alone, it was because I couldn’t recognize what was in front of me.

When I was completely honest with myself, I knew that my name should have never been changed. I was so far from life or light; I was not thriving and I certainly had no idea how I would emerge. And yet, I persevered. With some incredible fortitude and a village to guide me, I was able to do what I had to do.

When I initially reached out to my chanting siblings today, I was bordering on lost.  Yet within moments, three of my chanting siblings reminded me that I have work to do.  There is a world that I have touched with my light and I have more work to do. Wow. . . I needed to be reminded just that. I am full of light, but I needed the reminder.

The moment of impact reinforced me to face the vulnerabilities that lie just below the surface. I live in fear that at any moment my life could end. Who would take care of my sons? Who would birth my dreams? I have so much left to do. Would anyone besides my sons miss me? Do I really make a difference in the world?

We all have our own skeletons, our hidden secrets, our intimate fears. I am no different.

My teacher, Rabbi Shefa Gold reminded me that I am “surviving and thriving and reaping the hidden blessings.” And my friends reinforced it again and again.  The evidence is and was clear, I need to turn off the inner voice that sometimes tells me that I am a farce; I am a strong and vibrant woman.

I love that  I am healing, moving forward, navigating vulnerability, and feeling blessed. I am doing exactly what I needed to do.

(Note: in the early morning hours, I found a gift from my friend Rabbi Jill Zimmerman, she emailed me a link to I AM LOVED. Words & Music by Karen Drucker. I am still trying to wrap my head around Jill’s timing. This was the song I needed to hear as a reminder that I am loved and that I also really do love myself.)

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Note: I will be Counting the Omer for a total of 49 days, from Passover to Shavuot or from Slavery to Freedom. For many, this is simply the Counting the Omer; for others, it is a tool for exploring the kabbalistic teachings in an organized way. For me, it is a time to actively reflect on my Journey Towards Wholeness. The more I am whole, the more free I will become.  [http://t.co/dBPYjDxSGj . . . .]

red yahrzeit candle

My mother’s yahrzeit was today.  While I nearly forgot, my body remembered; my body always remembers.  By mid-day, a headache formed making it impossible for me to relax and enjoy my afternoon.  In fact, as I found myself with time in one of my favorite parts of the country, Woodstock (New York), yet all I could do was take time to talk to my sons and then come back to the house I am staying to shower and write.

I needed to be alone. I needed to to take time to release the tears that often remain latent. While tonight, I don’t feel like I can allow the tears to flow freely, I am allowing them to come to my eyes.  Once I know that I will have hours of privacy, I may take the time I need to cry.

While I now realize that life for Marilyn was far from easy, I acknowledge that my life as her daughter was horrible. I will never forget what I endured on a daily basis.  Still, I am not sure she could help herself; she was too sick to manage her body and mind. As I result, there will be moments of my life when I have to navigate a few too many emotional wounds.  The good news is that I can now go months without considering the impact of my childhood pain. I am so blessed that all the years of hard work are paying off. While dark memories may come, they only last for brief moments not for any length of time!!!

Each year, I try seek a healthy way of approaching Marilyn’s life and death.  For some reason, this year, I am feeling deeply scarred by her legacy and more vulnerable then I’d like to admit.

Instead of hiding in the shadows of pain, I want to bask in the light inspired me to thrive – always.  My Omer Reflections have continuously motivated me to keep finding tools to support me in My Journey Towards Wholeness. I am alive! This is the time to keep nurturing my life in the best ways possible!!

My mother’s life and subsequent death filled me with tools for survival and thriving.  That awareness feels awesome.  That is what I am focusing on as I move into Day 23 of the Counting of the Omer.  Today, I find myself committing to life and doing whatever it takes to thrive.

My mother harmed her body by continuously filling her body with drugs and alcohol. With that in mind, I am going to start my mornings off with food that is nurturing and energy provoking. Lately, I have noticed that breakfast always leaves me tired. Upon reflection, I realized that the only time I felt energetic and ready for the morning is when I begin the day with a green smoothie, so tomorrow, I will begin that routine again.  AND on my way back home, I will finally purchase the Ninja (smoothie maker/blender) and fruit/veggies for my daily smoothies. It’s time. Originally, I was going to wait until I moved to Houston, but waiting no longer seems prudent.

