As much as I loved love and dished it out generously to others, I fed myself fear.
This ingestion was insidious and damningly consistent as if administered by an intravenous drip since my birth.
Before I was born, my parents endured years of fertility treatment, the miraculous birth of my brother, and the devastating loss of their first daughter, a stillborn baby.
My coming into this world was celebrated and fraught with existential threat.
In those years, we didn’t acknowledge and intentionally attempt to heal from the emotional pain of infertility issues and infant loss.
I never saw my parents cry.
Only when I was experiencing my own postpartum depression, I learned about the depth of their loss.
I learned my sister’s name was Zulpa, and there was no grave for me to visit. My parents each shared with me that they said their own goodbyes alone, in their own way, and never told the other.
“Take a walk”, “Take a nap,” or “Go out with friends and act normal,” was the extent of the advice my mother was given by loving and well-intended friends and family.
However, no one ever said, “this pain is real, process the loss, this loss is important.”
Their resilience and commitment to each other still awe me. I came into being from this seed of love and loss, promised redemption from within a barren desert.
My parents showered me with love as I grew up and yet I always felt their underlying fear for me, my health, and the tenuous nature of life itself. They knew how life could change in an instant, so they hovered.
This all stayed under the radar for me, but looking back it served as a foundation for my hyper-awareness of the fragility of life. I was blessed with- and wrestle with- overwhelming empathy, a natural acknowledgment of the other, and appreciation of acts of kindness.
I carried my sensitive soul in my body as if it was delicate. I was afraid that intense feelings would break me.
The first time I broke was when I had my own babies. It was only then that the burden of the shadow side of my life experience reared its ugly head. It was in those states of depression that I understood the weight of my grief; for my sister and my parents’ loss.
I experienced a harsh feeling of absolute aloneness on a level I cannot even find the words for. This postpartum hormonal/chemical upheaval brought ancient pain to the forefront of my awareness. I was devastated and felt the tenuousness of life.
I was overwhelmed with being a human in a body and taking care of another human.
My psychiatrist assured me that I was so attuned with my body and my baby, how I wore him and swayed when we spoke. I couldn’t take in her words or real-time reaction to my mothering. I constantly felt as if I had fallen off the moon with no place safe to land.
I became grounded through the use of lifesaving psychiatric medication and weekly therapy sessions (some periods I even went twice a week). I came back to my body; the overwhelm of sensations abated. Colors became brighter. Life seemed more seamless. I noticed that I stopped obsessing about my thoughts and feelings. I felt more embodied.
A few years after my depression was treated, I hadn’t been pregnant or nursing in a while. I was in a stable place, and yet my personal and professional life all came to a grinding halt. It was in this situational bottom, this middle-age unraveling that through intensive self-work, detailed reflection, and absolute surrender that I developed a personal relationship with Hashem. In that space, I could express the grief that lay dormant, anger, sadness; the darkness that I shamed myself for feeling. I could relinquish guilt for feeling good things. I acknowledged my sense of survivor’s guilt and mourned the loss of my sister. In discovering this along with the truth that my maker had love for me, I uncovered serenity. I felt accepted and whole.
Through having a spiritual awakening, I saw that all the resentments and pain I harbored were based in fear. I wasn’t operating in life from love. I consistently and continually acted from a place of terror, trying to ensure my safety and survival by avoiding the primal fear of abandonment. I looked for external validation and skimmed over my living experience, never really engaging with its content and quality.
I unearthed my deeply repressed natural tendency to thrive. Even in my darkest of days, I knew somewhere deep and untouchable that I chose life even when she didn’t seem to choose me. My attraction to color, vibrancy, pleasure, and nourishment came to the forefront of my daily experience. I began to run and dance. I began to feel alive and free.
I began to hear this quiet yet ever-present voice telling me daily, “Cheryl, I love you unconditionally, always did and always will!”
I committed to feeling the fear (we have no defense against our first thought) and living life anyway; life on life’s terms.
Still today, I actively work to transform that instinctive fear into glorious love; through daily self-work consisting of meditation, guided imagery, prayer, gratitude lists, surrender and being of sincere service to my fellow human being.
Until recently in my life, self-love sounded so selfish and indulgent. I didn’t know it’s actually essential, a non-negotiable.
I discovered that I have the capacity for redemption and resolve.
For checking in and choosing me.
For loving myself through life with compassion, clarity, and acts of kindness for all my varied human parts.
My name is Cheryl Nayowitz and I am a grateful and humbled human. I am from New York and made aliyah 9 years ago to Israel, the land of my soul. Married to my high school best friend, we have four beautiful children, three dogs and I love strong coffee and mint chocolate anything. I work as a middle and high school English teacher for Israelis, as well as a yoga and movement teacher/therapist. I am an advocate of ahavat chinam, one day at a time.