Recovery is a unique and personal journey. Every person working towards recovery starts in a different place, takes a different path, and navigates the twists and turns that take them there. Recovery is the process, and is part of the journey. It is not a perfect end goal.
There are many definitions of recovery, and it means different things to everyone seeking it. However, many people agree that recovery involves working to take control of their lives, and work towards accomplishing goals and dreams (Copeland 2006). ANAD believes that recovery is possible, at any age and at any stage.
ANAD defines recovery as the following:
ANAD believes in recovery. We see it every day and know it’s real and achievable. In our recovery-oriented approach, we recognize that recovery from an eating disorder can be both clinical and personal: two separate but interwoven strands (Cook and Morgan, 2016). Clinical recovery focuses on the illness. Personal recovery focuses on the person.
Focus on the illness
Clinical recovery means that an individual is improving based on measurable outcomes. Often, clinical recovery is achieved when healthcare professionals can say some of the following:
Focus on the person
At ANAD, we believe that recovery should focus on the person, not just the illness. Most people who have recovered from an eating disorder believe that recovery is about more than just the diagnostic criteria.
See me as a person not simply as a diagnosis of an eating disorder.
“It’s not simply going back to what life was like before. It’s growing and learning and reaching a better place.”
The main building block of recovery is hope. It centers not only around a personal desire for recovery, but the belief that recovery is truly achievable. Personal recovery involves discovering a meaningful and satisfying life no longer dominated by an eating disorder. Individuals who are able to focus on developing activities and relationships that encourage self- acceptance, self- esteem, a social life, healthy ways of expressing emotion, and a relaxed attitude about food are generally better able to sustain recovery than those who focus on their illness (Bjork & Ahlstrom, 2008).
“Recovery is something that we do for ourselves, not something that is done to us. The real work- the heavy lifting of life- is ours. Recovery is a commitment to self.” (NEDC Stories from Experience, 2015)
People who have recovered from an eating disorder see themselves as active agents in their recovery. Recovery is knowing what you want out of life and what you are prepared to work towards. There is no single goal that defines recovery. ANAD’s recovery-oriented approach encourages people to identify and value their own goals, wishes, and aspirations. Once identified, it is up to the individual to take responsibility for their own recovery and well-being.
“Personal recovery is a process of change through which people improve their health and well-being and quality of life”
– Anthony, 1993
If recovery is a choice to pursue then it is a choice to be made repeatedly throughout the recovery process. It is an on-going process that requires sustained effort. ANAD encourages realistic expectations and understanding that recovery is not a “quick fix” but rather a long journey with lots of challenges. Part of the recovery process is understanding that set-backs and relapses are considered to be part of the recovery process and not major obstacles to recovery (Reynen, 2012).
“If the rest of my life improved, so would my eating disorder.”
Personal recovery means just that—personal. Recovery from an eating disorder has been described as a complex process and everyone’s journey is different, deeply personal and unique. People with eating disorders also have identified a multitude of factors in addition to therapy that contribute to personal recovery, including personal relationships, meaningful activities and positive life experiences ( Espindola & Blay, 2009; Hay & Cho, 2013; Reynen, 2012)
ANAD’s recovery-oriented approach values connection. ANAD recovery mentors and peer support group leaders are all individuals who have experienced both an eating disorder and their own recovery. They share their stories and their personal knowledge of recovery to help those currently struggling with an eating disorder. They provide empathy, understanding, and a level of connection not found from most health care professionals or even well-meaning loved ones. They have traveled the same road, and can support others on just starting their journey.
ANAD volunteers are role models, and serve as living proof that recovery is possible. Peer work is about relationships. It provides a safe, nonjudgmental environment and a sense of connected-ness when individuals are feeling isolated and alone.
I needed someone who understood my journey and who could give me tools and strategies that they had used to support their recovery. I needed someone who could hold hope for my future, when I had no hope. I needed someone who could be there with me and who could sit with my pain, my helplessness and who understood what I was going through.