Memoirs have already been a thing for centuries, but what does it really take to write your own story? How can you take charge of being the narrator of your story without letting the trauma, emotions, and impacts fog up your perspective of what really happened? In today’s episode, Catherine Kontos is joined by special guest Chloe Rachel Gallaway, a transformational retreat leader and bestselling author who has spent 12 years of her childhood living in the wilderness. Together, they take an open and honest conversation about Chloe’s journey, how she survived her difficult journey, and how she became inspired to write her story from within. Join us in listening to Chloe’s extraordinary story and learn how you, too, can be in charge of yours!
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Writing Your Story From Within With Chloe Rachel Gallaway
In this episode, I have author and story medicine coach Chloe Rachel Gallaway, who is the Founder of The Winged River Writer and author of The Soulful Child: Twelve Years in the Wilderness, a memoir of her childhood spent living in the wilderness for twelve years. Welcome, Chloe.
I remember when we first connected on the phone. You told me that you lived in the wilderness for twelve years in New Mexico. Let’s start right from the beginning. How was that for you as a child, looking back at it and seeing how that made you different than most people? It has to have made you different than most people.
As a child, that’s one view. When you’re looking back to write it, it’s through a different lens. I most definitely try to connect as much as I can to the child through my scene writing, keeping us in time and place throughout the story. One of the challenges we writers have is like, “How do we take the reader write to place and time?” How it was as a child was super adventurous. We lived on 500 acres of wilderness at the top of a mountain range in Northern New Mexico. There was no running water, electricity, phone, or outside worldly amenities. We had a huge goat pen and a horse corral. We had goats, chickens, and horses. We’re living off the land sustainably, pretty much entirely. The closest store was about 30 miles, and we made a trip to that store every six months to give you a reality.
What do you think it was that made your parents move that way? I’m assuming they didn’t grow up that way, either. It was a choice that they made later on in life to do that. What do you think was it that prompted them to go back?
That’s why I wrote the book because my parents, no one could have guessed that would’ve been the life path that they chose. My dad went to private schools growing up. They both grew up in Texas. They were formally educated. They went to very well-known schools. They had parents that were involved. My mom’s dad patented an oil well product. They had a maid even when she was growing up. She took ballet for fifteen years, so she was a ballet dancer. My dad was an elite scholar. He had a full ride to a lot of Ivy League schools when he graduated from high school. No one could have guessed that they would have completely abandoned their original life and moved into the wilderness. That happened before I was born.
They just walked away from all that luxury and privilege.
The question is, why? I knew parts of the story, and they were part of the counterculture. They were in their twenties from ’69 to ’70. They met in San Francisco. My dad was a musician. He was playing with Janis Joplin and some of the other famous musicians who were up and coming at that time. He had a path even there that was moving away from being an academic scholar to playing his music. He was a folk singer. That was his heart. My mom was madly in love. All of us women can attest to that path.
It was more my dad’s dream. He loved horses and spent some time on his grandfather’s ranch when he was young. He had this dream to be this rebel cowboy dude and live out in the wild, maybe not as extreme as it ended up. I don’t think that was my mom’s vision. She told me at one point that she had wanted to be a dance choreographer. Having babies in the middle of the wilderness with no doctors is not quite a choreographer.
What an experience. You said they left their privileges, but I consider that a privilege because it’s something that brings you back to nature, which is something that is so valuable, especially nowadays, where we’ve disconnected quite a bit from the basics. It brings a lot of torment in the soul in a sense because there’s too much of a disconnection. This is where the retreat space comes in, to reconnect people with nature, community, people, or whatever the programs we offer. You wrote a book based on your story, and now you offer retreats. Can you tell us a little bit more about what made you go that route? How it helps you, and how it helps others?
Thank you for acknowledging the disconnect because it’s huge, and my heart is in the mission and the purpose of bridging that gap that we’re experiencing in the world. You asked what childhood was for me. My childhood was deeply connected. I was a kid that played with my feet on the ground. I climbed trees. I rode horses. I was a sturdy kid. I was tough and strong. It didn’t matter that I was a girl. I did all things that boys did, climbed mountains, fell out of a few trees, and broke my leg at one point. I did a lot of those things. The thing is, the connection was so profound. I say in my book that Mother Nature was my healer.
