What Yom Kippur Taught me About Recovery

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Temimah Zucker is a therapist at EDTNY Monte nido. After recovering from her own struggle with Anorexia she immersed herself in the field by providing public speaking, meal support, working as a social worker, working to provide aid to the Jewish community, and by writing about the subject. To learn more check out snackingonlife.com

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Seven years ago on Yom Kippur I recall sitting in my chair at Synagogue unable to focus on the prayers and atmosphere around me. My mind could not absorb the intention and attitude of the holy day. Instead I felt consumed by my hopelessness, fear, and the realization that for the first time in my life, I did not mind having to fast. I was quickly being submerged and drowned by my eating disorder.

As a child I was taught in Jewish day school all about the laws and tradition of Yom Kippur. Yom Kippur is a day when one is to reflect on the previous year and to repent for sins. The day represents the serious understanding that life is out of our hands and that we can only do the best that we can and hope to be sealed in the “Book of Life.” When I struggled with Anorexia, my observance of Yom Kippur was not about repentance or appreciating the life I have been given. Instead, it was filled with tears and longing for something different. My thoughts strayed to the forced restriction and the meal planning the moment the fast would end. I was unable to connect to the day in the same manner that I was unable to connect to much of my life. When I suffered from my eating disorder I was not able to participate in life’s wonders, joys, heartbreaks, or surprises. Instead I was locked inside my mind, enslaved to my body, willing to answer to my eating disordered voice at all costs.

Each time I had to fast I was met with conflict: does this mean my religion is supporting restriction? Am I ready to fast? Is this right for my recovery – do I even care? I began my process of recovery some months after that Yom Kippur. I learned that while I was not completely ready to let go of my eating disorder just yet, I was unhappy living under the tyrannical decree of Anorexia. I yearned to re-shift my focus back to my religion and spirituality rather than simply worship (http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/worshipping-my-anorexia/)
my eating disorder. I had been a practicing observant Jew my entire life and believed in my religion and in God, and the adhesion to my eating disorder took away from that aspect of my life.

Yom Kippur is not truly about the fasting, just as an eating disorder is not truly about the food. The food is an important aspect that must be discussed and planned while in recovery, but in reality it is the insight, processing, understanding, and challenges that are crucial to ultimate recovery. In the throes of my eating disorder my only concern for Yom Kippur was the fasting and the anxiety around the year to come. This directly paralleled my everyday life with depression and Anorexia.

As a fully recovered woman I can look back on Yom Kippur and know its true value and intention. The holy day is not simply about restricting from particular behaviours and counting the hours until one can exhale. Instead, it is about introspection, connection, and hope. The day is about reconnecting to God and to oneself and setting intentions for the year relating to a life of truth and reward and meaning. This mimics the process of recovery: recovery is about acceptance, intention, hope, meaning. It is about reconnecting with oneself and with others to create a life of purpose and to experience a full spectrum of emotions. Yom Kippur is about taking on goals that allow for a fuller life, and about appreciating that life that one is given.

Fasting in general can be confusing while in recovery. It can lead to guilt and questioning. It is important to remember that just as the meal plan can be scary and confusing, there is so much more beyond this. Yom Kippur is observed when one is able to be mindful and set goals and challenges to continue growing as a human being. The soul self is to be nourished and a connection is to be made between the mind and body. Now when I observe Yom Kippur, I appreciate the life I am still living and my hopes for my life as a spiritual and physical being in the year to come.

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