The rabbi, the gabbai, and sobbing in the bathroom

Posted on December 24, 2007

The last time I wrote about seeing my rabbi, it was October. We met again ten days later. And then again after a week, and when that meeting was unexpectedly cut short, three days after that.

So much happened in those brief 45-minute sessions that I am still not certain I can put words to it all. I think in a lot of ways we both dropped our shields. A bit.

Let me start at the beginning.

In October, I had an agenda when I met with him. I wanted him on my “team,” someone to talk to about all those Jewish questions my Christian counselor is intrigued by but can’t answer, someone to help me navigate the emotional land mines that come with the interaction and interdependence of community through shul. My plan was to keep to the present, set aside more than a dozen years of shul-related (though not always–or even often–rabbi-related) hurts, and try to rebuild my trust in him.

When we arranged for the second meeting, he told me to come just to “talk about this” some more. It wasn’t the time or place for questions, so I began our second meeting by asking, which “this” are we supposed to be talking about?

“This” was re-entry into shul. Why, I asked. Why does there need to be re-entry? Why can’t we pick up where we left off? Why can’t we pretend the last few months–or in my case, maybe the last year–haven’t happened?

Yet I’d answered my own question just the Shabbos before, when I went to help another woman and we got our signals crossed and I thought I’d done something horrible and as much as I tried to stop it, I wound up sobbing in the restroom again, silencing my cries every time a woman came in, so she’d never know.

I did talk to her that Shabbos and we cleared everything up and neither of us had done anything horrible. I related the story to my rabbi at that second meeting, feeling as though I was admitting to some unforgivable sin when I told him about seeking refuge–not for the first time–in the restroom.

In return, he told me that he’d had a run-in with the gabbai at about the same time that day, wanting to get across to the gabbai that those who were coming up for honors during the bar mitzvah needed better cues on what to do when. But wanting brevity over verbiage, what came out was “work with me, here.” The gabbai shot something back and it was apparently rather tense for a while until they worked it out after services, and now he says they’re best friends again (I don’t take that literally).

But the point he said he wanted to make with this story was that we all get our signals mixed up sometimes. It was the heightened emotional state I was already in, being back in shul after being away so long, that tipped the scales toward my needing the bathroom refuge.

On top of which, he added, my self-censure about even being heard crying in the bathroom only increased the stress and made it that much harder to find relief. Instead, he wanted me to find someone. I told him about my (short) list of safe people, people who know what’s going on with me, who know about the depression, the anxiety. He was glad to hear I had such a list, and then he told me to add him to it.

I wanted to cry right there. On the one hand, I was so relieved and grateful that he would say that, and on the other I didn’t think I could do it, to come find him when I was moments away from completely losing it and bawling and tearing my hair out in the bathroom. Because I keep coming up against this same wall:

He. Has. More. Important. Things. To. Do.

In my more rational moments, I realize this is a self-esteem issue. I also realize this is a very deep issue because I have pulled out more than a dozen hairs as I am writing this and it started only three paragraphs ago.

My counselor has suggested that I try on a different perspective. What would I tell a friend who was about to go sob in the bathroom? Or what if I was the rabbi–would I want this person to come tell me?

I can argue against my telling faster than I can argue for it:

  1. It’s not his job
  2. I already have a counselor
  3. There are at least 1-200 other people here who want his attention
  4. They might have bigger problems than I do
  5. I cannot–will not–be seen as too needy
  6. It’s not something he can fix, anyway
  7. I’m not always certain I’m worth it

And with that, the bathroom refuge is inevitable.

1 Comment

  1. Keli Ata

    Sounds like your Rabbi has a heart of gold. And so do you! No doubt if you ran into a similar situation is which someone was sobbing you would seek to comfort her.

    Hi. I found your blog on J Blog and struggle with some of the self-esteem issue you’ve written about.

    BTW: congratulations on you blogoversary!

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