The Pain Of Jewish Holidays

I find Sabbaths and holidays painful. They remind me of what’s missing from my life — connection.

During the week, I can distract myself with many endeavors so that I never have to look in the mirror and see my life for what it is — a lonely slog. But on Sabbaths and holidays, life slows down. There’s not much to do. There are no electronic distractions.

When I am feeling good about myself, it is easy for me to put myself out there and to meet people and to connect. When I feel like a loser, I withdraw.

All around me, people are celebrating Passover with their families. But I have created no family. I’m alone. So I latch on to other families but that can bring its own awkwardness. I’m a hanger-on. Or I can go to a community seder at shul with other people who don’t have families, but many of the people there are really weird. As weird as I am. It’s so painful to see them and to realize that they are reflecting back to me my place in the social pecking order.

I don’t want to believe that I am less than, that I have failed at the fundamental task of life — creating a family.

Without holy days, I don’t have to look in the mirror. Without holy days, I can pretty much think that my life is OK. Shabbats happen every week and I have a routine down and I can usually get through them without too much pain, but holidays, taking off a couple of days in the middle of the week to celebrate something, that’s potentially painful.

I look in the mirror and I see a great big crack in it. It’s like I’m missing a limb. The mirror says back to me — loser!

In second grade, the time I started school, I felt like a loser. So holy days don’t create this feeling. I’ve had it all my life. When cool people have adopted me, the feeling has disappeared because of the borrowed functioning.

When I am left on my own, I can no longer distract myself from my failure to connect with people who know me.

Strangers I can get along with just fine. If I have a girlfriend or am connected with friends or a particular shul or a family, I don’t have to confront this feeling so much. If I’m booming with my career, I’m not so vulnerable. If I am struggling financially, professionally and personally, then it is easy for me to isolate myself and to hate myself. If I’m appearing on TV all the time and getting in the papers and I can walk down the street and sense people looking at me, then I think that I’m not a loser and that the hole in my soul has healed, when of course it has just been papered over with a grandiose and false sense of self.

Since about 1992, I’ve had the conviction that there are answers to most of my problems and that if I can only connect with the right people, I can dramatically improve my health, my wealth, my career and my relationships. I’ve had enough experiences of the right people over the past two decades to sustain me in this belief.

There are people out there who can guide me. Every area of my life can be 100% better if I only connect.

When I’m absorbed in some interest or relationship, I’m not cognizant of my chronic low-grade depression. I’m distracted. That’s why all of my life, I’ve been looking for interests and distractions and causes.

I’m an enthusiast. I discover things. Think they answer life’s most pressing questions and then after a few weeks or months, I realize they’re just another false hope. They don’t take away my dysthmia. Then I may or may not continue with the interest.

About two years ago, my therapist said to me, “Do you think your Alexander Technique, yoga, and Orthodox Judaism are ways for you to distract yourself from your chronic depression?”

“Hmm,” I said, and I knew she was on to something.

All distractions wear off. All triumphs are temporary. All highs are followed by lows. All romantic relationships die within a year. All friendships wax and wane. And then I’m left at the same state I was in at four years old (alternating between depression and anger).

It makes no sense to try to live in Orthodox Judaism if you’re not married and have no prospects of marriage. You’re a fraud. You’re an actor. You’re playing dress-up.

“I’m a writer.” That’s what I keep telling myself. “I’m a writer. It makes no difference to me if I am looking up at life from the gutter or down at it from the stage. Both are equally valid perspectives to write from.”

So what if my writing alienates me? I’m dedicated to my craft, right?

Lenny Bruce got arrested for saying dirty words and I got ejected from shuls for writing them. We’re pretty similar, right? Our insights into life are just so keen that the great unwashed can’t handle them.

The incantation “I’m a writer” protects me from facing my failures head on. It’s my defense from admitting that what I am doing is not working. It’s an excuse.

“I’m just so dedicated to my craft” is cold comfort when you observe another Jewish holiday on your own.

I’m going to experiment with occasionally dropping the “I’m a writer” defense. I’m going to try to encounter people, at times, as just a human being who yearns to connect with like minds.

That’s scary because if I get rejected, then it is not for my writing, it is for who I am. I have dropped my shield.

I’ll try it anyway. Who knows? It might even improve my writing.

I find myself blogging less the past three years, since I’ve been in therapy and training to become a teacher of Alexander Technique. I used to work out a lot of my anxiety by blogging. Now I work some of it out in therapy. I’m not as anxious and compulsive and feel less need to blog.

Psycho-therapist and Alexander teacher Naomi Shragai writes for the Times of London:

In our culture today the connection between physical and emotional problems is gaining currency. Surprisingly, the best answer to coping with the stresses of life is by using a hands-on approach that straightens the body. This technique can help in balancing moods, changing behavioural patterns and managing life’s challenges.

To most people the Alexander Technique is a method of improving posture or relieving backache. However, the emotional and psychological benefits have convinced many to continue lessons long after their aches and pains have disappeared.

…The Alexander technique is a way of re-educating the body towards balance and alignment. In individual lessons, a qualified teacher helps the student to recognise faulty muscular use and poor posture through gentle touch and guidance (see panel, facing page). There is an emphasis on lengthening and widening the back, and freeing the spine to achieve a more co-ordinated movement.

With the aid of the teacher’s hands, the student learns to release and lengthen muscles that have been shortened over time because of stress and misuse. But how can stopping unnecessary muscular tension heal emotional wounds? Unconscious experiences, such as unhealed traumas, unexpressed feelings and painful memories can be pushed into the body where they are not free to be dealt with in the mind. These tensions might turn into physical symptoms and ailments, but can also lead to mental illness, such as depression and anxiety.

Frederick Alexander, the founder of the technique, taught that how we use our bodies has an extraordinary effect on our ability to accurately perceive the world around us, as well as our emotional and physical health.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see Amazon.com). My work has been followed by the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (Alexander90210.com).
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