Sunday, September 25, 2016

Elul...It's On.

Well...seeing as Erev Rosh Hashanah is exactly one week away, I guess I can't continue ignoring the fact that we're in the month of Elul. Okay, I haven't been ignoring it--I just haven't put quite as much energy into it as I would ideally like to. I think that pretty much sums up my relationship with Elul: in theory, I'm a fan; in reality, I'm overwhelmed. And when I get overwhelmed, I avoid.

But I hate walking into the High Holidays totally unprepared, so I needed to do something. I knew, given my current energy level and mental stamina for Things That Are Huge, that I would not be able to deeply examine all major aspects of my life this year. Not happening. But then I found some inspiration courtesy of Laura McKowen, whose blog and Instagram feed I absolutely LOVE. She wrote a post called, "16 Ways to Remember Who You Are When You Forget," and #16 is:


The idea is to choose a word that you want to be your focus or mantra for the year, or whatever period of time, and channel your energy towards that. I decided right away that I loved this idea and that I would adopt it as my personal Elul practice this year. In the end, I chose a word and a sentence. Here is my word for 5777:

I have always hated risks. In clinical terms, I am considered "highly risk averse." Probably for that very reason, I think this is where I need to put my energy this year. For several years I've felt safe in my life, though not particularly happy...and I'm at the point where "safe" just isn't enough by itself anymore. 

My "safe" approach to relationships has been to show people what I think they want to know/can handle knowing, and to keep the rest private. The upside to that strategy is that I don't give people much material for gossip or weird feelings; the downside is that very few people really know me. And that's lonely. So, very recently I've started taking some risks and being more honest with certain people in my life--people whose friendship is important to me and who have earned a chance to know me. And here's the thing: it's going really well! So THAT feels great, and makes me want to continue being authentic. It's kind of like a relationship positive feedback loop (yep, in another lifetime I was a biology nerd).

And then there are other life questions, like where I want to live, what other people I want to bring into my life, and what kind of lifestyle I want us to have. I have zero answers to any of those questions, but finding them is undoubtedly going to require some risk. A wise friend of mine from treatment once said, "You have to be willing to risk being unhappy in order to be happy." I've never been willing to take that risk...until now. Maybe.

And now, for the 5777 sentence:

I don't know about you, but I am very concerned with everyone else's path. Specifically, I'm concerned with how "everyone" seems to be following one path, and I'm doing something different. I am a conformer and my deepest desire has always been to be a "normal person." I'm not positive, but I think what that means (right now, at least) is that I want to move through life in the same way my friends do, hitting the same milestones and having the same life goals. They just seem so happy, living the way they do. But it's just not for me. I want different things, or at least a different version of things, and it is very, very hard for me to accept being different and to believe that I'm still okay. Sometimes I actually can't go on social media because it is just too painful to look at all my normal, happy friends with their normal, happy lives. Laura McKowen tackles this "Facebook envy" in an absolutely amazing blog post that everyone should read , and her ultimate advice is this:

"Keep going, beauty. Let the Pictured point you to your longing. Consider the Not Pictured and adjust your perspective. Build your own wall and stand on top of it."

And that, I think, is the essence of where my work is: to allow the pain I feel when I compare my friends' paths with mine to guide me toward what I truly want for myself--and then to build my own life proudly. This year, I hope to make decisions that will lead me down the path that is right for me, and to do it knowing that my life also deserves to be celebrated, even if it looks different from other people's. I can make my path into one worth traveling.

Best wishes to all of you as we start the new year. May 5777 be a year of growth for us all!

Monday, September 5, 2016

Being Holey

You guys. I just finished the most AMAZING book:

Not "amazing" as in, best writing I've ever seen, but "amazing" as in, Oh my G-d, this book understands me. I feel held by this book.

The plot lines of Glennon's life and my life don't really have much in common, but the subtexts sure do. Though I can't relate to being a wife and mother, I absolutely can relate to being mired in self-destruction and having to claw oneself out, only to discover that, Hey, adulting is hard. Life is hard. But life is also beautiful.

In one essay, Glennon writes about how we all live our lives searching for something. We each have an "unquenchable thirst," what author Anne Lamott calls our "God-sized hole." The struggle of life is trying to find things to fill this hole. Some people choose, perhaps obviously, to fill it with G-d. Other people fill it with work or relationships. And still other people, like Glennon and I, fill it with eating disorders and addiction. It all goes to the same purpose: feeling full. It's just that some people seek fullness from the wrong things.

When I think back to my eating disorder years, the word that first comes to mind is, hunger. There was physical hunger for sure, but there was also a deeper, more agonizing emotional hunger. I could satisfy my physical hunger, but the emotional hunger was never, ever satisfied. It just kept burning, and the hole kept growing, and I kept trying to fill it with more of the same things that weren't working: more starving, more exercising, more studying. In recovery, I've had to find different hole-fillers. My favorites are: work, nature, reading, writing, family, and friends. Those work much better. For me, recovery has been about finding positive hole-fillers, and using them regularly.

I don't think it's any coincidence that I became religious soon after letting go of my eating disorder. I had a huge hole to fill, and observant Judaism is a great hole-filler. It has given me structure and rules, a context within which to meet people, and a basis from which to define my values. And, it has given me a deeper connection to G-d, one of my greatest comforts (and challenges). I have known for a long time that my attraction to the religious life isn't purely a desire to live a "holy life"--it's a desire to fill the hole, albeit with something meaningful and nourishing. I don't think that's such a bad thing.

To an extent, it has worked, though I can't honestly say that Judaism and G-d fill me completely. They don't, though sometimes I feel like they should. I daven every day, I observe Shabbat, I keep kosher, I say dozens of brachot daily, and G-d and I have a chat every night before bed. It's soulful and lovely. But here's the thing: the hole is still there. I am still hungry, still seeking. You'd think that G-d would perfectly fill a "God-sized hole," but, at least in my case, it hasn't really worked out that way. And I think it's because, with very rare exceptions, we need other people. A person cannot subsist on G-d alone. And so when I feel hungry these days, in spite of the davening and the chatting with Hashem, I have a more honest assessment of what I need: more connection and more belonging. That is my work right now in recovery--getting myself those things. 

Glennon explains it this way:

"Some people of faith swear that their God-shaped hole was filled when they found God, or Jesus, or meditation, or whatever else. I believe them, but that's not been my experience. My experience has been that even with God, life is hard. It's hard just because it's hard being holey."

I couldn't agree more.

And what I've learned from Glennon through her writing is that everyone is holey. We all are.  While our instinct might be to stay quiet about our holes, we really should be doing the opposite, because being holey is something we can connect over. I know that when my friends come to me with their holes, when they say, I'm so lonely, or, I don't feel like I'm doing anything meaningful with my time, etc., I feel honored to meet them in their vulnerability, AND I feel energized because those holes are things we can talk about. Connection is a beautiful byproduct of our emptiness.

So if you, too, ever feel like you have a hunger that will never be satisfied, know that you're not alone. It's God-sized, which explains why it feels so big. And we all have one, even the people who hide it well. The secret is that the more we give voice to it, the more we use it to connect to nourishing people and life practices, the more it fills. Little by little.