What Defines Strength In Recovery

I Am A Survivor

Over 20 years ago, I battled anorexia. The intense period of my eating disorder was relatively short-lived, but the march to recovery has been long and arduous.

I’ve recently been writing and talking about my experience and have had lots of conversations with people about eating disorders. Regardless of how well I know the person I’m talking to, the conversations typically end with the same general statement:

“You are so strong for sharing your experience.”

I appreciate the compliment, but I’m never sure to respond. Really? You think I’m strong?


Do you long to feel strong in recovery? We can help at the School of Recovery.


I get what they mean. My willingness to be vulnerable suggests I have it all figured out. But to be honest, I waited 20 years to talk about my experience, and I did so hesitantly. Eventually my reservations were overtaken by my overwhelming desire to help others who are struggling.

Does That Make Me Strong?

Maybe, but I don’t often feel it. I keep thinking about people’s characterization of me as strong, and I have realized I am strong enough.

I am strong enough to know I am still susceptible to the dark thoughts and unhealthy behaviors that took over my life years ago.

What Does It Take?

Perhaps the most important lesson of recovery is that it takes work. Having successfully battled an eating disorder doesn’t mean I will never feel the desire to control my life through restricting and compulsive exercise; however, it means that when those thoughts pop into my mind, I can quiet them.

Strong Enough

I can decide to push aside the sometimes-overwhelming desire to diet. And if I do start to restrict, I can redirect. I can defy that voice and choose to eat the meals and snacks my body needs to thrive.

I am strong enough to reach out to close friends when I feel tempted to withdraw. The more I fell into an eating disorder, the more isolated I became. And the more isolated I became, the more space and attention I gave the thoughts that fueled unhealthy behaviors.

I’m Not Alone

I know I’m not alone in that experience. Conversations I have had with other people who have struggled reveal a universal experience. Isolation fuels unhealthy thoughts.

A huge factor of recovery for me was connecting with people again. I started to get better after talking to my parents and close friends about my struggle. After several months of reestablishing those connections, I began broadening my social network again.

Even now, I recognize that my close friendships keep me healthy, and I prioritize those connections over all else.

I Don’t Always Feel Strong

There is incredible pressure to present ourselves as having it all together. As a mom, I feel that pressure keenly. It seems like we can’t be happy without high-achieving children, #couplegoals marriages, fulfilling careers, immaculate houses, and perfect appearances.

That idea is a myth. We can be happy without perfection, and we do a disservice when we suggest otherwise.

None of us have to have it all figured out. Being recovered or in recovery doesn’t mean we never feel tempted to restrict or overexercise or overeat or purge. It means we can acknowledge the challenge of fighting off those thoughts and admit to the people around us that we struggle.

In a world that strives for Instagrammable perfection, I fully admit I am a work in progress and always will be.

And maybe that’s what makes me strong.


Come join other warriors that have survived their eating disorder at the School of Recovery!


More from Catherine Brown

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