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Hiking Boots

A few days ago, I decided it was time for me to take a look at some of my more recent journaling entries. With a bunch of my writing pieces being in the messy middle and not quite ready to be shared, I decided to reflect on a journal entry from a few months ago that started with the words, “How do I choose life each and every day?”

Daily life can be overwhelming. With every day comes deep feelings, a long to do list, and a desire to hide under the covers for eternity. I am not sure that I have ever totally checked out of life for very long; instead I take one step and then another. I reach for the next best thing and I move forward. Each and every day, I choose life.

I am the architect of my life.  While daily practices sustain me, so does living authentically, engaging in activism, creating a home that nurtures my soul, and by surrounding myself with friends that I adore. Perhaps all of these things are practices.

A rough childhood taught me that I really needed to take care of myself. And I have learned that the best way to do just that is to consciously create daily life practices that ground me one action at a time.

  1. Morning routine
    • Wake-up without an alarm clock by 6 or 6:30 AM (at the latest)
    • Take probiotic
    • Drink water (lots)
    • Make bed, stretch, feed dog, do some quick chores, and journal (30 or so minutes)
    • Take my stomach medication
    • Chant and/or walk for a couple of miles
    • Eat breakfast
  2. Throughout the day
    • Paint inspirational cards, etc.
    • Journal whenever thoughts pop into my head
    • Weave
    • Read
    • Facebook
    • Walk (5-7 miles)
    • Food norms – (This is relatively new for me since I have been doing this only for a few months.)
      • plant based diet (mostly)
      • fish – once a week
      • green smoothies (4 – 6 times/week)
      • no added sugar
      • no alcohol
      • drinking lots of water
      • dinner with my sons (5+ times/week)
  3. Night Routine – Work In Progress (WIP) that needs to be strengthened.
    • Evening walk (4+ times/week)
    • Stretch
    • Golden milk or tea
    • Before bed chanting

Above is not all I do, but it is a skeleton of how I navigate my life.  Without these practices, I would be in rough shape. They provide order when my spirit is in disarray; they ground me so that I can live with more ease. Daily practices always provide me a pathway to healthy living.

Looking Back

I am not certain when I started embracing daily practices as a “thing”. It started slowly, so slowly that I didn’t notice it was happening. Perhaps it can be traced back to when I realized that if I wasn’t writing/journaling then I must be in a dark place. My son Dovi was actually the first person to point this out to me when he was about 8 years old. And ever since that time, he has been the first person to remind me that I must not be writing enough when I am less than grounded, angry, or sad.  He is still the first person to remind me to get back to my writing if I fall off the wagon.

Over time I have learned that daily practices empower me to live life more fully regardless of where my spirit is. And what I love most about them is that they are always a work in progress; as I stretch and grow, they do too.

Every day I choose how I want to live. Every day I choose life!

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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Deep breath.

Sharing my story takes a lot of deep breaths and the ability to dig deep so that my experiences may have a purpose. Perhaps I can heal myself from some of my pain and perhaps I can help someone else to realize they can do hard things too.

When I dig deep, I am doing the spiritual work that allows me to emerge as more whole. My writing nurtures me through the narrow pathways and towards my freedom.  My writing opens doors so that I can walk through them. And on a good day, my writing has the power to make a difference to others by inspiring others to face their own narrow places. Even though many of us feel alone, we usually aren’t.

“I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what
I’m looking at, what I see and what it means.
What I want and what I fear.”
~Joan Didion

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

I always believed that I would be nothing like my mother. My mother was too sick and violent to nurture me. Mental illness and substance abuse ravaged her life from my earliest memories.  A long time ago I learned that substance abuse tends to run in families. And in my case, it seems to have run deep. My mother is not the only close relative I have who suffered with crippling addiction.

My family history has always lead me to monitor my drinking.  If I saw myself starting to binge drink, I would simply stop until I could resume drinking more responsibly. I started this behavior as far back as when I was a teenager.

If I am really honest with myself, I’ve always known that I have the propensity towards addiction. From the time I was 11 years old, I started smoking and ingesting any drug I could get my hands on. It was easy for me to access the drugs back then because I looked older and my father was in the record business. Opportunities for getting high surrounded me at every turn. And since I was never someone to back down from a chance to disconnect from the dark realities of my life, I was in good shape.