While money is still tight for me right now, being healthy is a bigger challenge.  I have work to do and I don’t want to wait any longer. My mother’s yahrzeit  inspired me to take better care of myself; I am worth making healthy.

All ideas for making healthy smoothies are welcome! I need your help!

With love, light, and blessings,
Chava

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Last night, I read and then posted an article that inspired me to reflect about my childhood.

http://www.slate.com/articles/life/family/2013/11/families_dealing_with_mental_illness_need_support_too.single.html

I remember as a young girl, my mother bounced from rehab for drug/alcohol addiction to ICU for cancer and other serious illnesses. Whenever she was ill with medical emergencies, everyone offered help; whenever she was in recovery for addiction, I sat alone for weeks or months on end as my father had to take care of his work and then visit his wife…..

Memories

In truth, life was easier for me when she was in a recovery setting.  During those weeks, violence and pain did not surround me, nor did harsh words and angry energy.  My mother was a violent drug/alcohol abuser when she was awake or she was passed out on the floor or wherever else she landed.  My home environment wasn’t pretty.  And when she was in the hospital, no one let me stay home alone.   If I was home alone, my brother would often visit from Israel because of the serious nature of whatever was going on.  Those weeks or months were awesome; when my brother was visiting, I somehow felt protected and emotional safe.

Growing up in an abusive home was never easy.  I didn’t know how to tell anyone what living was like.  So I retreated to a silent place.  I often wonder if “my friends” liked me growing up or if the kids just tolerated me because they had known me all my life.  I know I had friends, but the daily pain of surviving was really too intense for me to remember what it was like to go to class or to hang out with others.  At a very young age, I learned to be an actress; I learned that no one would understand what I was facing and that no one could help.  In truth, many of my neighbors and some of my relatives had a clue, but in the end it was only once I reached about 16 years old that I began to feel supported by adults that could make a difference.  Yay!!

May we each reach to find the beauty that surrounds us.

My mother died when I was in my early 20s…..nothing prepared for my life or her death, but in the end, I found the power to be what I am today. While the journey is truly never ending, I am blessed to be where I am -most of the time.  The single most reality that brings a smile to my face is that I am grateful that I didn’t become her in any way; I found the inner-strength to emerge into the person I am today.

When I was a child there were few words to express what I faced.  My friends would have never understood and others didn’t want to get involved.  Yet, I had many pockets of time in which my friends gave me a safe and sweet haven (mostly unknowingly).  During those moments, I could laugh, eat a healthy meal, and not have to look at what was behind me.  I treasure those moments when I truly felt safe.  Unknowingly, friends gave me reprieve from what I faced even if they didn’t know what they were doing.
As a young adult, I didn’t share my stories.  Instead I was healing from the rawness I had once felt.  While the nightmares were still part of my life, I treasured the daylight hours when I was safe.  Over time, I was able to move forward and heal.  Having a family and a community of my own gave me roots for the first time in my life.  Only when I was in my thirties could I find the words to share the reality of what had been a part of my life.  My guess is that I needed a few years of silence before I could speak of the darkness that surrounded my earlier years.
For my friend that asked if she was an ostrich, please know that I was a wounded child that didn’t know how to let people into my cocoon.  And you were a child living your life.  That is what children do!!! The good news is I am ok now and I have friends that can listen when I reach those sad moments of reflection that some days visit me.
No one should feel sad or guilty for not knowing….abused children are masters of disguise and I was no different.

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For so many years, my son, Aryeh, sat incapacitated and barely able to lift his body, let alone a book.  With that in mind, I am touched beyond words that on Simchat Torah, my son lifted the Torah.  Tonight, the entire weight of the Torah rested on the right side of the Torah Scroll and Aryeh was able to do what seemed like a dream at one time.  He lifted the Torah in front of our community.

Photo Courtesy of Gary Tenen

Photo Courtesy of Gary Tenen

Nearly a lifetime ago, when my now 20 years old was barely 14 years old he suffered a debilitating illness that ultimately led to two brain surgeries.  With each breath his life often seemed to wane.  For nearly three years, we prayed for his survival with a hope that he would one day thrive again.  Life was not a given for my beautiful son.

