Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Fight or Flight? Fight!

As parshiot go, last week's (Vayishlach) was one of my personal favorites. When I read a parasha, I usually have a section of my brain devoted to finding ways to relate the text to my own life--and to recovery. And, with that purpose in mind, I have to say that for me, it doesn't get much better than the story of Jacob wrestling with the angel.

Quick recap for those unfamiliar with the text: Jacob stole his father's blessing from his twin brother, Esau, along with Esau's birthright. Fearing that his brother would kill him, Jacob fled from his family's home. After many years of being estranged from his brother, Jacob gets word that Esau, along with 400 men, is coming to meet him. Jacob is sure that his brother is still furious with him, so devises an elaborate plan to flee from Esau. One night during his escape, an angel attacks Jacob and wrestles with him until dawn. The angel can't defeat Jacob, so he dislocates Jacob's hip and then demands to be released. Jacob replies, "I will not let you go, unless you bless me." At this point, the angel blesses Jacob with his new name, Israel, because "you have striven with beings divine and human, and have prevailed."

Why do I love this story? Because it carries the message that when it comes to facing our most daunting fears, we have to do it head-on--the only way out is to wrestle, to not back down, and ultimately to come out stronger. The angel prevented Jacob from fleeing from Esau, and forced him to stand his ground and fight. And, after all his efforts, Jacob had the presence of mind to demand a blessing from his challenger.

To me, recovery from an eating disorder has been a bit like wrestling with my own personal angel. At no point have I succeeded in finding a shortcut or an easy escape from my problems. Instead, I've had to buckle down and do the "dirty work" of recovery, no matter how scary or overwhelming it has been. In recovery, I've had to stop running (both literally and figuratively!)...I've had to look honestly at my personal demons and fight the battles that needed winning. The story of Jacob and the angel reminds me that I must "dig deep" and summon the bravery and strength within me--escaping is not an option. The eating disorder was my attempt at an escape, but ultimately I had to admit that it was not getting me where I needed--or wanted--to go.

I like to think that, like Jacob, I've extracted a blessing from this process. Recovery has never been easy, but it has always been worth it. I am emerging from this process more intuitive, compassionate, insightful, and grounded than was when I began it. The lessons I've learned have been hard won, but I say with certainty that I would not give a single one back. Though it didn't always feel this way when I was deeply "in it," with the perspective I now have I can see how the work of recovery has enriched my life. I stood my ground, fought for myself, and came away blessed. If you are still wrestling, don't give up--and before you let that eating disorder go for good, make sure you've demanded your blessing!

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