Posted by: RaeAn | 17 September 2010

Yom Kippur 5771: My Letter to You

To all of my friends, family, and colleagues,

Tonight begins Yom Kippur, which is the Jewish Day of Atonement. This year, for the first time, I’ll be spending it in Israel, in Jerusalem, where supposedly the entire city holds its breath and stands still for a moment, then breathes deeply and sighs in relaxation, friendship, and renewal. There will not be a single car on the roads from tonight at sunset until tomorrow at sunset; instead, there will be thousands of people praying, then wandering the streets and saying hello to their friends and making amends with those whom they’ve hurt in the past year. Technically, Slichot, the time period for this apologizing process, began some time ago; however, Yom Kippur is the final moment for atonement. In Jewish tradition, Yom Kippur prayer is intended to atone with God and make things right spiritually; however, only for sins against God does this work: not keeping the Sabbath, for instance. For any wrongs against another person, Yom Kippur prayer does not clean the slate unless you have cleaned the slate with others directly. You can tell God, “I’m sorry I hurt my sister,” but unless you apologize to that sister and make things right with her, it doesn’t do much of anything on a spiritual level.

This past year has had its highs and lows for me. I’ve been recovering from PTSD; only in the past year and a half did I finally seek help, and I am intensely grateful to my family, my mother and sister and father, for recognizing that something was wrong when I couldn’t see it myself, for pushing me into the arms of someone who had the expertise to get me through the worst moments, for being supportive the whole way through and not batting an eye when I had to break down and rebuild parts of myself, some entirely from scratch. If you ever talk to me about my experience with PTSD, I often phrase it in terms of transitioning from being a “victim” to being a “survivor”: I needed to move from being powerless to reclaiming my personal power, from having had something taken away from me to not only taking it back, but using it as a springboard for becoming even stronger. And it’s been tough. Very tough. It’s not even anywhere near done: I still have a long, grueling uphill climb before I will be able to see myself as healed.

However, just as people with physical illnesses often lash out in frustration at those around them, including their closest loved ones, I’m realizing I did the same, and still do it far too often.

I’m often distant. I’m often self-absorbed. I get stuck in my own brain and forget to look around me and see that you’re there, too. I find it difficult to concentrate sometimes, challenging to figure out what I’m feeling, and even harder than that to communicate what I’m thinking and feeling to others. I justified it to myself – I’m just being shy and quiet, I told myself – but I know I’ve hurt people by separating myself, by withdrawing when I should have been reaching out, because I’m not the only hurt person in this world and I sometimes need to give myself a tap on the shoulder and remind myself of that.

My methods of communication have been more impersonal than they should have been. I use the internet when I should use a phone or a coffee date. I’m sorry for that.

I’m moody. I’m indecisive. I’m judgmental. I’m set in my ways. I’m snarky. My sense of humor is sometimes inappropriate. I vacillate between being pushy and holding others back. I’m snobby. I’m inconsiderate. I hold grudges. I’m brash. I’m annoying.

And the worst part of it all is that I often don’t realize I’m being and doing all of these things until either someone points it out to me, or long after the fact, because I just move forward with life and look neither inward nor outward to evaluate these things. And so it comes back to being self-absorbed.

I’m not going to blame all of this on the PTSD. I have full control over my life and my actions, and I want to take responsibility for everything I’ve done in the past year since last Yom Kippur. Last Kol Nidre, the service which begins Yom Kippur in the evening named after the central prayer of the service, I was standing in the University of Maryland Hillel building, playing an arrangement of Kol Nidre I put together myself on violin. This was the result of a promise I’d made myself the year before on Rosh Hashanah, which was to pick up my violin and get back into music composition, which had faded out of my life for quite some time. I haven’t kept that promise up as well as I’d like, but I did follow through – I occasionally play a friend’s violin here in Israel, and I’m working on some compositions that had been collecting dust on my hard drive. I could have maintained that promise better, but I take pride in the fact that I do keep my promises.

And so I want to make another promise, but this time, instead of involving me, as a solo violinist, I want to include all of you, all the other parts of this orchestra called life that were all put here, and in my life, for a reason. Maybe I was put in your life to help you learn patience, because I often act in ways that require such from those around me.

I promise to make an effort this year to reach out, to think more before I act, to learn a little bit more about myself and to be able to communicate what I learn at the appropriate times because sometimes, my recurring answer of “I don’t know” can really hurt you if the question you asked is important to you. I promise to learn more about you, and to take what I learn into consideration in all that I do.

I’m not going to be able to do all of this tomorrow. I’m still very much in recovery, and I still get easily overwhelmed and need my space, and it’s going to be a while until I know myself well enough to be able to tell you when I need my space so no one gets offended or hurt when I withdraw. I know writing a public blog post isn’t quite going to cut it for this year’s teshuvah because it’s impersonal and counter to my goal with this promise. But I hope you will see it as a start, as a small step that I’m trying to take, and I’ll try to take larger steps as soon as my emotional legs grow a little bit. I really will try. Because if you’re in my life, I value you and I appreciate your presence and I love you, even if I have trouble showing it.

I just wanted you to know that, and I hope you will accept this as a token of an effort, however small and insufficient it may be, and please let me know how I can make up the rest to you later. Because I do want to make it up to you later – just let me know how. I’ve been stuck in the world my own brain for over two years, a mechanism I developed in self-defense after the attack and completely forgot to put aside when the worst was over and it was safe to come out. I’m still scared to come out of the shell I’ve wrapped around myself, so while I’m primarily asking for your forgiveness for my many sins and offenses I’ve committed against you, I’m also asking for patience as I try to better myself and re-learn myself. I don’t open up to many people. In fact, several of you reading this blog, even if you’ve known me for years, possibly never even knew that I have PTSD and that this is what’s going on in my head. I’m not good at reaching out, and I don’t always react well when others reach out to me. But I’m going to try to change both of those, starting this year. This is going to take a long time. But every journey begins with a single step, and I would be intensely grateful if you would accept this note as my first step.

Thank you all who have helped me in the past two years. Thank you for putting up with my rambling in this post. Thank you for my old friends who stood by me even when I made it terribly difficult to do so, and to my new friends for being wonderfully open to me. Thank you to my family for standing by me even when I forget to call often enough. And thank you for being in my life, even if I don’t say it to you enough.

May 5771 be a good and meaningful year for us all: a year of peace, a year of learning, a year of understanding, a year of health, a year of life fully and well lived.

Shanah Tovah and G’mar Chatimah Tovah,

~ Rae


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