Dreams can really come true.

For what seemed like a lifetime, Aryeh  barely lifted his body out of bed or off the sofa and fora couple years after that he scarcely left the house.  Today is a very different story.  After many years of struggling for health, he has emerged from his desolate life.  Today, my son is a vibrant young man who loves Torah nearly as much as he loves his own life.

As Aryeh lifted the Torah for what is called Hagbah, I was transformed to a time when Aryeh was at death’s door.  A tremendous feeling washed over me as I saw him do what could have only been a dream several years ago.

Photo courtesy of Gary Tenen

Photo courtesy of Gary Tenen

The blessing of today is that nightmares can be transformed into beauty.  With that reality racing through my brain, I will weep happy tears.

I can’t believe my son is alive….Halleluyah!

(Note: Torah is http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Torah)

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Aryeh with Pita

Always in tie dye, this time on a camel
Summer 2012, Israel

For well over three years, my son Aryeh fought the fight of his life.  As he struggled between life and death at times, I began to see the world through renewed eyes.  Our family felt virtually alone as we dealt with the daily agony of our teenage son and Dovi’s brother.  We navigated each day with endurance, yet we were in pain too.

While the darkness felt impermeable at times, it wasn’t.  There were so many angels that entered our lives, sometimes for a moment and some of them are still active in our lives to this day.  There were friends cooked our food, others that created a fund to offset the costs of Aryeh’s medical bills, and still others that were there at the drop of a hat.  Some of our closest friends couldn’t be present, but virtual strangers opened up their arms to help.  We felt surrounded by love so much of the time.

One of the most loving acts came the day we came home from Aryeh’s first brain surgery.  We had been forced out of the hospital too soon because the “only” bed available was in a room with another teenage boy who couldn’t stop screaming due to his own agony.  The boy’s screaming paralyzed our son in so many ways.  While we were in the hospital someone was supposed to come over with food and fill our refrigerator, but she became too anxious because of our significant food allergies/needs and instead brought nothing. We came home physically and emotionally wiped to no food; it shouldn’t have been a big deal, but it was.  Aryeh was not ready be home and we were all in pain.  I remember Michael, Aryeh’s father, calling our friends Paula and John; he was so distraught at what was going on and they rushed over with enough food to sustain us for days.  They looked at their house and used all the food they had and then some to prepare for our needs.  Paula and John continued to cook for us for years and probably would continue if we lived a little closer.  🙂

Following this day, our friend Wicca (and maybe someone else) organized all of our food for months and months.  People took care of us; they tried to take care of Aryeh.  Aryeh was too sick; it was years before he was ok.  Later we needed to go from Washington, DC to Los Angeles and people helped us every step of the way.  We couldn’t have made it emotionally, physically, or financially if people weren’t there.  One special angel was my friend Miriam who was with me as Aryeh quite literally fought for his life in an LA hospital and then opened up her home for us to stay for weeks following surgery.

Every step of the way, people were there.

Our friend John and his sons opened up their home to Dovi.  Dovi must have stayed at their house for weeks if not months during Aryeh’s illness.  They never asked for a dime; John just assumed he had three sons.  And later when were able to celebrate Aryeh’s life, John and his housemate Patrick, opened up their home so that we could have a Celebration of Life Party in honor of Aryeh’s recovery.

Amy gave and gave in so many ways; as did our friends Stuart and Lisa. Idie and Tamar came for the holidays so that we would have the holidays; Pesach was the hardest, but you would have never known because of how they chipped in to take care of us in every way.  People were coming out of the woodwork to help support us through hell.

A few friends drove two hours to the hospital to drop off food even though we couldn’t be with them.  Some people drove Dovi to and from where he needed to go.  A couple of Marines dropped off a large screened TV because Michael went on Freecycle and shared our story.  When Aryeh came home initially after the first surgery, he struggled to see; these two strangers gave us a TV so Aryeh would be able to see it.  And then they stayed and just hung out with our teenage son.

Simple acts of kindness go a long way.