This lasted until I was nearly 17 years old when I woke up and realized that if I didn’t stop myself, I would become my mother. I am not sure how I had the will to stop, but I did. In part, I tried Alcoholics Anonymous along with some therapy. In the end though, I found new ways to distract myself from life. I took up running, I wrote, I did a little art, and I never looked back.

Drinking was another story.

Over the years, I have watched myself navigate some really tough times when I turned to drinking. Life’s roller coasters were hard to endure at times.  Besides the “normal” headaches of living, I experienced nine miscarriages, a horrific birth experience that lead my first child to the NICU, followed by other serious illness for my sons, a rocky marriage, a dying father, multiple broken hearts, and perhaps the hardest one of all, facing the demons of my childhood. I never drank when I was in a good place. But as soon as life challenged me, I turned to the only thing that could calm me – alcohol. Alcohol gave me a place to go so that I could place a blanket or a shroud of darkness over my intense sadness.

And it worked. Until. . .

One day, I realized that I couldn’t stop.  It started when my doctor made an unwanted diagnosis and told me that I should only drink occasionally and not more than a glass and a half of alcohol at a time. I couldn’t wrap my head around that concept. What is occasionally? And what is a glass and a half? I loved whiskey, so what would a glass and half be? Five shots, maybe six . . . I wasn’t a wine drinker, although I did like the taste of good wine. But when I wanted to numb my feeling, it was whiskey or vodka that I turned to.

Love of truth puts you on the spot.
~Naropa Institute motto

Up to that moment in time, I had always been able to make any necessary lifestyle or dietary changes when advised by a doctor or other healthcare practitioner.  Previously I had three major diet changes. The first was when my then ENT realized that sodium was exacerbating my hearing loss. The second was when I stopped eating regular breads, cakes, and pastas when I found I had celiac disease. And third, was giving up sodas when my nephrologist informed me that sodas were probably the cause for my horrible UTIs, otherwise known as urinary tract infections.  In each of the three occasions, I was given the advice and simply stopped. And except for soda, I didn’t look back. And even now,  I am back on track when it comes to drinking soda.

Before the doctor told me not to drink, I was absolutely AWESOME at navigating what I call non-negotiables in my life.  I had always been able to quickly make the necessary lifestyle changes that would ultimately lead to healthy transformation for me.

When we take an honest and fierce inventory of ourselves, it isn’t too hard to discern truth. If I had never been significantly challenged by removing gluten, sodas, and sodium rich foods from my diet, why was I unable to occasionally drink alcohol.

amazing sunrise

Sunrise in Topsail, NC courtesy of Wendy Delson

Wham!!!!! I woke up!

I couldn’t stop because I had become the nightmare I feared most. I had become a drunk like my mother. OUCH!

But here is the good news, I am not my mother. Almost as soon as I realized I was out of control, I called three of my beloveds and shared that I was quite literally stuck in the deep end and unable to swim; I was drowning. The more I drank, the more I wanted out of this life.  The other good news is that I didn’t go as far as to make a plan. I just wanted my emotional pain to go away.

With the help of these three beautiful souls, I was able to move forward. The first two were Ricky and Eudice, my brother and sister-in-law. My brother got the first call a couple weeks before I understood the full picture of what alcohol was doing to me. He was the person I called when I simply wanted out of life. He listened and I knew I wasn’t alone. A couple of weeks later, I reached out to my sister-in-law who gifted me with her wisdom; she reminded me that my self-awareness was a gift and that I could do hard things. AND finally, I reached out to my beloved friend Joseph who met me at a coffeehouse and without judgement held space for me to share my brokenness; he then offered to take me to my first AA meeting in decades.

As I sat in that first meeting, I was aware that I was in the right place. I left the meeting knowing I had to stop drinking, but not yet willing to do the work to get there. So two weeks later, I started drinking again. For two evenings in a row, I was back to my old ways of drinking late into the evening and then being 100% functional in my daily life. No one, except my sons knew that the only way I could quiet my sense of overwhelm was with multiple stiff drinks throughout every evening.

On the second morning after my drinking binge, I understood that I needed help. My health depended on me to stop drinking.  So, I did what I had to do, I reached out to my friend Joseph and I started going to meetings as much as possible. It was a few weeks before I understood that I was an alcoholic. Initially, I told myself that as soon as I learned to navigate anxiety, I would be able to drink without being excessive. But today, I know better. I am an alcoholic.

