In the last session of my class on Sefer Shemot, my teacher introduced us to a concept that feels especially relevant to the themes of transition and growth. She had titled the course, "Standing At the Threshold," and explained that the inspiration for the title came from Victor Turner's idea of "liminal space." Simply put, liminal space is a stage in the process of going through a ritual--a sort of "in-between" stage in which a person has detached from a previous identity but has not yet reached the point of attaining the new identity that comes with completion of the ritual. In liminality, a person's sense of self becomes amorphous, causing disorientation but also allowing for the possibility of new beginnings. Some common, real-life examples include students who have graduated high school but have not yet begun college, a couple who is engaged but not yet married, etc. My teacher explained that at the start of the Exodus, the Israelites were in a liminal space. They had begun to be set apart from the Egyptians but didn't yet have a real identity of their own as a people. When the Israelites took the korban Pesach and painted their doorposts with blood, they were beginning a process of transition that they didn't fully understand. Representing liminal space, the doorposts served as a transitional bridge between their old lives as slaves, and their new lives as Jews. Although crossing that threshold was significant in itself, the transition would only be complete once the Jews actually left Egypt. In other words, an Israelite who put blood on his doorpost to escape the plague but didn't take the additional step of leaving Egypt would not have fully transitioned into a member of the Jewish nation.
I've been mulling over this idea for several days, and it has caused me to take a long, honest look at myself. In many ways, recovery has been like one long transition (many smaller transitions?) away from my previous identity as "the girl with an eating disorder," and toward a manifestation of my genuine self. Have I shed the eating disorder label that I once wore so proudly? Yes. But, have I really, truly grown into myself? This is the part I am still working on.
Some days, it feels like "enough" simply to not be anorexic anymore. But, just as "happy" is NOT the same as, "not sad," I don't think I'm satisfied defining "recovered" as, "not sick." I've definitely done a good job of being, "not sick," but would I be content if my evolution stopped here? Honestly, I don't think I would. I've painted my proverbial doorpost and have even made it out of Mitzrayim, but have I fully entered the Promised Land? Not yet.
Now don't get me wrong: there is a lot to be said for no longer being eating disordered. I love the freedom I have attained, and I consider it hard won. However, just as "anorexia" never really summed up my entire persona, neither does, "non-anorexic." What about all the other ways in which I want to define myself? I'm aware that some aspects of my identity, such as my professional self, I've done an excellent job of cultivating because they are a) fun, and b) relatively non-threatening. But there are other areas (relationships!?) in which I'm still very much in a transitional space, in which I feel held back by fear. I think that if I truly want to become my full self in recovery, I'm going to need to take some steps toward growth and commitment in those areas.
It's easy to get lulled into thinking that the process of recovery ends when you ditch the eating disordered behaviors, but I'm challenging all of us to rethink that idea. In what ways are we still in our "liminal spaces"? How might we actively adopt a new mentality that might offer us greater freedom and development?
As members of the Jewish nation, we are more than just, "not slaves." We are Jews. How can we move from being "not eating disordered," to being who we were truly created to be?