I have been totally rinsed, the last two months.
I’m no stranger to challenging circumstances, or big emotional ups and downs, but I have to say that the last few weeks have been a rollercoaster, even for me.
Literally each week, I’ve had so much inner turmoil and self-doubt to deal with, it’s left me reeling.
So, what’s really going on here? That’s what I’ve been asking God to show me, in a million different ways, in my talking to God sessions. And as the Rabbis tell us, when someone tells you that they searched and that they found, believe them.
After some consideration, I decided to share a little about what I’ve found out, in this quest to figure out why I’ve been feeling as though I’ve been barely clinging on to the edge of sanity the last few weeks. I know there are a lot of people out there who will relate to what I’m about to share, if they will only give themselves the permission to drop the mask and be real.
So with that intro (and if you’re still reading….) let’s continue.
The ‘problem’, if you can call it that, began back in November, when my daughter told us she’d found someone serious, and she wanted to introduce him to us.
Part of me was happy, part of me was petrified.
I had what can honestly be called a totally awful relationship with my own mother-in-law, as I’ve written about in many other places. With hindsight, I learned that my mother-in-law – who had so many tremendously good qualities – was operating out of a place of severely repressed trauma.
What I’ve learned down the years is that whatever is not ‘fixed’ in the family dynamics, in the family relationships, simply gets passed forward for the next generation to deal with. It’s like a bad penny, that never goes out of circulation until someone gets a grip, takes the hit, and faces the problem down.
The main reason my own crazy Savta didn’t figure as a massive MIL relationship stressor is simply because she lived in a different country, and never called or got in touch. But there were also some big mother-in-law issues between my dad and my British Grandma too, who wasn’t thrilled to have an immigrant for a son-in-law.
So, back to November 2019, when I suddenly find myself on the cusp of becoming a ‘mother-in-law’ myself, potentially – and WHOOSH!!!!
The internal pressure of trying to do all this ‘right’ kicked in a million percent.
I tried so, so hard to be the nearest version of ‘normal’ and ‘laid-back’ that I could, and the first time I met the bloke, I think I pulled it off OK. But despite my best efforts, all this weird emotional stuff started bubbling up shortly afterwards, and hasn’t stopped since.
What the heck is going on here, God?
Usually, I’m pretty self-aware, but all this stuff was taking me out and I had NO IDEA what was going on, or why I was reacting the way I was reacting.
After a day or two of doing a lot of intense hitbodedut, I made the connection that I had a heaping dose of unfinished business from my own wedding, and that me and my husband needed to sit down and get to grips with our own repressed anger and resentment from that time.
To cut a long story short, the run up to my wedding was so bad (because of in-law issues, not because of anything to do with my husband, who really is a hidden tzaddik), the counsellor on our ‘engaged couples’ course sat me down the week before the big day to ask me if I was sure I wanted to go through with it….
If I could have eloped (and I considered it seriously 500 times…) I would have.
But in the meantime, that route was blocked, and so I ended up with a ton of stress, trauma and anger still resonating through the system even 23 years later. I realized, I needed to knuckle down and clean all that stuff up, finally.
So I did.
And I looked forward to all the ‘weirdness’ disappearing.
But that’s not what happened.
A week after I’d knuckled down and cleared out all the ‘my wedding trauma’ stuff, I found myself going really weird again.
Out of the blue, I got hit by a massive panic that with my daughter married, I’d have no-one left to talk to, or interact with.
Let’s be clear, this daughter is pretty independent, and has a ton of friends, and while we get on really well, I also have my own life and I like my own space. I also have a nice husband and another kid at home to interact with, too, so all this hit me as extremely bizarre again.
From past experience, I knew that this type of ‘disconnected’ emotional madness, where you feel you’re going crazy but you have absolutely nothing you can pin it on, from your own life, has to be some sort of ‘inherited stress’, that had got passed down the gene pool from some troubled ancestor.