While drinking never got in the way of my actual work or functioning, it did impact my life. As the years wore on, I couldn’t quiet my mind at the end of a tough evening unless I downed a few shots. And whenever I was away at a training or retreat, I was one of the people that drank all night long and into the early morning hours. I did this because I didn’t have to be any place until morning. I loved the sweetness of those nights.

Today I am doing the work I need to do. I am sober with the help of AA and all it offers.  Plus I am surrounded by loved ones who are holding space for me to show up as myself. And through it all, I am learning that I don’t have to hide behind a mask, I can be me with all my intensity and rawness.

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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theLightWhen I decided to write about my life, I truly thought it would be easy. Only it wasn’t. How could it be? The beatings, the screaming, and the fear permeated my earliest years. And yet my entire life has not been dark. In fact, it has been far from dark. But the dark moments seemed to have overshadowed the many gifts. And writing about my childhood plunged me into the darkness leaving me (for a little while) sad to the core.  The pain cut deep and left me treading water instead of being the thriver that I am.

My response to writing about my childhood was to dive deep into an underwater cave that was literally swallowing me up until I realized what was happening. With each passing day, I found myself going further and further underwater until I couldn’t find an air pocket to catch my breath. For over a month, I stopped writing my book and connecting with others more than I had to for my work.

Looking back I see that I had temporarily lost my voice. My voice had become too overwhelming for even me to bare witness. So I stopped talking. I stopped writing. And metaphorically, I was unable to release even the smallest whisper. And during this time, I also physically lost my voice. I am sure this is no coincidence.

As time moved forward, I found a little inner strength. Swimming further into the cave, I was finding the space to renegotiate what I needed to fuel my spirit. While I was still dark, I was learning to breathe a little more deeply and I was becoming more of the person I was meant to be. I was just starting to find a stronger voice from within.

As my voice returned, I saw it as a sign that I needed to do more than speak, I needed to find a way back to writing, “Living Out Loud: A Thriver’s Journey”.  I needed to get back to the holy work of writing my story.

 

My story isn’t easy. In fact, what I am learning about myself is that I am not brave; I am terrified of losing my footing and slipping into quicksand. I often crumble, but I am learning to trust that even when I crumble leaving only cracks behind, light has a way of reaching my soul and on a good day, I illuminate the world with some of my light.

Each year that I remain on this earth, I learn to see myself as a little more beautiful than I ever thought possible. I know how to show up in the world and to add sparks whenever possible.  I ride the waves as I fiercely grasp for life’s many nuggets. And with each breath I take I always try to do the next right thing. In fact that is the only thing I can do on a daily basis.

One of my strongest attributes is that I am resilient. Regardless of what I have had to endure in the past or will have to navigate in the future, I always find the inner strength to show up at the table – again and again. And on I good day, I am able to radiate light as I thrive. That’s my job!

Hineini, Here I am!

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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Day 37 - Choose to ThriveEach and every morning I have a choice about how I will approach my day. In fact, if I am really honest, I have that choice with every breath I take. My job is to keep taking deep breaths and doing the next best thing.

Life is full of gifts and challenges. And while I have grown to accept that life can be really hard, I have also been known to embrace each step as consciously as possible. I know that as long as I am moving forward and doing all I can to navigate life’s journey, I will emerge from most any experience.

As someone who was raised in an incredibly toxic home, I have made the decision to always try to do what I can to make things what I want them to be. And some days, I struggle more than others and on those days I try to remember that I am human. When I am ready to emerge from whatever I am navigating, I will.

I love knowing that I can make life a little more beautiful through how I interact with the environment that surrounds me. This includes:

  • being loving to whoever is in front of me.
  • finding sparks of light in hard and painful moments.
  • actively engaging in actions that I hope will make the world a better place.
  • creating through writing, painting, and in any way I can.
  • opening doors for strangers.
  • showing up at the table – again and again.
  • moving forward even when I feel like I can’t take another step.
  • AND MORE . . .

Even when I was younger, I always did what I could to survive. The difference is that today, more than anything in the world, I want to not only survive, but thrive.

Hineini, Here I am!

Each and every day, I ask myself:
“Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?”
~Mary Oliver in ‘The Summer Day’

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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“When you bring consciousness to anything,
things begin to shift.”  
~Eve Ensler

Inca trail to Macchu Piccu -Credit Lauren Rader's Art and Releasing the Creative Powers Within ClassesI write in order to figure out what is weighing on my spirit, what truths guide me, and what I believe in the core of my being. Writing is how I come to grips with the many dichotomies that fill my life and how I ultimately become more grounded so that I can do the holy work of living with authenticity.

