Four months after having been diagnosed with Anorexia Nervosa, I found myself arriving at a residential treatment facility in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. I had avoided treatment centers as I found the idea to be shameful, foreign, and altogether terrifying. But after my parents showed me the film “Hungry to be Heard” (produced by the Orthodox Union, things had changed.
When diagnosed with my eating disorder I was in complete denial. My parents had brought me to my pediatrician where they received the results of some blood tests. The only reason I agreed to go was because I was in such denial that I did not feel anything out of the ordinary would surface. My physician brought the results in to the small office with a disheartening look on her face. I sat on the examination table, angry at my parents for having even brought me in, my stomach in knots as the tiny remaining rational and functional section of my brain tried to grasp my attention. My parents looked at the results and tears began to well up in their eyes, causing a domino effect, as I felt my cheeks becoming wet.
“Temimah…you’re close to dying.” And yet, I resisted reality, “Those aren’t my results; there must have been a mix up…” My father explained that the lack of food to my body (we’re talking weeks of extreme maltreatment) would soon cause me to enter an insulin-induced coma…I had a matter of hours. My parents exchanged words I could not understand, perhaps because I became uncontrollably numb, or perhaps because the lack of food was also causing my thoughts to become erratic and nonsensical. The next steps involving re-feeding (aka force-feeding, kicking, screaming, and punching) and lots of therapy (aka my denying I had any issues and sitting awkwardly in pastel coloured offices). I continued at school, the one area of my life that still had my focus; I lost touch with my friends, was furious at my parents and therefore ignored them, and did my best to pretend that I didn’t exist.
I was hurting. I felt I didn’t deserve to be alive and perhaps this is why I danced so closely with death. At least that’s what the doctors told me…
But why am I telling you this emotional, personal information?
Three months after that dreadful appointment is when it all changed. At the time my father had been working at the Orthodox Union and he learned about a film they had made called “Hungry to be Heard.” It documented clinicians, educators, and those who had suffered from eating disorders to discuss awareness, as well as the topic of eating disorders in the Jewish community. The film defined eating disorders, showed personal stories, and discusses the relationship between these disorders and Jewish culture/Judaism. My parents watched the documentary and then decided to show it to me hoping for…something. Perhaps some emotion, or just a reaction. At that point I think they were eager to see signs of the daughter they once knew.
It was a Friday afternoon and I sat down on the floor of my parents’ bedroom and began to watch, already resigned to feeling bored and annoyed. By the end of the 40 minute film I was in tears. I turned to my father and told him “I want help.”
That very same day we called up a well-known treatment center to set up an assessment. Fast forward to the car ride down to Pennsylvania, the night before spent with my mother, crying and hugging at a Howard Johnson’s hotel while we watched movies and I ate my last meal before entering inpatient treatment.
I tell you this personal information not as a memoir. And not because I want to purge myself of the memories as a form of therapy. Nor is it because I wish to hear praises about the inspiration I am providing to others. Rather, I share this because of the hope that this can help someone out there. Eating disorders are on the rise in the Jewish community and it is necessary that we be open about this serious illness in order to help those suffering and their loved ones, as well as those who lack understanding.
“Hungry to be Heard” reflected the fact that I was not alone in my disorder…and the earth-shattering realization that I did in fact have an eating disorder. This film broke through the barriers my Anorexia had put up and showed me that I should not be embarrassed, but rather, get the help that I needed. I also felt a level of comfort knowing that I was not alone within the Jewish community; my Judaism had always been a big part of my identity and I learned that my eating disorder did not ostracize me from the community – many others had in fact been through it as well! Seeing the film reminded me of my identity as a Jew, but more importantly…it reminded me that I could feel.
I recommend “Hungry to be Heard” for those who have a loved one suffering from an eating disorder as well as anyone who is interested in learning more. The film has some excellent information and the viewer hears from knowledgeable clinicians (from both the States and Israel) who are familiar with/part of both the eating disorder world and the Jewish community.
I felt helplessly alone…and yet the film showed me that in reality, I was not alone.
Feeling this sense of belonging helped me to exit my shell of denial and begin my journey of recovery toward health and happiness. It also showed me that while I was on this pathway of recovery, my religion and spirituality could play a positive role, as will be discussed in the next installment.
(Note: This film may be triggering or upsetting to individuals currently in recovery as there is some mention of symptom use.)