By Jourdan Stein
A few weeks ago, the Jewish world celebrated Shavuot, which commemorates the giving of the Ten Commandments on Mt. Sinai. It is customarily observed by participating in a night of learning.
I recently relapsed and went back to residential treatment for anorexia for the second time since January. This took a great deal of courage and taught me a lesson in humility.
Shavuot teaches us that there is always more to learn. This lesson helps me realize that it’s OK that I had to go back to treatment; it doesn’t show weakness, it shows strength. It shows I have a willingness to keep learning and improving myself. Shavuot gave me the opportunity to reflect on what I have learned this past year while in treatment.
Connecting experiences to my Judaism has always helped me put things into perspective, so in honor of Shavuot and the giving of the Ten Commandments, I decided to make the Ten Commandments of Recovery.
1. Never stop fighting. Jews are famous for their determination. Many of our holidays teach us that triumph, despite the odds being against us, is possible. I often feel as if I will never beat this disease. Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness. This is a statistic that I fight every day not to add to. The world was not designed to accommodate people with eating disorders — people will always talk about food and make comments about weight, the media will always be filled with Photoshopped stick-thin models setting an unattainable standard of beauty, and I will always have an eating disorder. I have learned though that the only way to beat anorexia is to fight despite these hard truths.
2. I always have a choice. I remember learning at my Solomon Schechter Day School that the reason God doesn’t intervene when bad things like wars or murder happen is because he gave humans the gift of choice, and, like most things, this gift has its positives and negatives. Three times a day, I have the choice of eating or not eating. I make the choice to take each bite. Nobody makes me. I make the choice to recover.
3. Perfection doesn’t exist. Judaism teaches us that a person should never stop learning and growing. Since we are meant to always be improving ourselves, we can never reach the point of perfection. Perfection should not be a goal or even an ideal. Being a work in progress will always be more admirable than perfection.
4. It’s not about the food. As much as we joke about it, Jewish holidays aren’t about the food, they are about the lessons, the triumphs, and the community. Anorexia is also not about the food. Food is the part of the disorder people see. Food, or lack of it, hides the stress, insecurity, and feelings that anorexia is truly about.
5. Use your community. My Jewish community has always been a big part of my life, but the support it has shown me these past few months is beyond words. Its support lets me know that I don’t have to fight this on my own. I have a whole community of people rooting for me to succeed. A community of people willing to go grocery shopping with me, teach me how to cook, and have meals with me. A community of people who wrote me and visited me in treatment. A community of people who accept me for who I am, anorexia and all.
6. Enjoy the simple things in life. In residential treatment there are no cellphones and very limited television and computer time. This taught me how to really value the small things like sunshine, a good book, and music. I learned that valuing small things makes one appreciate life more. Part of recovering is choosing life every day. The more things I value in life, the more reasons I have to recover and therefore to live.
7. I accept the love I think I deserve. If I expect to be treated with respect, I have to show others that we have respect for ourselves. The problem with anorexia is that most anorexics have very low self-esteem. I want to have relationships in life where I am treated with love and respect. The only way this will happen is to learn to love myself so that I can set an example for others of how I expect to be treated.
8. Take time at least one day a week to rest and reflect. Shabbat has taken on a whole new meaning for me. It has become a day of rejuvenation, a day were I get to be with friends and soak in my community. It’s a weekly reminder that I deserve a break. Shabbat gives me the chance to reflect on my successes and learn from my failures.
9. Watch out for lashon hora, or evil speech. You never know how what you say can affect a person. I never truly realized this until I was sitting in treatment listening to people describe how other people’s comments about their bodies contributed to their eating disorders. It’s important to realize that words have power.
10. I was created in the image of God. This means I have value. I was put on this earth for more than starving. I deserve to be happy. I deserve to feel love. I deserve to have my needs met. I deserve to feel beautiful. I deserve to be comfortable in my body. I deserve to take up space, and I deserve recovery.
Jourdan Stein is a student at Drexel University in Philadelphia. This piece was originally published at www.newvoices.org, the national magazine written and published by and for Jewish college students.