When I was 18 months old, my mom took me to a dermatologist because I had rashes everywhere. The creams and lotions only worked so well, and she wanted to relieve my discomfort. She wanted an answer, an easy solution, but the doctor said: “Maybe it’s stress?”
Whatever is going on inside our bodies shows up on our skin. Whatever we can no longer contain, hide, repress, restrain, pushes itself out into the world even when we might not want it to: stress, emotions, addiction. Suddenly, we can no longer control or manage what we thought we could. And the question is: now what?
This week’s double parashah, Tazria-Metzora, addresses this very moment – the moment when something breaks forth from inside us onto our skin:
When a person has on the skin of his body a swelling, a rash, or a discoloration, and it develops into a scaly affection on the skin of his body, it shall be reported to Aaron the priest or to one of his sons, the priests (VaYikra 13:2).
This eruption is a sign that something isn’t right, and the ill person, the metzora, can hide it in long sleeves, or they can do as the Torah suggests: go tell someone who will understand. It’s a moment of choice.
Those of us in recovery know this moment. This is the moment when we can no longer hide that we’re not okay – even from ourselves. It might happen when family no longer invite us over, when we lose our jobs, our money, our muscle tone, our teeth. The addiction we’ve been hiding comes to the surface, and we can no longer pretend it’s not there. Then we have a choice: get help or continue to hide.
Yes, in this very moment of intense embarrassment, vulnerability, and disgust – that’s when we have to make that choice. For some, it seems too much to bear, so we choose to hide until even despair no longer comforts us; and painfully, some of us hide even until death. Others of us choose to show our embarrassment, vulnerability, and disgust to someone who can help us.
When the metzora asks for help from the priest, the priest follows a ritual of purification. At the end of that ritual, the priest takes oil and blood from an offering, and places both on the sick person’s right earlobe, right thumb, and right big toe (VaYikra 14:14). This very specific ritual is almost the same as the ritual by which priests are anointed as priests. In other words, the priest who is helping the metzora does so through his own experience of transformation, of becoming someone new and closer to God:
I know this journey of transformation and t’shuvah.
If you want to change, I’m offering you what helped me to change.
Sounds a lot like recovery. Sounds a lot like community. In recovery communities, we share what we know: our own experiences of transformation and t’shuvah. There is so much wisdom and experience among us about how to do recovery. Are you receptive to that communal wisdom? After days, weeks, years, decades sober, are you still receptive to it?
The choice to hide or ask for help is not a one-time choice. Our stress, emotions, addictions will always be a part of us. So the choice will always be a part of us. It’s a daily choice. What are you choosing today?