For the past seven years I've been enslaved to an eating disorder.
The Haggadah tells us that every individual has an obligation to see himself as if he personally was redeemed from Egypt. I can relate. For the past seven years I've been enslaved in my struggle with an eating disorder. I've had an evil Pharaoh whispering negative, destructive things into my ears. My Pharaoh has told me that I’m not good enough, that I am a failure and has severely damaged my sense of self. My Pharaoh has made me feel as if I was undeserving of the basic necessities and joys of life. My Pharaoh has deprived me of relationships, feelings and has compromised my health.
For the past seven years, I've been a slave to a number on a scale, to a distorted image in the mirror, and to the constant pain in my heart. I've been enslaved to depression, caught in the shackles of self hatred and in the chains of uncertainty. I've spent the past seven years in and out of hospitals, confused and alone.
Seven Passovers have come and gone, and I commemorated each one as a slave. But this year, I won't just be commemorating Passover; I'll be reliving it. I'm preparing to access and unleash the redemption that is intrinsically part of the Jewish month of Nissan. I am ready for God to redeem me from my personal Egypt, to envelope me in His kindness and infinite goodness. I am ready to break free from that which confines me; I am ready to live.
I remember when my parents frantically dragged me from doctor to doctor, desperate for someone to “fix” me, to drag me out from the hell in which I was entrapped. I sat in the office of yet another doctor, expecting the same familiar lecture on the importance of nutrition and health, oblivious to the extreme pain I was in. Instead, he surprised me. He came into his office, sat down and looked me straight in the eye. “Have you had enough yet?” he asked me. And that was it. I felt confused. What did that mean? Of course I had had enough! Did he actually think that this was something I would deliberately choose? Didn't he understand that no matter how hard I tried, no matter how many tears I shed, or how much strength I tried to muster together, it just felt like I was pushing against a massive iron wall that wouldn’t budge?
When I starved myself to the point of numbness I didn’t have to feel the constant pain of never being good enough.
Now I get it. What I didn’t understand then was that while I wasn’t consciously choosing to subject myself to extreme pain and suffering, my disorder was doing something for me. By immersing myself in a world where the only thing I had to think about and obsess over was food, I gave myself the ability to block everything else out. When I starved myself to the point of numbness I didn’t have to feel the constant pain of never being good enough, or the intense disappointment when the important people in my life let me down. When I locked myself into the world of my eating disorder I was able to lock out the feelings of shame that I carried, the feeling of being misunderstood, and the enormous sense of aloneness that I felt.
Although hiding in my eating disorder protected me from the feelings I didn’t want to feel, it also blocked out the good feelings. Locked inside the tiny jail cell I had created, I would periodically peer out and see my friends living their lives. I saw people laughing, connecting with each other, actually living. One day dawned on me that by hiding in the shadows and sitting in the dark, I was depriving myself of the sunlight as well. And while it took me a long time to see, I realized that there was sunlight in my life to be felt.
It was a choice that I had to make, and it’s a choice that I still have to make every morning when I wake up and before every meal that I eat. I realized that sadly, it’s actually possible to be alive and not really living. For seven years I was alive (sometimes barely), but I wasn’t living. I am constantly tested with whether I want to really live, and that choice is so scary, because choosing life often means choosing to feel painful things as well. I constantly have to choose between feeling nothing and feeling everything.
I am coming to accept that maybe I won‘t always know exactly who I am, I might not always love what I see when I look in the mirror, and people may hurt me. I am slowly realizing that I will feel fear sometimes, and I will not be perfect at everything. Not everyone is going to like me, and for some people I may never be “good enough”. For someone like me, these realities are extremely difficult to accept. And on some days it is easier to hide in my jail cell than to accept them.
For me, choosing life meant accepting the realities of my life rather than hiding from them. When I feel the warmth in my soul after I connect with God, the unconditional acceptance and love that I feel from my husband, the good laugh that I have with a friend, and the sunlight on my face, it is worth it.
Ask yourself, “What is my Egypt that is holding me back?”
When I clean for Passover this year, I will be cleaning my soul of the pain that has enslaved me and distanced me from God. When I sit at the Seder this year, I will look at the matzah, the bread of slavery, and I will really feel as I eat it. I will feel the years of pain and suffering I have endured, the chains that have entrapped me. When I drink the four cups of wine, I will close my eyes and feel God’s miracles, the gifts that He gives me, and the beauty of a free life.
Today, I may not see pyramids being built in Brooklyn, but I see much slavery. I see my precious brothers and sisters enslaved to the superficiality and shallowness of our world. I see those who are slaves to their anger, to their pain, and to their pasts. I see so many who are crying out silently, desperately seeking redemption. And sadly, I see those who do not even know that they are slaves. This Passover I challenge all of us to ask ourselves “what is MY Egypt?” What is it that is holding me back from reaching my potential, from being happy, and from connecting with God?
May we all be able to access the spiritual power of Passover and experience redemption from our personal slaveries, and the final one as well.