I Am Not Enough: The Power of Community in Recovery

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Catherine Alene

I am enough. These three words appear in memes and on social media. We fling them around in the recovery community and silk screen them onto shirts. While in treatment, therapists repeated them and encouraged me to apply them to myself. With a flip of a pronoun, they altered the phrase and turned it into a mirror directed squarely at me. “You are enough,” they said. “You are enough.”

When I was sick however, these words made no sense to me. Anorexia had whittled away my body, but it had also done something far more insidious. It had whittled away my sense of self worth. It did this by isolating me from friends, destroying romantic relationships, and incinerating my career. How could I, someone who could not hold a job down or a relationship together, be enough?

When I stepped out of treatment and back into the vestiges of my life, I looked inward to find a sense of self-worth. These words became my mantra. I am enough. I reasoned that if I repeated them enough times, I would come to believe them, and when I did, they and the sentiment they reflected would sustain me in recovery.  

The results of this exercise were abysmal. I ended up returning to treatment not once, not twice, but three times. After my third and final go, I realized that I needed to do something dramatically different. Relying upon myself and looking inward simply wasn’t working. I decided to turn my gaze elsewhere. I began looking at the world around me and asked myself, “How do I fit in?”  The answer to this question came quietly and revealed itself slowly.  

It all began with a flyer in the window of a coffee shop. The flyer advertised a workshop for individuals interested in writing for children and young adults. I enrolled in the workshop and spent two days doing nothing but writing. I wrote in pen and pencil. I even wrote in crayon. I wrote and I wrote and I didn’t stop, not even after I returned home.

I began attending a critique group and volunteered to read with a kindergartener at the local grade school. While I was at the grade school, I listened as children told me why stories mattered to them. When I participated in my critique group and eventually began attending conferences, I listened to authors as they talked about why they wrote. What they shared made me laugh and sometimes, it made me cry. It made me do something I hadn’t done while I was sick. It made me feel.  

It made me feel more connected to the individuals and to the community around me and, in the process, I began to feel more connected to myself. It became easier to smile, easier to laugh and the space that used to be consumed with thoughts of calories and numbers and the 101 reasons I didn’t deserve to take up a single inch of space in this world were replaced with my own poetry and prose.  

It was through a sense of connection to other people through story that I began to realize my worth as an individual. I learned that believing that “I am enough” is not the secret to recovery.  Instead, it is the knowledge that as a writer, a teacher, a mother and an activist, I am part of a network of communities comprised of individuals working to affect social change. I am one of many and together, we are enough.  

Catherine Alene has an MA in teaching, and earned her MFA in writing at Vermont College of Fine Arts. Like the protago­nist in her young adult novel, The Sky Between You and Me, Catherine battled anorexia nervosa. Now in recovery, she regularly serves as a recovery speaker, talking to college students and professional groups about her experience living with, and finally recovering from, the disease.

Photos courtesy of Red Owl Photography