Weaving words together is how I have ultimately been able to heal my broken heart time and again. Life is hard, really hard. I have navigated some very dark and windy roads. And honestly, when I have started each journey, I have found myself wondering how I would ever make it through the pain. Sometimes I have believed that I wouldn’t make it. But thriving is truly not an option.

A lifetime of living has given me so many beautiful tools for living and healing when I need them most. While I find comfort in singing wordless melodies, chanting, drumming, breathing deeply, walking in nature, painting my sweet cards, and receiving the love of my beautiful tribe, my most sacred living comes from writing and it always has.

Writing is how I have found peace within storms, navigated troubled waters, and come to terms with life’s gifts and challenges. I write in order to find the words I need to make healthy life choices, mourn sad moments, and get out of my way when I am making things more difficult than they need to be.

Over the years, I have found humor in how different people relate to my writing. At any point in time, three different people will have three very different interpretations of my writing. Some will see me as broken, some will see me as whole or inspiring, and still others will think that I am using my writing to navigate life. And all three types will be sure that they are correct. And in truth, they may all be correct or they may not have a clue. And in truth, none of this matters. What matters is that my writing invites the reader to explore where they are in life and how they can best embrace their own journeys. My hope is to inspire people to explore their own lives or perhaps to simply open their eyes to see seeing new ways of seeing whatever is front of them.

The bottom-line is that through writing, I am able to gain insight in all areas of my life and in the world around me.

I am who I am because I am a writer.

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 slept so well last night but woke up with anxiety running really deep. I think I get where it’s coming from, but I’m not 100% sure yet.

Before I even opened my eyes, I decided to seek the wisdom of some cards I had on my nightstand. (See above) I haven’t been doing this practice as regularly as I once did, but it’s a powerful tool for gaining inner wisdom. So before even turning on the light, I picked a card that called to me from Juicy Living Cards by SARK. What’s funny is that I think I may have picked this card one of the last times I used this particular deck – not including a couple of nights before when I felt called to seeking wisdom in this way.

The card I picked makes so much sense. I need to play. . .really play!!! My soul has been painfully aware of the many dichotomies that I live. My calling is wrestling with it’s many parts. My activism reminds me that the work that needs to be done is overwhelming and even scary. And my creative spirit needs so much more nurturing. AND even though my dreams are unfolding leaving me with new opportunities, I need to take care of myself with each breath.

This morning, I am taking time to drive out to the country to look at a retreat center/camp for our upcoming Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom retreat. While I have just begun this journey with my holy Muslim and Jewish sisters, I feel like I am finding a beautiful new rhythm for my life.

Ironically, I don’t have time to play or to nurture new connections, but I don’t have time not to. My soul needs the connections I am building with the Sisterhood and with a new beloved in my life. While I don’t know where any of these journeys will take me or even what tomorrow will bring, I do know that I am need to do whatever it takes to navigate what my teacher SARK calls the ‘marvelous messy middle’.

My life is full. I am just coming off of a writing sabbatical with so much more writing to do. My work is inspiring me to give more and more – not to mention the programming year is beginning this weekend. I am writing a book called, Thriving: No Option. . . . And my activism needs me to show up to the table again and again and again.

The good news is that EVERYTHING I am doing fuels my heart and soul! EVERYTHING I do nourishes me even the hard stuff. As a beloved friend recently wrote to me, “your heart beats for many. We’re all fortunate to have those heartbeats drumming away to heal us, like your djembe does for you.”

And I am tired. . . .tired to the core. This morning, I found myself chanting, drumming a little, writing and excited for what is ahead. I am so looking forward to what’s coming this morning and beyond. Driving out of the country today is exactly what I need. I will have a chance to see my sisters and if I am lucky I will also have a little time for me. In anticipation, I am bringing my journal, some watercolors, and my markers ….

This week has been particularly hard on my spirit; there is so much for me to do and a small health concern I am navigating. On top of it all, I still need to remember to breathe deeply and honor my spirit.

I’m understanding some things about myself that are leaving me afraid. I’m also loving the possibilities with an understanding that it will take time for life to unfold so that I can get to where I need to be. A difficult dichotomy to be sure. And yet, full of hope.