In those years of serious illness, I learned that a smile makes a difference.  A hug can make everything better if only for a moment.  A pack of colorful, silly tissues are worthy of having in your hand.  A box of citrus chamomile tea warms your heart.  Mandalas made by friends and strangers surrounded our family with healing powers while hundreds of my Jewish Educator friends from all over the world sang a healing song for Aryeh as struggled in ICU for his own healing.

We were surrounded by love and care.  Aryeh’s friends made him tie-dye sheets that are still with him to this day; in fact, we made sure he was wrapped in his sheets even as he laid intubated after his second surgery.  Nothing about this time was easy, but we made it through because of simple acts of kindness by some of our closest friends as well as some strangers. Some made time to sit with us and be present sometimes in silence and sometimes to play games.  Others made sure our daily needs were met.  The bottom-line is that even when we felt alone, we weren’t alone, not really.

Each and every act made a difference.  Strangers, friends, loved ones sustained us when we had little hope.  And new friends joined us as we healed.  I will forever be grateful for Adat Shalom Reconstructionist Congregation where I worked during the beginning of Aryeh’s illness and Bethesda Jewish Congregation where I worked during the healing years.  Both communities were loving, kind, and present when our family needed them.

Simple acts of kindness allowed us to focus on healing from what could have been a tragedy.

May each of us be blessed to touch another’s life for good! May we remember that we can make a difference when we choose to step up to the plate.

With love, light, and gratitude

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(Creating the Toolbox for Healing and Transformations will be a series of blog entries to introduce tools that I have utilized in my healing journey as well as tools I hope to utilize with My Second Foundation,  a non-profit organization for healing and transformation using retreat settings.)

“Good timber does not grow with ease; the stronger the wind, the stronger the trees.”–J. Willard Marriott

Intense pain. Abandonment. Loneliness. Violence. At those moments, breathing hurts. And then comes the blessing. . .

Healing.

Inner peace. Survival. Transformation. Thriving. At these moments, I surge with gratitude. My world didn’t collapse in despair.

Sometimes the collision between memories and healing takes my breath away; sometimes I want to weep intensely and acknowledge the tortuous darkness. And sometimes I want to forget. And still other times, I want to soar and scream out from the mountains that I am a live. I am pure and full of life. No one shattered my spirit; no one drop-kicked me down into the valley, succeeding in my demise. I am a vibrant being.

When the memories bubble up, I struggle. How could I not? Reaching into my soul I have to find the strength to keep moving forward and more importantly to thrive. What I have come to know over the years is that once I acknowledge the very real feelings and sensations around my childhood memories, I can move through them much easier. When I hold them in I sink into a sadness that penetrates the deepest part of my soul.

Last month, I faced some new demons. The person who teased me relentlessly about coffee had no idea initially how crippling his words were; he probably still has no real idea. When I allow myself the room to remember, I can still smell how my mother tormented with coffee grinds among other things.

The beautiful reality is that the memory has now stayed with me for a few weeks, but it hasn’t devastated me. When you are a victim of both domestic violence and other violence, the realizations might return sometimes frequently and sometimes very infrequently. What I have come to learn is that I can decide how I will meet the memory at the door. Mostly, I embrace the memory and try to get to know it and then I release it out of my life. To move through the difficult memories I write, I draw, work with my hands, I cry, I walk, I chant, and sometimes I share my stories. The key to moving forward is consciously choosing to walk through the pain and into the beauty that surrounds me today.

What kind of toolbox works for you?

 

This year, I am birthing a non-profit organization called, My Second Foundation. My Second Foundation will utilize alternative and traditional forms of healing and transformation for adults that have experienced childhood trauma. With the help of many professionals, participants will create their own toolbox for healing and transformation. My plan is to launch this organization over the summer with my first mini-retreat.

For me, life has been a gift, but this realization would not be possible if it weren’t for utilizing writing, drawing, movement, chanting, etc. in my toolbox for healing and transformation. Walking through the many journeys of life is what I do. May we all be blessed to create a toolbox that can accompany this very long trek. These tools are good for living; all of us can emerge from challenging moments by building our own toolbox.

Shadows are possible because of the light that surrounds an area where there is an obstruction. So the goal that I have for myself as I walk is to remember to stay out of my way as I walk into the light. May the same be true for all of us!

With blessings and light,

 

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