When I voluntarily left the rabbinic pulpit world, a world where I enjoyed modest celebrity, where, when I walked into our synagogue's social hall after services, everyone turned my way with eager eyes and toothy smiles, I went through major withdrawal. I felt anonymous. I stared at my empty inbox and it stared back, offering little more than occasional spam reminders that larger genitalia was just a click away.
As my withdrawal symptoms increased, as I slid into the relatively manageable haze of mild depression, I understood that I was an ambition-addict, a status-junky. I didn't like the work of being a synagogue rabbi, but I loved the celebrity. I fed on it. Feeling important kept my demons at bay. If I happened to stare into the existential abyss, I could shake off the vertigo with a shot or two of walking into the social hall. Feeling like the most important person in the room was my drug of choice (a daily anti-depressant and cup of coffee didn't hurt either).
We develop addictions, in part, to deal with fear. Fear can be incredibly uncomfortable. Fear can hurt. If we don't see a way to easily and naturally dispel the fear, we may turn to alcohol, drugs, food, sex, shopping, exercise, or, in my case, external validation and ambition. For a while, perhaps for a very long time, this will keep fear at bay. Unfortunately, fear builds in direct relationship to our repression of it. So we drink more. We work out harder. Or we try to be the greatest rabbi in the world. Our addictions begin to own us. They grow bigger than our demons. They become demons of their own.
When I quit celebrity cold-turkey, I returned back home, back to the fear I'd been fleeing. These days, in meditation and yoga, when I write and when I sing, I look at my demons. I touch them. I cry about them. I laugh about them, too. So far, they don't go away. So I share space with them, these ungainly housemates of mine. They don't do the dishes and they have loud parties and I deal with it. I don't panic. When they make suggestions, I listen and nod and then act from a deeper sense of intuition, wisdom and hope. "What a loser!" they howl. I don't answer. I just keep going.