I was sitting in a large circle in a room reserved for groups in Mifgashim, Retorno’s outpatient center. The occasion was Avigayil’s graduation party. The invited guests were the women in Avigayil’s particular program, her social worker, addiction counselor, and anyone else she felt had played a significant role in her recovery. I was honored to have been invited; my part had been to convince Avigayil to try the program and, occasionally, to support her when she called me.

As is customary at these events, Avigayil spoke about her journey. She grew up in a secular family, the only girl, the middle child. The fussy one, the untalented one, the flighty one. The outsider. She became religious in her early twenties, then got married and made aliyah in her early thirties, putting both emotional and physical distance between herself and her family.

She’d never been thin, but when she started having kids, her weight ballooned, and she’d spent years trying different diets and even joining dieting support groups, but she always gained back what she’d lost and then some. She met with some success with Overeaters Anonymous, but after several relapses decided to try Mifgashim.

“It was not,” she said, “an instant success. I didn’t mind showing up for the meetings and therapy. But I had a very hard time sharing myself and my issues with the other women. I mean, why would they listen to me? I was so… uninteresting.

“The other women helped me realize I was afraid of being judged, of being looked down on. I was afraid of being vulnerable, of being exposed. I started to understand, at least intellectually, that those fears were actually part of the reason why I kept overeating.

“Since my progress was unimpressive, I finally decided to risk more with the group. To my surprise, the other women just accepted me, extra pounds and all.”

A chuckle went through the room.

“But… I was still eating. I stayed away from chocolate, but I had to finish my kids’ half-eaten chicken, eat the last meatball, scrape the cholent pot. My sponsor told me to share in real time — before grabbing those pretzels, I had to pick up the phone and share my struggle, ask for support. This went completely against the grain. I always believed that needing other people is weak. Pathetic. Asking for help was an invitation to be rejected.”

I glanced at Sarah, Avigayil’s sponsor. Her eyes were smiling.

“But it was either do something different or drop out of the program, go back to square one. So one day, I called one of the women in my group and told her I wanted to use, to eat. I didn’t just tell her I have a craving, I really spilled it, told her I was dying to eat six soggy French fries. And she totally related, told me she’d been obsessing about half an ice pop in her freezer. The whole call took about four minutes, and then…” She shrugged. “Somehow I didn’t eat the fries. That was a turning point.” (Excerpted from Family First, Issue 570)