A Life-Lessons Story by Chana Klein
Engraved in the sidewalk on East 41 Street in NYC are the words: “The world is made of stories, not atoms.”
Like most people whose story I have the honor of listening to, my life has been tough, maybe even tougher than most.
Years ago, I began to make a list to give to God of what He has put me through. I listed my complaints.
But for each complaint that I wrote on the list, I could not help but be aware of how He had saved me from each thing, and even more aware of the great light I got each time.
But that does not take away from the awareness that while God may have saved me, it was He who put me into the situations from which I needed to be saved in the first place.
Why don’t many of these things that I live with, and have lived with, really upset me?
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.
I think it is because I found a relationship with God very early in my life. I always felt His presence and I always felt He was communicating with me in some way.
Yes, there were lots of horrific events and I still don’t understand the why’s.
At first, I believed that God does only good and that in our limited viewpoint of the world, it sometimes doesn’t look so good to us. We can’t possibly understand His ways.
I am sure that everything that shows up in my life, or that does not show up when I yearn for it, is there to teach me.
Every place I am is where I am supposed to be and is a part of my journey, be it a place too small to live in, or too lonely, or too painful, or too cluttered, no matter where I am, I am there for what it will teach me.
I know too that His presence throughout my life has given me great comfort, a presence to talk to, a presence that cares and a presence that is all powerful.
My awareness of the Creator’s presence gave me a friend and a parent!
In every dark situation there seemed to be light, even when that light was 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.
Comfort in Food
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 diminished lots of my pain.
But what a price – 80 pound weight gain in one year, at age 17.
I was renting a small room in the attic of a home near Brooklyn College.
The only mirror to which I had access was on the medicine chest in the bathroom.
That mirror revealed 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.
The following year, Mara, who rented the attic room across from mine, and I, moved to an apartment. We 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.
The horrific realization that without even understanding how it happened, I am fat!
And so I began a journey to finding abstinence from overeating.
Getting Addicted . . . Being Addicted
I am an addict. When a substance, a relationship, an activity, or whatever, feels good, I search for more.
Be it work, relationships, food, even helping others, anything that works. I have to work hard at doing anything halfway. I even became addicted to being a sponsor when I was in Overeaters Anonymous, having to force myself to give it up.
My addictions are an attempt to not be fully present in this world. The taste of the ice cream or the bite into the chewy cookie took my reality away and turned all of my senses toward the taste sensation.
I attended Weight Watchers and then Overeaters Anonymous with the goal of being free of my addiction to food. But that was a dream that I could not even imagine achieving.
I worked at it, though. I went to meetings.
I followed the 12 step program, making calls and doing everything the seasoned members told me to do.
It took years.
I used to pray to be relieved of the obsession to overeat (in the words of the OA program.)
I used to wear butterflies because I heard the concept that “butterflies are free.”
I was not.
I was a food addict.
Today, beyond my wildest dreams, I do not have any food issues. I eat only when I feel hungry and stop when the hunger is alleviated. I don’t get full anymore. I don’t want to.
With all of the tools I used, the diets, the meetings, there was one main antidote that worked well for me. That was feeling my feelings. When I would intentionally 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.
My inability to “leave it (the food) alone” 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 of what I really feel took away the draw that the food had on me.
I had to be aware every moment of what I was feeling or the urge to eat would overpower me.
I called it “constant vigilance.” When I would try to just laugh something off without feeling the authentic feelings, the food obsession would creep up on me.
The obsession would stay with me until I got in touch with the real feelings.
Once I acknowledged what I was emoting and let myself really feel it deeply, the urge to eat cleared.
I became aware 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 were a disparaging glance from a colleague or hurt feelings over a disappointing conversation.
But I was not always adept at knowing 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?
I would write my feelings in a letter to God. I figured that would keep me honest because you can’t fool God. I wrote every day and often three times a day because that is how often I ate.
I even wrote Him angry letters about what I felt that 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 God.
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 within myself 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, my heart and my spirit.
And so developed the trust, the trust that everything is the way it is supposed to be, the trust that God knows better than I do.
Did God Love Them?
In the early 1980’s, 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 was following God’s instructions to sacrifice his son (even though that changed,) then Abraham’s wife whom he loved so much died and Abraham had to fend for himself as he was trying to buy a gravesite for her from the Hittites, and more….
Did God love Abraham?
Isaac (Abraham’s son) 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 (Isaac) favored his twin brother, Esea, and Jacob had to steal the blessing rather than receive it directly.
Later, Jacob had to wait years before he was permitted to marry the woman he loved and then he was tricked into marrying her sister, and more….
Did God love Jacob?
And Joseph – Imagine being thrown into a pit and left there by nine of your own brothers and then having them sell you into slavery.
And if that’s not enough, being thrown into and Egyptian 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 without being granted the same powers or gifts of prophesy that Moses had.
Look at the life of King David. His own son (Absalom) wanted to kill him.
Even the life of Elijah, the prophet, was filled with anguish,
as was the life of Jeremiah,
the life of Isaiah, and of each of our prophets.
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 perhaps 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 learns 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 those great ones 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