Healing seems to be the message I need to hear because two nights ago, I picked another healing card from the same Juicy Living Cards by SARK:

 

 

The moral of how I am currently walking in the world is:
“The only journey is the one within.” – Rainer Maria Rilke

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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Life is really messy.

Around every corner there are ups and downs. Moments when you are soaring and moments when you are flopping around like a fish out of water. And if you are intense like me, it may feel like your life is bouncing around as quickly as some people can flip a coin.

Sometimes I wonder if I walk the world this way because my childhood didn’t teach me many tools for coping with life’s grit. And as a young adult and later a young mother, I learned to live as a chameleon. I buried many of my emotions and did what was expected of me. And for the most part I pulled it off fairly well. Or at least I think I did. Of course, what do I really know about how I was received by others.

To be transparent, my life has probably always been far from normal. As a young newly married woman, I faced nine miscarriages, several failed adoption attempts, an adoption, buried my parents, navigated serious illnesses for my children, employment struggles for the family breadwinner, and so much more.

Nonetheless, I engaged in living and doing whatever needed to be done to propel my family forward, support my community, and keep a smile on my face. I simply plugged away at living. I am not sure that I found it easy because interspersed with some really tough moments, but I had dinner on the table every night. We welcomed people into our home nearly every Shabbat. I cooked meals for those who were ill and organized our community to help families in the midst of health crisises. I even kept my home  clean, laundry done, and always held down a part time job.

I had an I can do ANYTHING spirit, only inside that is not how I felt. I used to wonder why everyone in the world could keep their houses clean, nurture their children, and have a full life.  Everyone seemed to do it with an ease that ALWAYS escaped me. It is only since I started following social media closely that I realized that I was never alone. All of us have our own personal struggles.

Fortunately social media, Oprah, and podcasts have helped me realize that I am so not alone in this very real struggle. Only over the last five or so years have I  been introduced to the wisdom of three people that rock my world as creatives because of how honestly they shared their struggles of living in the messy middle. They inspire people to:

  • Live in the “marvelous messy middle”. ~ SARK
  • “Embrace the glorious mess that you are.” ~Elizabeth Gilbert

And to understand:

  • “Life is brutal. But it’s also beautiful. Brutiful, I call it. Life’s brutal and beautiful are woven together so tightly that they can’t be separated. Reject the brutal, reject the beauty. So now I embrace both, and I live well and hard and real.” ~Glennon Doyle

Each of these amazing women choose to share their personal journeys of living in the midst of life’s sometimes very challenging realities while being aware that moving forward doesn’t always present us with easy solutions for living according to what society deems “normal”. They continually inspired me (and still do) to show up in my world as authentically as possible.

Hiking BootsI feel blessed to now walk with ease in my own messy middle and the outer banks too. While it took me over fifty years to emerge fully as myself. I ultimately found my voice through writing, chanting, drumming, and only in the last year through painting little cards.  I am the woman I am because how I have chosen to navigate my own rocky paths.  I am so grateful that I learned to live out loud by sharing my life experiences without apology, accepting that I don’t fit into any box, and loving myself for who I am.

I have also done some really hard stuff including leaving the traditional Jewish community, moving cross country with my sons, divorcing my husband, and publicly changing my name when I realized my parents lost their right to name me.  I wanted a name that honored who I am today, so I gave myself one.  I am Chava Gal-Or. Chava means life because I am a woman who thrives regardless of what sh*t crosses her path and I become empowered by whatever life tosses in my direction. Gal-Or means wave of light; this is my reminder not only to be light, but to find the light in whoever and whatever crosses my path. Perhaps the hardest thing I am doing right now is sharing my life stories via my writing; I am not holding back, I am diving deep and navigating some really harsh realities that have lead me to rise as the woman I am.

Yes, I live in the messy middle. I feel deeply. I struggle to breathe when life overwhelms me. I often believe I don’t do enough to make our world a better place. I wonder if I love enough and do enough for my family, my work, my beloved friends, etc. I struggle with believing that I am worthy and yet I understand that the Inner Demon speaks loudly to me and it is my job to show up and keep showing up. On a good day, I quiet that voice and stretch my arms wide open to life. On a bad day, the demon wins, but I push forward anyway. I am learning.

Living in the messy middle has become a norm for me and I am OK with that. I am “perfectly imperfect” as Anne Lamott would say.  Hineini, Here I am!

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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