There were multiple traumas and things that happened in my childhood, too, that made it very challenging, but nature was this consistent healer for me. Becoming a writer was a dream of mine all through my twenties, but I was terrified to do it. People would say, “You can’t make a living at that. You need to study something else.” I studied Psychology to figure out what problems I might have getting into the mind and understanding all that. The thing that came back to me later was how much we are disconnected. The writing process itself became a deep level of reconnecting to myself and reconnecting to my knowing and my center of gravity within the self.
Everybody has the potential to get there if they’re not there, but it’s this being disconnected from Mother Nature. I’m a spiritual person, so being connected spiritually was not just a physical body. That was a huge part of my learning too. The writing of my story led me back to that center of the self. It was so life-changing that I was like, “I have to do this.” I have to do it in retreats because all my retreats are held in nature, in the sacred embodiment of the healing of Mother Nature. For me, I’m taking people as much as I can into that experience that became such a gift for me, even though it was painful at many points. There were painful times
We have something in common because I wrote a biography as well about my story. I can understand you. I get you, and I connect with you when you talk about how profoundly life-changing it was to expose your vulnerabilities, fears, greatness, whatever it was, all in a little package called a book. You put it out there. I remember feeling so vulnerable when I said, “It’s out,” and I was like, “Is it any good? Are people going to like it?” I just let it go, and I’m like, “Whatever it is, it’s my story, and I own it. That’s what it is.” Did you feel the same way?
Absolutely. It’s the whole journey of writing it, and you have to get past the judgment, the inner critic, and the worrying about what others are going to think because it’s very hard to get to our truth, especially with true story. It’s our truth. It’s not this factual reality of things. It’s more of a heart-centered truth to bring meaning through the experience of your life. In order to get to that, which is part of what I teach, we have to let go of our concern about what the world thinks.
It’s because that could be a huge blocker while you’re writing.
Big time. It is. People worry about what their families will think, especially with memoirs and true stories. From there, it’s like the extended family, and it’s the world community. It’s just on and on. You wrote your biography and had your journey of going through cancer and so many vulnerable yet profound experiences. It truly is leadership to be able to bring that forward and let it go. You’re giving other people permission, which is one of the greatest things we can do.
Tell me a bit about the client journey that comes to you. What is it like? How do you curate your retreats to enhance their teachings from you?
I’ve been fortunate. One of my messages is how powerful it is to share your story and that we all have a story that matters. I’m living proof of that and how much it has helped me build my business and have these sacred journey writing retreats. I’m in New Mexico, and a lot of them are held in New Mexico, which is the Land of Enchantment. There’s a reason it’s called that. It’s a spiritually grounded place, especially when you go into the nature of places around here.
I’ve been fortunate that the book has connected with my ideal clients, empathic people, truth seekers, sole entrepreneurs, and people doing just the things we’re talking about. They want to get outside the box. They want to lead the way. They don’t want to just be followers of whatever the world has put in front of them. They want to lead and make a difference. My whole process, from the starting point with communication with a potential client, is around them, figuring out their story, and helping them discover why it matters. Not everybody realizes that they have a story.
I find that a lot of people get excited about writing a book. I remember when I was writing mine, they were like, “How did you do it? How can you help me?” I’m the type of person who, if I do something, it doesn’t mean I’m an expert afterward. I wrote my book, but I’m not an expert anymore. I don’t do this. This is just something I did. I was trying to lead them to the proper people, which, if I had known you then, I would’ve been like, “Get in touch with Chloe. She can help you.” I know there’s a lot of desire to write a book, but there’s so much fear that comes with it.
I have the unknown. I don’t know where to start. I remember feeling that way as well. I was like, “How do I put this together? I don’t know where to start.” Just start writing and letting it flow. That’s how I did it. I let it flow. I didn’t think about, “This should go here, and that should go there.” I did have the blocks of like, “Should I write about this?” because it was so personal. I wrote everything. That’s what I did, and then I’m like, “Maybe this part, I’ll leave up for legal reasons.”