(If you’re interested in the science of this, look up ‘epigenetics’.)
I picked up the phone, made an appointment with my Bodyspin / One Brain woman, and two days later, I’d tracked the issue down to an ancestor on my mum’s side (for once!).
Now, I was really hoping again I’d got all the tikkunim out the way, and could stop acting so weird and emotionally unbalanced.
That’s not exactly what happened.
Around three weeks ago, the emotional rollercoaster started up yet again, yet again I thought I was literally going bonkers.
I like to tell myself that I know what’s going on, and that I can ‘figure stuff out’ – it’s part of my shtick, part of my ga’ava that reassures me that I’m not as lost in the world as I sometimes feel. But all of a sudden, I found myself feeling totally confused and overwhelmed about everything.
This sense of anxiety was getting so pronounced, I started to feel anxious and weepy, and even a bit nauseous.
I was getting so overwhelmed by larger-than-life negative feelings that were coming out of nowhere, and for no obvious reason, that that, all by itself, started to stress me out even more.
Was I just losing my marbles? Was it the mold’s fault, that has been spreading all over my house for a month now, thanks to the rain? Was this just a normal part of the ‘letting your kids grow up’ process that was getting out of hand?
What’s going on, God, what?
Things got so intense that I told my husband if I didn’t get to Uman ASAP, I was probably going to end up in a mental institution.
I was (probably….) being over-dramatic, but that was still an accurate depiction of how I really felt.
Rabbenu stuck me back together, and I felt much calmer when I was there. I realized a few things about the need to get on more with my own life now, and about the importance of letting go of my kids, so they can make their own decisions and forge their own path.
But the paydirt only showed up 2 days after I came home, when I ended up having an unexpected Zoom conversation with a relative I barely speak to.
Without going into too much detail, I used to be very close to that relative until they got married a few years ago, when they effectively dropped me like a hot potato. That happened to coincide with the worst 10 years of my life.
It was such a painful experience, and for years and years, I just stuffed all my hurt feelings and disappointment down into a very big box. They had their reasons for doing what they did… I thought I understood, I thought I’d forgiven them for dumping me in my hour of need, and moved on from it all.
But when that relative unexpectedly got in touch, and when we had the first chat face-to-face we’ve had in years – it all came rushing back again, and I ended that call feeling incredibly angry.
In what has been a recurring theme from the last 2 months, I realized that all that pain and sadness hadn’t disappeared with the passage of time, it had just gone underground and festered.
Because I’d never dealt with it properly, and processed it, and faced up to how sad, lonely and worthless the whole situation had made me feel, I’d been projecting all those ‘lost’ feelings into my current situation.
And that’s why I was feeling so anxious and pukey.
So, I did yet another six hour hitbodedut to go and deal with the fall-out from that relative properly, and to go and make my own teshuva, and to really do the job of forgiving and applying some emuna to the whole matzav again, and afterwards, I was feeling so, so much better again.
Yes, finally I can start to relax and stop freaking out every five minutes, and feeling as though the world is ending.
That’s what I hoped.
Because by this point, I’d had literally six weeks of riding the biggest emotional rollercoaster of my life, and I was starting to feel pretty rung-out and exhausted from it all.
Enough with all these tikkunim already, God! I have to move house, I have to sort out a mortgage, I have to launch a business, I have to publish a book! I can’t get anything done and I’m all over the place at the moment, it’s enough!
But what do I know?
So last week, after weeks of being in this cycle of all this stuff surfacing, taking me out, getting dealt with, feeling ok; stuff surfacing, taking me out, getting dealt with, feeling ok….
I started to feel, yet again, like I’d just hit another massive emotional iceberg.
In the same way that I started going to pieces, inexplicably, before I had to run off to Uman, I had that sinking feeling that I was unravelling again emotionally, and yet again, there was no obvious catalyst for it.
