According to the dictionary, addiction can be defined as a persistent tendency toward a maladaptive behavior (a behavior that is harmful to a person's ultimate well-being). People can become addicted to substances like drugs and alcohol, or to habits like gambling. My grandmother, addicted to cigarettes for most of her life, often told me that after she finally kicked the habit,the smell of smoke was so irresistable to her that she would be drawn to it in the streets, even though she knew how harmful it was for her. Admittedly, this is the way I feel about Orthodoxy at times.
Right now, I'm going through a lot of emotions as I transition back into secular society. I was nineteen when I became a member of Chabad-Lubavitch. Well into my twenties now, I wrestle with the question of exactly where on life's timeline I should start to reconstruct myself. A part of me wants to pick up exactly where I left off. I am eager to call all of the friends with whom the Rabbis told me to dissociate and tell them, "I'm back! I've missed you so much. Let's go to Starbucks and catch up!" even though I know how unreasonable that is. I don't expect all of my old friends to welcome me back into their personal lives quickly or at all. A lot has happened in the past several years to me, and I am sure it has to them, too. Another part of me wants to move forward socially and not look back at all - explaining where I've been and why to others is a painful chore, and even the most well-intentioned "I told you so" is still excruciating.
Quite often, I get the feeling that I am suspended between two worlds. The frum and the frei, the old and the new, the Leah and the Lily. I am trying to get back to being Lily, but I can see that the Lily of now is not the pre-Chabad Lily. My experiences have changed me - mostly for the good, but they've also wounded me deeply. I am no longer faced with the constant judgment of the Orthodox world and the steady stream of thought-reform it peddles as spirituality, thank goodness. Now, I face the challenge of finding my voice again. I have numerous new freedoms that most people take for granted. I choose what I do for a living, what I study, the people with whom I am friendly, my style of clothing, my meals. As mundane as those activities sound, at times, the sheer number of choices to be made can be overwhelming. And that is where the addiction comes into play.
You see, however twisted life can be for a woman living within the walls of Orthodoxy, there is a simplicity. Though I was emotionally and verbally abused at the hands of Chabad, decisions were easy. It was a black-and-white world (yes, all the way down to the men's clothing). I had specific instruction on every aspect of life, and no matter how embarrassing it might be, I knew I could consult a competent rabbi if I ever had a question - and he could make the decision for me. I just had to sit back and go through the (myriad) motions, fulfilling every "obligation" I was told to. Easy enough. Now, however, as I take steps back toward freedom, I am sometimes met with a twinge of nostalgia for "easier" days - even though I am educated about this addiction and know how destructive Orthodox life can be.
The internet is not a recovering frumkeit addict's friend when she is awake in the middle of the night and reminiscing. Alone in my home, far away from Crown Heights, I sometimes venture onto the websites that started me on the Lubavitch path so many years ago. I ask myself over and over if I've made a mistake by leaving (this behavior, I've learned, is very typical of former cult members) and look at photographs of people and places that I used to feel were spiritually significant. I gaze through my computer screen at the sea of black hats on 770Live's live feed from Lubavitch World Headquarters. I scan the headlines of Shmais and Crownheights.info. I close my eyes for a moment and imagine that I've really done no "wrong," and that I'm back at the yeshiva dorm, getting ready for another day of learning.
But reality sets in, and rationality takes over. I'm not in Crown Heights, I'm not at 770. I don't need to know who just got engaged, or what kind of sale they're having at Top Fashion or Yaffa Wigs. I don't need to debate things with rabbis on AskMoses. I am very blessed to have friends like Mimi and others who have successfully left Frumkeit. They keep me grounded! A chat with them reinforces to me how far I've come and how much I've grown as a person since leaving Lubavitch. I close my laptop and resolve not to do "that" again, but I know that the temptation to slip back into a simpler, cultic state of mind will be there for awhile.
I look at the picture frames that surround me. Pictures of my children, Dean's List certificates, awards for academic accomplishments and happy photographs taken with some "old" friends who have lovingly welcomed me back into their worlds. I feel stronger already. I am trying my hardest to take things one small step at a time, and to accept the wide spectrum of feelings one experiences post-cult. I know that with support, I can do it.
How about you? Do you ever feel addicted to frumkeit? How do you deal with it?