You have to consider those things most definitely. My teaching is pretty broad, and I did study the craft of writing. I studied for ten years. While I was writing my own memoir, I was studying the craft of writing through many great teachers who are in the United States and some of them who have written bestsellers and traveled. I did a lot of investing in myself to understand the craft. It was very valuable. At the same time, there was a piece missing, which was that no matter what workshop or retreat or thing I was in, nobody was talking about the emotional body.
It was like we could just learn about a perfect scene, writing exposition, and your point of view. There’s the spelling, grammar, and all that stuff people get worried about, which you’re right about. Let’s not worry about that in the beginning. The goal is connecting deeply to the voice. There’s something to understanding the mechanics of craft and storytelling. Through that experience, I learned what was missing, and it was this emotional body. It’s not surprising that in the world of craft, we don’t talk about that. Haven’t we all noticed in the world how, “You’re too emotional. The emotions don’t belong in it. You need to be more professional,” or more this or more that? Often, it’s silencing the emotions.
From youth, how many times will a mother or a father say, “Stop crying?”
That became my platform and purpose. I realized that I could write a perfect scene from feeling, not from thinking.
The best creations come from emotional turmoil, like the best songs, best books, and best poems. I know when I’m feeling some kind of distress, all of a sudden, it’s creativity only because I’m tapping into that emotion and feeling my pain. The best thing to do is write or speak. Do something to get it out on paper because it’s magical. I know it is for me and for other people. It’s good on you to recognize that because books or songs without emotions are almost like a business transaction. It doesn’t feel anything.
It’s flat and linear. There are a lot of books out there like that. There are a lot of books that have emotion, and that’s where we want to go. I even say emotion before information. Because a book has information, we are delivering a message through the story. If we come in with just the narrative we’ve been living in our head, it is very different from the emotional body in the heart center. You have to be able to get to that. You have to be able to unlock emotional memory, and people are like, “I don’t remember.” That’s one thing. You’re going to write the story. For some people, if they’re going way back, they don’t remember everything. I say we don’t remember in your head, but when we start to do certain exercises and free ourselves from the fear, we can tap into emotional memory.
There would be a lot of repressions oftentimes if there were trauma involved in the writing. It could come up while you’re writing. Something just unblocks. I’m sure when you’re doing your retreats, that must happen often.
Every time. Everybody’s on a spectrum for what we have been through. If you’re writing a memoir or nonfiction, you’re pretty much a warrior. It’s another level of warriorship to understand the trauma, emotion, and patterns that have become through that and be the author and in charge of that in the sense of understanding where you lay down your truth and articulation of that experience. It’s quite profound for a shift that can happen for humanity, to be honest. That’s my vision.
It’s another level of warriorship to understand the trauma, emotion, and patterns you have gone through and then actually be the author of that.
I know there are retreats there, but is it part of your ongoing program with that person or persons? Is it something that you only do retreats to get to the goal?
To have a successful business nowadays, we need to have a multifaceted business. I also have online programs. I have year-long one-on-one programs for a select few. I don’t work that much one-on-one anymore, but I have a few spots open. That’s such a deep personal relationship. If I am in love with a person and they’re in love with me, let’s do the one-on-one because we’re spending a year together in that experience. I have an online group program, too, a year-long program where it’s just a different experience. You led groups. There’s the energy alchemy and the uplifting of the community, and everybody’s learning from each other. There’s that whole experience.
I have those two programs online, and I have the retreat experience, which is so important to me because that’s coming into experiential learning, being on sacred ground. You know this. This is why this is part of your mission. Why are we talking about retreats? It’s because we need to cultivate this in our society where it is valuable. How amazing is this? It’s like we’re talking on Zoom where you’re in Canada, and I’m in New Mexico.
It’s incredible that we have this, but we still need to have the sacred land connection in person face to face, touching hands, being in prayer, the thing of wrapping ourselves in nature, and the food we eat. I have a huge message about food too. There’s so much, Catherine. Growing up eating sustainably and growing our own food taught me so much about food. We’re in such a deficit in that area too. The retreat can address all of that. The food is medicine, the heart-to-heart connection, the experience with land, and being present with Mother Nature and allowing healing to unfold around us.
