Whether or not we learn daf yomi, we’re all climbers, struggling one day at a time to achieve our goals
y close friend Raizy and I were partners in crime – the crime of killing ourselves with food. We’d go out together to those all-you-can-eat restaurants and pack away enough fries, pita and chummus for an army. She’d come over Shabbos afternoon and together the two of us would polish off a tray of brownies, a family-sized bag of potato chips, a bag of toffies, and a container of pareve ice cream – all washed down with a Diet Coke.
For those of you who are not compulsive overeaters, this probably sounds pretty gross – who can ingest so much? But for those of us whose feel-full mechanisms are out of whack (along with our ability to handle painful emotions), that’s how we are – always hungry, always needing to fill up, never allowing hunger pangs to get the better of us, using food to soothe all our troubles.
When we were both about 100 pounds overweight, we knew it was time for desperate measures, and we joined a women’s-only 12-step program for overeaters. As many people know, the First Step is to admit powerlessness over your addiction, that your life has become unmanageable because of it. What that means is that all the willpower in the world is no match for your craving, and that even though you might be pulled-together and high-functioning on the outside, inside your addiction is making you into a mess. Because every addict at some point winds up facing the helplessness, misery, shame, isolation, secrecy, ruined relationships, spiritual distance, and unfulfilled potential. (My personal rock-bottom? It was on Simchas Torah morning and while my family was in shul for hakafos, I was busy munching away in the quiet of my kitchen – until one of my boys rushed in and said, “Mommy, where were you!? You just missed all of us under the tallis at kol hane’arim!”)
Could I do it? Could I make a decision to pull myself out of the morass I’d created, a morass that felt so comfortable, dependable and reliable? Raizy was gung-ho. She pulled out of the gate in a sprint. After all, the program offered a great diet as well. “It’s amazing!” she told me. “Can you imagine, we’ll never eat cake again?!” I was devastated. While she was busy chopping her vegetables, I was stuck in the overwhelmingness of “forever.” The idea of forever made me want to crawl under a rock, to go to bed and burrow back into my covers. (P.S. “Forever” was also too big for Raizy – she quit after a month, and never went back.)
The first time I saw what four ounces of chicken or half a cup of brown rice actually looked like, I thought I’d faint; these were starvation rations and I’d obviously wither away and drop dead – if not today, then surely by next week.
But then, with the help of a loving and spiritually-attuned sponsor, I started to get it. Nothing is forever, she said. Just take it one day at a time. Don’t obsess about tomorrow. That’s way too big.
What I learned is that on my own, I couldn’t control my addiction (or anything else in my life), but there is Someone who can. I can turn to Hashem! I learned that my relationship with Hashem is the key to my recovery, and that it’s up to me to make the decision to trust in Him as a replacement for my shaky foundation of self-will and control. I learned about choice – that while I can’t control anything or anyone around me, I can be accountable for the way I choose to respond, breaking the self-destructive cycle of self-pity, rationalization, blame, and denial.
That really sounds heavy, when all we’re talking about is food, no? But this is the point: I didn’t die — not after Day One and not after 13 years of Day Ones. Because today I know that whatever Hashem puts on my plate is enough for me, and whatever He puts on “my plate” is also enough for me. It’s exactly what I need. I’ve learned that whatever anyone else has is their portion, not mine. I’ve learned that as painful as life is, as wrenching as rejection and disappointment feels, I’m always and unconditionally embraced and beloved by Hashem, and don’t have to fill myself with cake and chocolate to feel full (my stomach and heart are pretty close together, so it’s not always easy to tell which one is empty).
I don’t think about another decade without cake. Or even about how I’ll get through Chanukah without a donut. Today when I woke up and said Modeh Ani, I knew I wanted, just for today, to stay plugged in. Not to slide back down into that black hole of guilt, shame, and hopelessness, and wonder if I’d ever be able to claw my way out again.
Just for today, I’m going for light and hope and connection.
The writer can be contacted through Mishpacha
(Originally featured in ‘One Day Closer’, Special Supplement, Chanuka/Siyum HaShas 5780)