by Chana Klein
Engraved in the sidewalk on East 41 Street in NYC are the words: "The world is made of stories, not atoms."
I am in the process of writing those stories that my life was made of.
Some people read my stories and are shocked by my suffering. Much of my life, maybe more than some, was really tough.
I have been told that I should be sad about it, that I should get in touch with the sadness.
I share with you how it is that I can now look back, and write, and know that I am blessed.
I began to make a list to give to God of my complaints about the situations He has put me in. Of course, He always saved me and I got great light from that. But, I was told to ask why I needed to be saved in the first place.
As I was writing, I felt that lots of those things just don't bother me. They did when they happened and many of them were processed either at the time or at a later date.
I thought about why they don't bother me. I know I live with some life situations that would really disturb another person. For example, if someone would have told me that I would need crutches to walk but that I would be happier than I have ever been, I would have told them to shoot me first.
So, why don't these things that I live with, and have lived with, really upset me?
I think it is because God showed up very early in my life. I always felt His presence and I always felt He was communicating with me is some way.
Yes, there were lots of horrific events and I don't understand the why's.
But to me that is like someone dating the wrong person and then it does not work out. And then the person is grateful later for being saved from a mistake. In other words, it looked awful at the time but I often later came to see that it was really good or to believe that it was.
I believe that God does only good. Just sometimes it doesn't look so good to us with our limited viewpoint of the world. We can't possibly understand His ways.
What I do know is that His presence has given me great comfort, someone to talk to, someone that cares and someone that is all powerful. What a friend and what a parent!
In every dark situation there seems to be light, even if that light is only in my ability to cry and connect with God.
If God had asked my soul before it was born whether I would prefer a life devoid of problems and pain but no connection with Him, or if I would have preferred a life with great difficulty but also great connection with the Almighty, I would have chosen exactly what I have.
When I was about 17 years old, I discovered comfort in food. It helped me to not feel. The taste of a sweet in my mouth, or a full belly, drowned out all other sensation and lots of the pain.
But what a price - 80 pound weight gain in one year.
The only mirror I owned at the time was on the medicine chest in the bathroom which showed me nothing below my neck. Not only did I not realize that I was getting fat, but I was not even aware that eating the way I did could make me that way.
My roommate, Mara, and I were gabbing in the kitchen one winter evening. She was standing at the stove and I was sitting at our tiny kitchen table. She lovingly told me that I looked like Santa in my red coat. I looked down at my right arm to see the coat from her point of view. I realized then that my arm was as wide as my thighs used to be. It occurred to me that I may now be overweight and so I began a journey to finding abstinence from overeating.
Being free of the addiction to food was a dream I could not even imagine achieving.
I worked at it, though, going to meetings, making calls and doing everything the seasoned members told me to do. It took years and I certainly did get relieved of the obsession to eat and am still free of it.
With all of the tools I used, the diets, the meetings, I found one main antidote that worked well for me. It was feeling my feelings. When I intentionally let myself feel my emotions and reactions, I found that the desire to overeat left me.
It was the times that I was angry or upset or some other emotion and was not aware of what I was feeling that the urge to eat would sneak up on me and become overwhelming. The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous calls it "cunning, baffling, and powerful," which applies to the food obsession as well.
It was such a mystery until I began to write my feelings. I would often begin by writing that I wanted to eat ice cream and end up finding out what I really wanted and felt. The self awareness made the food lose its attraction.
I called it "constant vigilance." I had to be aware every moment of what I was feeling or the urge to eat would overpower me. If I just laughed it off or told myself that it was really good without feeling the authentic feelings, the obsession crept up on me. It stayed in my system until I made myself feel the feelings. Once I acknowledged what I was emoting and let myself really feel it deeply, the urge to eat cleared.
I saw that I didn't need a big reason to want to overeat. A rainy day would do, or even a sunny one. Those were just as unsettling to me as a disparaging glance from a colleague or hurt feelings over a disappointing conversation.
But I was not always able to know what I was feeling. I remember the conversation with my Overeaters Anonymous sponsor:
Her: "How are you?"
Me: "Just a minute, I'll get it." (the feelings I wrote)
Her: "Don't you know what you feel unless you read it?"
Me: "No, am I supposed to?
The way I wrote my feelings was in a letter to God. I figured that would keep me honest. He always knows the truth. I wrote every day and often three times a day because that is how often I ate.
I even wrote several angry letters to Him about what I felt He was doing to me. And there were so many times that I wanted something and did not get it. After all, everything comes from Him. And then the next day I would tell him how wonderful He is and how well it all worked or how protected I was in not getting what I had wanted. It took years to be able to be present and know what I was feeling as it occurred.
The connection with God and the connection with other overeaters helped me get abstinence. As I was writing to God and losing the weight, I was also clearing my head and my heart.
And so developed the trust, the trust that everything is the way it is supposed to be. That God knows better than I do.
Then, I read the Chumash for the first time.
What struck me most was how Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, and really all of the people God favored most, suffered.
Abraham thought God wanted him to sacrifice his son, then his wife who he loved so much died and had to fend for himself as he was trying to buy a gravesite from the Hittites, and more....
Did God love Abraham?
Isaac lived through what appeared to be his father holding a knife above him to sacrifice him.
Can you imagine living through a thing like that? And didn't God really love Isaac?
Jacob's father favored his twin brother, Esea, and he had to steal the blessing rather than receive it directly. He had to wait years before he could marry the woman he loved and then he was tricked into marrying her sister, and more....
Did God love Jacob?
And Joseph - Imagine being put in a pit by 9 of your own brothers and then having them sell you into slavery. And if that's not enough, getting put into prison for something you did not even do.
And God loved Joseph as well.
Every single character in the Tanach had enormous hurdles to overcome. Look at the task that Joshua had taking over for Moses. Look at the life of King David. His own son wanted to kill him. Even the life of Elijah, the prophet, was filled with anguish.
And did God love them? Of course He did.
God's favorite people in the Tanach had difficult lives. I had a difficult life.
I began to think that maybe God really loves me and my life has not been, and is not now, a punishment or anything negative.
Could it be that God is shaping me so that my soul may learn what it is supposed to? Could it be that these situations come up in my life because God is paying attention to me and loves me as He did the people in the Tanach?
Perhaps I am fortunate in that each time I cry out, I get to connect to God? Is there a more meaningful experience than that connection?
I look back at my life. I have to wonder if it has been so bad. It may have looked to others as if I were alone and/or hurt. But I have never really been alone.
The more alone I was, the more my Father, my Friend, my Confidant, the ever-present, all powerful Ribono Shel Olam, Master of the World, has been in my life.
Copyright ©2009 Chana Klein