The Festival of Lights was so dark during my childhood that I barely remember it. Today, I experience Chanukah as the Holiday of Recovery. This association is not on account of anniversaries or chips earned; rather, Chanukah connects me fundamentally with my essence. A Jewish soul is compared to a flame, anchored in the physical, ever striving upward toward unification with the spiritual. My process of recovery has afforded me the opportunity to see myself as I am: pure, warm, and light. An unadulterated flame, sometimes dimmer, sometimes brighter, reflecting the spark of G‑d that sustains me in every moment.

During my childhood Chanukah was observed by some family members gathering around one menorah, in a dark and depressing dining room alcove. We were not familiar with the custom of each family member kindling their own menorah; nor were we exposed to the concept of using oil for lighting. As none of us was ever in touch with our own voice, there was no singing. Neither was there laughter, latkes, or any levity. No dreidel games, no doughnuts. Presents (a pair of slippers, a new pajama) were given once, on the first night. In my family, we were taught to scorn excessiveness (eight presents?!), just as we judged the use of an electric menorah. Yet secretly, I loved the tear shaped orange glowing globes present in so many windows in our neighborhood. Today I understand that electric menorahs do not fulfill the mitzvah of lighting Chanukah candles, but they are effective in publicizing the miracle.

The picture in my home today is, thank G‑d, vastly different. In a brightly lit family room whose walls are decorated with children’s Chanukah designs, many oil filled menorahs stand proudly on a foil covered table, laden with chocolate gelt, dreidels, and coins. While we are still not singers, we play CDs so that upbeat Chanukah music fills the room. We eat home cooked latkes which most of the kids have helped to prepare. We have some skirmishes, the ever present jealousy or control issues amongst family members (who gets which wicks, who lights first after Daddy, etc.), but on the whole, Chanukah is a positive family experience.

Growing up, I stared at a lone candle feeling sadness and longing. Today, G‑d has graced me with a Torah observant home in which there is much light and clear Jewish identity. Today, I realize that the little flame of a purple or pink wax candle burning briefly in a dysfunctional home sustained me through the years. Though I had no conscious awareness of the metaphoric power of light, I know that the flame’s image stayed with me. Everything comes at the right time; eventually that little spark in my memory was the catalyst G‑d used to ignite a whole hearted impetus for my growth in Jewish observance. Still later, that same spark led me to recovery.

When we get lost in addictive and codependent behaviors, we cover up our true identities. But as we know from the Chanukah miracle, the spark never dies. The embers of who we were before the pain and trauma are always glowing deep inside us. Sometimes it takes a heroic battle to clear away the debris and uncover what is, and always has been, pure. The Jewish soul, part of G‑d Himself, can never be tainted. Our behaviors have been off, but not our essence.

Life circumstances have squeezed us and caused us pain. Hitting bottom, like the tough olive that is grinded and crushed, our own pure oil is finally extractable. The oil used in the Chanukah miracle was buried in the rubble, but found with its seal intact. Nothing could violate its purity. So, too, with our own oil, our souls.

Let’s look at the power of that oil! We can light up our spirits, our families, and our environments. It is written that the light from the menorah in the Holy Temple spread out into the entire world! We, too, can affect the world through reclaiming our own inner light. We have so much to give. When one flame ignites another, there is no diminishing of the original source, there is only more light in the world. We are intricately familiar with this concept in our Twelfth Step work. As ancient Judah’s heroism inspired others to join the Maccabee band, so, too, does our recovery today inspire others to begin their own.

On Chanukah when we sit and gaze at the lights, we have a unique week long opportunity to reflect on our own pure essence, on our connection with our Creator. We can tap into the physical and spiritual light available to us. We can feel G‑d’s presence with us when we choose to see the purity of our souls in the lights in front of us. We can see ourselves reflected in His infinite encompassing light.

Chanukah teaches us that we are pure, that we have what to give, that we are on an ascending growth path all times, and that we are embraced by G‑d. It is well known that Chanukah candles are lit for eight nights, and that each night we add more light. In my childhood we often skipped nights; sometimes we simply forgot. But Chanukah teaches us there is no going backwards. On the third night one may suddenly stop and realize that it’s the third night. He lights three candles even though he forgot to light at all on the second night. So, too, in recovery. We always need to take stock of where we are, but not get stuck in slips. We keep on ascending. We add to what we have accomplished, never resting on our previous gains.

Dedicated to my brother, who died ten years ago. His birthday had been on the fifth night of Chanukah, when there are more candles lit than not. My brother’s world felt dark, but his birthday contains a spiritual message that supports me: light is more abundant than darkness.