Judaism teaches us to sanctify the significant moments in our lives with rituals, and thus it seems appropriate to me to mark the beginning of my recovery from anorexia with some sort of rite of passage. While flipping through our family Haggadot last spring in preparation for Passover, I was struck by several parallels between the symbols and images of the seder and my own emotions as I come to develop a more healthy attitude toward food and eating.
Now, nearly a year later, I am ready to create my own seder--a seder that will be not just a feast of freedom, but a joyous celebration of the freedom to feast once again.
For nearly two years, I have been enslaved to the insidious illness clinically termed anorexia nervosa. I have tormented my body in pursuit of an elusive ideal of thinness; I have driven myself like an Egyptian taskmaster to run five miles at the crack of dawn each morning; I have been haunted by images of food pyramids in a strange land where hunger burns in my body yet I dare not consume. My enslavement has been cruel and isolating, but I have been delivered by the strong hands and outstretched arms of doctors, nurses, family, and friends who heard my cries of suffering and showed me the way to freedom.
It is with this newfound freedom that I call out the words of the Ha Lachma Anya,
the symbolic invitation recited near the beginning of the seder: "Let all who are hungry come enter and eat. Let all who are in need come and celebrate Pesach."
I am free to say that I too have been hungry, and I too deserve to eat. After months of eating nothing but cottage cheese and fruit in the privacy of my bedroom, I can now gather around the table with my family and friends and rejoice communally. Eating is no longer an activity that sets me apart from other people, but a means of reconnecting with those I love most.
And so when the tzimmis and stuffing and turkey and potatoes are handed to me, I do not pass them over from the sister at my left to the sister at my right. I realize that it is not just the first time that I am eating hot food again, but also the first time I feel the warmth that comes from eating at the table together.
I know how it feels to be hungry. I have struggled with the competing voices in my mind: There is the wise child, who reminds me that only if I allow myself to eat can I live a full and meaningful life. There is the wicked child, who insists that food is an enemy and eating a sign of weakness and laziness. There is the simple child, who longs for a world without food so she will not have to think about calories and fat.And finally, there is the child who does not know how to ask, who cannot cry out in need because she refuses to listen to her own hungers and insists that her physical needs do not matter.