Yom Kippur, Leather Boots & True Repentance

 

 

My beloved and much appreciated Doc Martens

During the High Holy Days, and Yom Kippur – the Day of Atonement – in particular, there is a commonly observed Jewish custom of not wearing leather shoes. One reason given for this custom is that traditionally leather shoes have been seen as being more comfortable than other shoes, and on a day of such solemnity one should minimise one’s comforts.

Another basis for this custom is that it would be inappropriate to wear leather shoes on this day of repentance, as an animal had to die in order for those shoes to be made. To some degree I agree with this and thus, last year, I made the decision to not wear leather shoes throughout the entire High Holy Day period.

This year I’ve not been quite as observant in this regard,  mainly because my energies have been focused on things other than what clothes to wear and what shoes go with which outfit. But also, last year, while I did make a conscious decision to not wear leather, I couldn’t get this niggling thought out of my head: Why is it seen as inappropriate to wear shoes [or coats, belts, handbags and so on] made from leather only* at this time of the year? Surely, if you truly believe that one should not wear something for which an animals life had to be sacrificed, then this must be true all year round? No?

Now, while I’m not prepared to give up my Vans, Docs or other items made of leather, I have been pondering this idea, on and off, and wondering if there is not perhaps another way for me to honour the fact that an animal had to die for me to have those comforts? Or maybe an additional way?

So, this morning I got all of my leather shoes and boots out, and spent a good few hours cleaning, polishing and buffing them. I didn’t do it in order to make them look good – although that is a nice side effect, indeed – but to make sure I kept them in the best possible condition for them to last as long as possible.

I know this probably sounds like the seventh degree of madness, but while sitting there, doing this work, I really did feel an odd sense of connection with something other than just a pair of old Docs. I was sitting there, remembering all the times I’ve worn those boots, how much I love them, how they’ve been with me for such a long time – almost as if we’ve been on this big spiritual journey together, and that through caring for those shoes I was in a sense paying my respect to the animal from which they came.  And it felt meaningful.

Will I be wearing my Docs for Yom Kippur? Probably not.
But I do feel that the true repentance, or, rather, the genuine acknowledgement that these boots didn’t just spring out of nowhere, took place during those moments of connection – and came from a very real place.

xx

PS. If you enjoyed this alternative take on atonement, you may be interested in reading this piece, written by Rabbi Debbie Young-Somers  about how people suffering from an eating disorder could make teshuvah by not fasting on Yom Kippur.

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Remember September & Stepping Into The New Year

It’s been a while since I posted a proper update, I know. Things have been very difficult and it’s all felt too raw to put it down in black and white. To pick up where I left off: I went to the assessment at Drayton Park Women’s Crisis Centre and was offered a place the same day. It was very hard going back there, having not needed that kind of help in quite a few years. So much of my time at the therapeutic community I was staying in was designed to keep you away from the NHS mental health system, to find other ways of getting the support you need, preferably away from medication and hospital. So it was a big decision going back to Drayton Park. But needs must sometimes, and sometimes you have to swallow your pride and just accept any kind of help you can get.

The whole first week and a half at Drayton I spent virtually all of my time in my room, feeling unable to be around people other than my named support workers. I simply felt to embarrassed to be around people while I was fighting the near constant stream of flashbacks, as the things I do to ground myself can look quite odd if you don’t know what I’m doing or why I’m doing it. I did have quite a few people come visit me, which felt more OK, because they were all people who know what I’m usually like, and who I knew could handle seeing me in that very very difficult emotional place. I know it’s hard to see someone you love struggle in the way I was – constantly having to fight this torrent of intrusive flashbacks.

Flashbacks aren’t a new phenomenon to me; regular readers will know that I suffer from single flashbacks frequently, and experience periods of sequential flashbacks every so often, but this was on a scale I’ve never known before. I’ve always understood the single flashbacks as an indicator of sorts that I am ready to perhaps deal with that specific incident in my therapy, and the periods of flashbacks tend to begin either when A. is away or when I am very stressed out about other things. But this, it was just something entirely different. A whole different ball game. As I said earlier, initially I was experiencing an incessant flow of flashbacks, most of them reasonably short and all of things I already knew had happened. Though never a pleasant experience, I was able to come out of them fairly quickly. What was really wearing me down – apart from the re-experience of the abuse situations – was the fact that they were so frequent. It felt very much as if as soon as I had worked my way out of one flashback another started, like one flashback triggered the next, and it took essentially all of my energy to remain fully in the present.

Then, one day – and I still don’t quite know why – the flashbacks changed. They became less frequent and were about things I had no conscious memory of. Although the reclining frequency was a welcome break, making it possible to at least go out of my room and spend time in the art room, it was absolutely terrifying. I always knew that there were gaps in my memory, pertaining to one specific person, but some of the things that came out were things I had absolutely no recollection of at all. I know that what emerged in those flashbacks did happen, that they weren’t figments of my imagination [although at times I tried very hard to convince myself that maybe they were].. The best way I can describe it is that it felt like I was remembering things I had forgotten I knew. These flashbacks tended to be more like long sequences, and were a lot harder to come out of, I think, in part because they caught me so unawares, memorywise, but also because the content of them were cruelty on a whole new level, and I felt paralysed by fear, unable to do the things I usually do to come out of the flashbacks. And I have to say, I’m still dealing with those memories now, feeling utterly traumatised by what those flashbacks unveiled.

I ended up spending a full three weeks at Drayton Park, and throughout those weeks, being stripped of the release and relief my various means of self-harm offered, they were probably the worst three weeks in my entire life. Every day I would ask the staff – pleading with them – to please, please let me have my scalpels, just for a little while, just to get a small break from the flashbacks. And each day my support workers told me no, because although their policy is that they recognise self-harm as a genuine coping-strategy for some people, they felt that my cutting would not be safe and could end in me, accidentally or intentionally, cutting to kill myself rather than to just relieve pain. Also, owing to my previous track record at Drayton Park, downing a pint of anti-freeze in a bid to end my life, my trust/credit rating with the staff isn’t the greatest, so their decision to not allow me to use any form of self-harm to cope, is entirely understandable.

I am now back home. Things are still difficult. The flashbacks aren’t as frequent, but I still have them fairly regularly, and it seems that an underlying depression is rearing its ugly head, and I am often struggling to get out of bed at all, unless I have to. I push myself to get to therapy and to not completely disappear in my own misery, but it’s hard work.

One thing that is good is that we’re now in the middle of a period called Yamim Noraim, [lit. Days Of Awe, commonly referred to as the High Holy Days, is the period between Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur] – so there are a lot of things going on at shul, and so I have more things than usual that I need to get to. Also, on the days I simply haven’t been able to go to service I’ve been able to follow it online, and I’ve made a point of always making sure I am up and appropriately dressed, even if I’m only attending service via the internet.

All in all, it’s still a bit of a roller coaster; one good day, one bad and so on, but I suppose that it’s better to have some better days than none at all.

So, for a better and sweeter new year,

שנה טובה ומתוקה

~ Shanah Tova Umetukah ~

xx

OK – so this isn’t for this new year, but this Rosh HaShanah video from Michelle Citrin still makes me smile. I mean, c’mon – I named my blog after one of her songs, after all.