I thought I was broken, and that when I discovered Torah Judaism 14 years ago, it would fix me. Those thoughts that exist in your mind that tell you that you’re not enough, you don’t have enough; I had believed them.
And so I searched for meaning in life and authenticity and G‑d and structure. And during a beautiful Shabbat dinner at a Chabad rabbi’s house, I felt that I had discovered the answer, the cure. That if I lived like them, life would be good. I would feel good.
And so I jumped in with both feet and my entire being—already 30 years old, married with two children—into the world of Torah Judaism.
I began keeping the many details of eating and preparing kosher food, observing Shabbat and holidays, family purity, and dressing modestly. But I also judged others who couldn’t or didn’t want to keep up with my frenetic pace towards religious observance. My husband saw my passion and agreed, hesitantly at first, to embark on this journey with me.
This journey that began with us growing up around the block from each other in the Tampa Bay area of Florida has brought us to Maryland, Georgia, Virginia and now back to Florida. Though actually, the journey began with relatives fleeing the dangers of religious persecution in Europe, and the many other locations our Jewish ancestors have tried to exist and bring light into the world.
Throughout my life as a mom, my goal has always been to find the best Torah community and schools. As “BTs” (baalei teshuvah or “returners to the faith”), that seemed like no easy feat. Even those raised in observant homes struggle to find the right path. But I didn’t know that.
I have learned that every community, every school, every person, has its pros and cons. If you look for the good, that is what you’ll see. And so that is what I am doing now. I am, with G‑d’s help, training my mind to be positive. To trust that everything is a message, and it’s all ultimately for my good, even if I don’t understand it in the moment.
But what about all the bad stuff in the world? All the pain?
I’m learning that our world is like a vast needlepoint, beautiful and vibrant. From the bottom, however, it looks like random knots. That is what we often see—knots, pain, chaos.
I remember as a little girl watching my grandmothers create their needlepoints. I recall their detailed and delicate beauty, as well as the underside, which looked like a bunch of colorful and seemingly random pieces of string. I couldn’t even tell what the image above was supposed to be when looking at the bottom.
When life feels like a bunch of random and painful occurrences, I try to remember that ultimately it’s all good and beautiful, even if it doesn’t feel that way. Like training for a marathon, I continue to devote time each day to studying, learning and trying to understand the vast sea of mesorah available.
The secret, I think, is to try to have gratitude for everything — from waking up in the morning, to the foods I put into my mouth, and even my ability to use the bathroom. This is one aspect of Judaism, that when done in the right way, can be lifechanging.
But we can’t do it alone. There is no shame in seeking self-improvement and growth, a mentor, therapist, or coach, and acknowledging that you need help.
I thought finding Torah would fix me. And in many ways, it did help me create a beautiful, religious life for my family that includes weekly Shabbat family meals and a dedication to something meaningful.
But I also needed to learn to hear my own, inner voice—to trust the innate strength that is my birthright. I pray that as I learn to develop this inner stillness through prayer, study, nutrition, and exercise, things will continue to get easier. But life isn’t meant to be easy.
For now, I’m being patient and loving with myself and trying not to judge, though I don’t always succeed. My nature, though it has caused me struggles, has also fueled my passion for writing, helped me earn a graduate degree and have a career in journalism.
There are ups, and there are downs. This is the situation G‑d gave me, so I’m admitting I need help, seeking it and trusting that those along my path are all part of the bigger picture, leading me where I’m meant to be.
Which is right here, right now, in this moment. I am whole. I was always whole. I just didn’t know it yet.
Growth from Within
My early zealousness with the stringencies and details of religion were, in essence, a way to avoid looking with myself, accepting the inter-generational trauma, and addressing potential areas of growth. As a BT, I’ve witnessed this in myself and others as I’ve lived in and traveled to various Jewish communities.
Here are a five common signs of religious addiction:
- Obsessing about religious activities. True and healthy religion is about a relationship, not religious practice. While religious practices can help us focus our attention on G-d, when they become the end in themselves, we’re on shaky ground.
- Withdrawal symptoms when you don’t engage in religious activity. This may include feeling guilt or shame for missing synagogue or religious event, or experiencing the withdrawal that comes from not attaining the desired spiritual high.
- Feeling like it’s never enough. G-d wants us to rest in him. That doesn’t mean laziness, but it does mean peace. When we’re preoccupied to the point of anxiety with whether we’re good enough or doing enough, we’re putting the focus back on ourselves. A healthy relationship with G-d means we focus on him and others more than ourselves.
- Jeopardizing your relationships with others. Religious addicts will often move away from their family and friends, isolating themselves with other like-minded folk. Overzealousness can also be a problem when the addict begins to shun or verbally judge those who don’t share his or her convictions or practices.
- Hyper focus on the future causes you to ignore the present. Religion, when used improperly, can even be a form of escapism. Being concerned with future spiritual things can cause the individual to justify ignoring the less exciting present concerns and to avoid dealing with important emotional issues and personal responsibilities.
Addictions lie. All of them – no matter to what substance or behaviour- speak to us softly and seductively: “Try me, I will take away the disappointment, the loneliness, the rejection, the pain. I will heal you”.
Switching addictions is no good either. Switching to work, food, money, *religion* is not a way out.
Freedom from all addictions is found in truth. And the truth is that we need to face our realities without distractions.
From: Days of Healing, Days of Joy; Daily meditations for adult children