What I want to make clear is during your retreat, you’re enhancing that emotional experience to tap into it in order for them to be able to write from an emotional level. When they come in there, have they already started their book? Are they at different phases?
Everybody is in different phases. It works well. There are people that come who haven’t even started yet. They’re getting started. There are people who have been in the online programs with me and are already working with me. It’s a huge variation. It’s a big mix. I have a very powerful context, which is there are three stages in storytelling. The first stage is the connection, and the second stage is integration. During the connection, we’re reconnecting to the story. We’re starting to feel the pieces where, “I feel good about that and not so good about that. I’m hiding from that still.” We have to get into the connection of the story.
Integration is about, “I’m bumping up against these pain points.” There are all kinds of things, from sexual abuse to moving around all the time during childhood. There’s a huge variation of personal experiences that people have. Integration is when you come into fully embodying that experience, meaning you accept it, receive it, articulate it, and let it go. It’s very important that we learn to let it go because that story is stored in the body, which means that the pain is still stored in the body. We are living in that place. In integration, we do all of that. The integration creates a great narrative and the writing, and it pulls everything through. The author is coming into what is the third stage, which is embodiment. I know you love the word embodiment. Me too. It’s one of my words.
It’s because it resonates through screens and time. It’s an energy that you’re giving out. It’s besides what they see. There’s a lot of body language that we read but are not necessarily physically aware that we’re seeing them, but our subconscious sees it. There’s also a whole energy aspect of it. When someone’s not embodying their truth, it resonates. People don’t trust it, don’t align with it, or don’t get it, whatever it is. It’s amazing that you get them to embody what they’re going through.
Even a book has energy because you can read the words of a person. They have to bring you there. You have to get lost when you’re reading a book. I’m just repeating because my business and your business are very similar. If you don’t embody your experiences as an author, how will you connect in your writings to that person to have them lose themselves in your story and imagine, picture, and feel like they’re in that story?
The goal is to read embodiment. It’s both for the story and for becoming the writer. The goal of my work is to bring people through connection and integration and embody the story and the writer because they are separate. The writer is your full potential. It’s infinite. The writer can write any story, a book, another book, and so on. The writer within you is infinite, and the potential of your voice. It can expand, change, shift, and grow. It’s all expanding consciousness. The story is a particular story with a plot and themes that we’re unraveling for this thing that we call the book that becomes this gift that we can hand somebody else.
It is truly a gift. On another question, tell me something that people wouldn’t know about you by looking you up online or even through this show, something unique about you that nobody knows just by seeing you like that.
I put a lot out there, Catherine. I’m pretty wear-my-heart-on-my-sleeve kind of girl. Many people know how I grew up, or if they google me, they’ll see all this stuff about me. Here’s something I never said in the book or didn’t talk about in my copy, and maybe I should. One of the core reasons I became a story medicine coach and wanted so deeply to help others write their story was because of watching my mom lose her voice and become paralyzed when my brother died. I was eight when my brother died. My mom’s energy body shut down. At eight, it’s not like I had the words for that, but I knew my mom was missing.
It wasn’t until I was doing this work in a hot yoga class. You know how it breaks you down. I was in hot yoga on the floor in a puddle of tears. I had this moment where I was feeling my mom and how my mom had shut down her emotions through the loss of my brother and their relationship with my dad and living in isolation. It was so painful to watch my mom go through that. I realized that’s why I do this. I do this because I don’t want myself or others to shut down their emotions through their pain because I had seen my mom do that.
It’s painful to see yourself or others shut down their emotions through their pain.
You should share that with the world because it brings so much depth to why you’re doing it. People will love even more the energy that you provide because it comes from a deep loving space of allowing your voice to speak. It was such a hard lesson for you to learn at a young age. I can imagine the confusion and not understanding what’s going on. Using that experience to help others is truly a gift that you’re giving the voice back to people to own their power again.
