Thursday, April 30, 2015

Second Chances

Some days, I wish for a reset button. Every morning, I ask Hashem to help me make the right decisions and do the right thing in every situation…and I really do try…but sometimes, I fall short. There’s always a reason: I was tired; the situation was too hard; I felt uncomfortable; it didn’t seem important—but in the end, I always feel badly when I know I’ve not lived up to my values. I’m especially sensitive about “making mistakes” in recovery, mostly because I feel as though, by this point, I really should have my act together. Even though I know recovery isn’t linear, and I know no one does it perfectly, and I know that even recovered people are entitled to have struggles now and then, I am still very quick to judge myself harshly for anything I perceive as a “failure.” Though I’ve come a long way in terms of being compassionate toward myself, sometimes it's hard to give myself a second chance.

As it turns out, Judaism understands the importance of second chances; in fact, there is an entire holiday devoted to exactly that.

A year after the Exodus from Egypt, Hashem told the Israelites to bring the korban Pesach (Passover sacrifice) on the 14th of Nissan, "in its appointed time" (Bamidbar 9:3). However there was a group of men who were unable to bring the sacrifice because they had recently come into contact with the dead and therefore were ritually impure. Upset at being excluded from this important ritual, these men approached Moses and said, "We are contaminated through a human corpse; why should we be diminished by not offering Hashem's offering in its appointed time among the Children of Israel?" (Bamidbar 9:7) Moses took their petition to Hashem, Who saw that these men deeply wanted to participate though they were temporarily unable to do so. In response to these men, Hashem created Pesach Sheni—a, “second chance holiday," one month after the original sacrificial offering, for the members of the community who had been previously unable to participate.

What are we to learn from Pesach Sheni? Perhaps this holiday is Hashem's way of reminding us of the power and possibility of change--if we do teshuva and truly want to "start fresh," it is never too late to do so. The sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Schneersohn, wrote:

"The theme of Pesach Sheni is that it is never too late! It is always possible to put things right. Even if one was ritually impure, or far away, and even in a case when this impurity or distance was deliberate--nonetheless it can be corrected."

This is a message we would do well to take with us in our journeys through recovery. Slips, setbacks, speed bumps--whatever you want to call them--are bound to happen, but they don't need to be cause for despair. There is always a chance to make a new start. Even if we gave into the eating disorder urge deliberately, the good news is that there is always a next meal, snack, or other food/body-related opportunity to try again.

Recently I was privileged to talk with an awesome group of teenage girls, all of whom are struggling with eating disorders in some form or another. In the course of the conversation, one of the girls admitted that she had recently used behaviors after a long stretch of being behavior free. It was clear that she felt ashamed and was nervous about what the other girls would think, but she needn't have worried...almost before she had even finished speaking, the other girls were reassuring her that, a) they had experienced exactly the same thing; and b) it is never too late to get back on track. One member of the group offered up the following quote: "Every day is a new beginning." And, it's true--we always have the power to make different choices, to move forward, to try again.

Pesach Sheni reminds us of the power of hope and the value of second chances. This year, on Pesach Sheni (and every day!), let's allow ourselves to make use of the opportunity that Hashem gives us to change unhelpful patterns and make new, positive choices. After all, every day is a new beginning!

Friday, April 3, 2015

No More Egypt

It's a mere few hours to go before Pesach begins, and I have just spent the better part of the day cooking and cleaning and otherwise engaging in last-minute preparations.  I've made a bunch of nutritious meals and snacks to get me through at least part of the week, and I've also been mentally preparing myself for the two seders ahead--spending hours around a dinner table packed with people, even when they're people I love, is not this introvert's idea of a blissfully good time.  But I've worked hard to be ready for Pesach this year, and I feel prepared.  I can be in the moment.  I can enjoy people's company.  I can stay up late and it will be fine.  And, I can eat whatever I want, because I'm in a place where I can do that.

So all things considered, I'm feeling pretty good...or at least I was, until I signed onto Facebook (I know, probably a mistake) and came face-to-face with a friend's status update, which (through text and photos!) outlined her latest achievements in the "21-Day Fix."  Now, this isn't a new thing--obviously, I've been seeing posts like this for 21 days--and I have tried hard to react to them in the best way I know how; mainly, I ignore them.  I mean, I love this friend of mine and I am happy for her that she's feeling good in her body and all of that...but, really, enough is more than enough.

It continues to blow my mind that so many women buy into the entire concept behind the "21-Day Fix" phenomenon.  First of all, ladies, are you broken?  What is there to fix, really?  You are fine the way you are.  And if you feel you're NOT fine the way you are, might I suggest exploring that feeling a bit further and seeing what's behind it, before jumping onto the "quick-fix" bandwagon?  Usually, when we feel negatively towards our bodies, it's not our physicality that needs's our way of thinking about ourselves.  How about spending 21 days working on fixing that?

Additionally, it strikes me that our culture is so acclimated to body dissatisfaction and weight-shaming that it is considered not only normal, but actually admirable, for people to continuously post intimate details and images of their workouts, diets, and attempts at body transformation on social media.  I mean, it actually frightens me.  What kind of social environment have we created, here?  It's not helping with the whole, "female respect" thing (I acknowledge that this affects men, too, but in my experience the worst social-media offenders are overwhelmingly female).  Do we actually want to be perceived as having nothing better to talk about than food, weight, and body?  Do we truly want our bodies to be the first (or only?) things that other people think of when they think about us?  Furthermore, can we honestly say that we want our children, students, etc. to inherit the current norm of being totally preoccupied with "fixing" our bodies?  If the answer to those questions is, "no," then we have to start changing the culture in which we operate by not adding fuel to the body-shaming fire.

I recognize that this post sounds a lot like a rant, and I suppose it is...but it comes from a place of frustration with the sensation of "swimming up the cultural stream" that I so often experience in recovery.  I am tired of working so hard to have an intuitive approach to eating, and a loving relationship with my body, only to have it made harder by the societal pressure to go the other way.  That's one thing I wish everyone who puts their diet updates on social media would understand:  that by broadcasting their "successes" with the latest diet and exercise fad, they are actually making it harder--not easier--for other women to accept their own bodies.

Luckily, though, this unfortunate experience on Facebook happened to me on Erev Pesach, and after stewing about it for a few minutes, I remembered what this entire holiday is about:  freedom from our "narrow places," and liberation from whatever it is that enslaves us.  At that point, I had two choices: 1) Judge myself unfavorably in comparison to this friend of mine, and consequently restrict my eating at the seders; or, 2) recognize that my recovery is about being free from all of that craziness, and therefore grant myself permission to eat what I want...and enjoy it, without guilt.  I have put in my time worshipping the god of thin-and-fit, and I'm done with that.  I don't have to try to manipulate my body; I get to love my body by eating normally, exercising naturally, and--yes--enjoying treats without compensating for them.  It's a better, freer way of life, and I've worked hard for it.  So, this Pesach, no more Egypt for me...or, I hope, for any of us.  This year, may we be truly free!