Maybe, I should just go and live in Uman for a few months, until all this ‘potential engagement’ stuff blows over, and I have a better idea what’s going on?
That’s what I asked my husband two days ago, and I was 82% serious. I was ready to hand in my notice again on the ‘mum’ job, because clearly I wasn’t up to it, and it was just time to admit that I am the loony tune that everyone always secretly suspected.
As I started to go to pieces again yesterday, I ended up having a really strange business coaching call, which was so surreal that if my husband hadn’t also been listening in, I think I would have thought I’d imagined it all. I was chatting with some smarmy sales guy from LA, about ideas to move my People Smarts business forward.
In the middle of the call, he suddenly totally switched track and started giving me some hard-hitting mussar:
“Rivka, you really need to develop some humility. You just still have a lot to learn. In order for you to be able to help others, you first have to be able to love yourself.”
At this point, I was totally speechless.
It’s like Eliyahu HaNavi had taken over my Zoom call, or something, and all I could do was gape incredulously at the screen. Eliyahu continued:
“Forgiveness is the most potent form of self-love, Rivka. Forgive yourself for procrastinating, and start new. Start fresh.”
At that point, Eliyahu reverted back to smarmy LA salesman, but I wrote down every word of that mussar, because it was literally a message from heaven.
After the call, I was still feeling physically ill, so I went to bed, to do some hitbodedut before trying to go to sleep.
That’s when I realized another profound part of the message God has been giving me, with this latest round of emotional upheaval.
Long story short, the prospect of possibly becoming a MIL has been flashing me back to one yucky experience I had after another, connected to the whole time of life when I met and married my husband, back in my very early 20s.
I met him when I was still in university, and that whole period was such a bitter-sweet time for me, because it’s so hard to hang on to your soul and go to university in a foreign country, where everyone around you is smoking, and drinking, and doing drugs, and listening to gross music, and watching movies, and dressing inappropriately and having boyfriends, and all the rest of the stuff that doesn’t exactly go together with ‘Torah’.
But at the same time, I’d had such a rough 18 years beforehand, the sense of freedom I had in university was totally unparalleled.
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.
And it left me with a whole bag of unfinished business to try to sort through and clarify, which I’ve basically been ducking for 25 years.
Us baal teshuvas carry so much baggage around from our previous lives.
Once we learn ‘the truth’, it can get so hard to forgive that former version of ourselves, who wasn’t ‘bad’, and who wasn’t ‘evil’, but who definitely was caught up in the world of lies.
But God wants us all to see the good in ourselves, and to forgive ourselves for not being perfect.
The last few months, I’ve been making such a big deal of doing ‘Azamra’ on other people, but God showed me this week that I left a crucial person out of the Azamra equation: myself.
And especially, that younger version of myself that came out of a really hard situation, had a lot of difficult tests, and just couldn’t pull through them all the way I would have liked to, in an ideal world.
Because the world isn’t ideal.
So today, again, I’m starting to feel much calmer. I’m starting to feel a little more ‘normal’ and put together again, and less panicked and anxious.
After I wrote this, I took a look at the ravberland.com site, and I saw some very disturbing info about the spread of the coronavirus. As with everything, there is so much disinformation out there that until I saw what the Rav said about it, I was minded to play it all down.
Now, I can see we are on the cusp of something potentially enormous and world-changing.
It could be the end of days, mamash.
And so I now think that’s also part of why I’ve been so all over the place since November, when this coronavirus outbreak actually began.
Interestingly, the Rav made the connection between the spread of the virus and the mitzvoth of bein adam l’havero. And he made a point of stressing that we need to forgive others.
It’s the same message, being amplified.
And I really hope we’ll be able to do it.
THIS IS RAV BERLAND’S PRAYER TO BE SAVED FROM THE CORONAVIRUS. PLEASE SHARE IT AROUND. MANY PEOPLE’S LIVES DEPEND UPON US SWEETENING THIS DECREE.