That’s how we can transform the pain. It’s all that experience throughout my childhood and even through adulthood. My mom did come back to herself. She’s alive. She was the first person to read the book I was writing. She helped me a lot. She doesn’t want me to write about her anymore. She’s like, “Can you write about something else?” She was helpful, and it was a huge healing journey for her and me to put words to our story. It was hard for her too, but it cracked that silencing. It was like, “We’re not going to be buried in the snow on the side of the mountain anymore, mom. We’re not going to live there.”
Thank you for sharing that with me and the readers. I appreciate you so much for that. Thank you. What is next on your calendar? Do you have a retreat coming up? Is there an event that people should know about?
My next retreat is in July of 2023. It’s in New Mexico. It’s my sacred journey writing retreat. There’s a particular theme for each retreat that I lead. This one is called Discover the Language of Your Heart. My retreats are intimate and small, so we can do this integration and emotional embodiment work. There are 10 to 12 spots at my retreats. I’ve been fortunate. I’ve been leading retreats for several years. I’ve done a lot of them. That’s why I love this group and being in this group with you and listening to you. Give a real talk about it because it isn’t an easy process to learn. It requires great leadership, and vulnerable leadership is something that we can continue to learn more and more about.
You’ve inspired me through this conversation. There are at least two topics I want to bring up the next time I speak live on Facebook and stuff in the group. Vulnerable leadership is truly one of the biggest assets you can have during a retreat.
The thing is, we are leading others through the experience. For that, I believe role modeling, showing the way, and walking the path is an invaluable things for our people. Whatever the retreat is, you have tons of people that are doing wellness. Thank God for everybody out there doing retreats. I want to say to you, thank you. Keep doing your work, keep elevating and keep bringing people to this sacred experience because it is so needed and invaluable. We are all needed. There’s no competition for me. Every single one of us that is doing this work, we are so needed. There are so many people that need transformation, integration, and healing. There’s not enough of us, Catherine.
Leaders must lead through experience. Role modeling, showing the way, and walking the path are invaluable things for our people.
There isn’t. Why I’m in the space where I am is because I want to spread the wings of transformation to as many people as I can and do the same with writing and spreading that love across the world. Thank you so much for being on the show. I appreciate this conversation and you and all that you shared. Can people book right away, or is it something that’s coming up?
It’s open, so they can book. There are a few people signed up. This is my first interview about it. I’m just getting back into speaking live and everything about it. If they go to the website, it’s there. Also, I’m everywhere. They can reach out to me on Messenger. I have a one on one spots and some things coming up online and stuff too. Reach out so we can have a conversation and connect if it’s something that is a whisper of your heart because that’s what it is sometimes. For telling our story, it’s this whisper that keeps speaking to us.
Eventually, it opens up to a huge, loud voice.
It’s a river pouring eventually, Catherine.
You’re easy to talk to. I’m sure people will reach out to you. I’m not too concerned about that. You’re very welcoming energy. Thank you again for being here. That’s it, everybody. If you’re looking to start up retreats or are an experienced retreat leader but want to fix a few things in there, you could take one of our mastery programs in retreats where we can train you how to do retreats from A to Z where you can implement it the next time you do one, or you can hire RetreatBoss to do it all for you. Until next time, thank you for being here, and talk to you soon.
- The Winged River Writer
- The Soulful Child: Twelve Years in the Wilderness
- Discover the Language of Your Heart
- Facebook – RetreatBoss
About Chloe Rachel Gallaway
Author and story medicine coach, Chloe Rachel Gallaway, is the founder of The Winged River, Writer and author of The Soulful Child: Twelve Years in the Wilderness, a memoir of her childhood spent living in the wilderness for twelve years. Wild horses, adventure, trauma, and coming home to the power that lies within the heart of the child. We all have a soulful child within us. Chloe’s unusual life of growing up deeply connected to nature and spirit has led her to a unique process of connecting to emotional memory and intuition for writing a great book. Helping writers learn the dance between craft and intuition has made all the difference in their ability to write their story. The writing of her memoir became the foundation for her business and empowered her to become a warrior for helping others to find their truth and their voice.