When You Feel Like a Fraud in Recovery

By Lisa JohnsMay 17, 2019

Three years ago I found myself chasing after any form of control (imagined or otherwise) I could find. For me, the easiest way to get it was through my body, weight, and food.

Enter my eating disorder.

This wasn’t the first time my eating disorder had reared its ugly head, but it was by far, the furthest I had ever fallen into my illness. Eventually, it ended with some not-so voluntary treatment starting in a psychiatric ward, then to a residential unit. From there, I went to a partial hospitalization program, followed by intensive outpatient treatment, to finally, a biweekly counseling session I still attend to this day. Needless to say, it was and continues to be a long journey.

Although previously on the hunt for control, I now willingly walk into an unpredictable environment every day for work. As the supervisor at my local crisis helpline, I never know what the day will hold. What kinds of ups and downs I will endure. Whether or not I’ll be triggered, or one of my staff members or volunteers will be.

I spend much of my day supporting people in their lowest moments. I try to convey that they are worthy, that they deserve support and help, and how important it is that they take care of themselves. And while I genuinely believe all of the things I say to every individual that calls, I sometimes feel like a fraud.

I tell someone on the phone that they need to make sure they are eating and sleeping enough. I ask them if they would like me to stay on the phone with them while they eat. Then I turn around and throw my lunch away, because “I probably don’t deserve to eat it anyway.”

I tell another person: you deserve support, and encourage them to open up about their struggles to a trusted person in their life. A few days later, after a long and draining 24 hours, I tell myself: “No one wants to hear about your issues, that’s selfish. Keep it to yourself.”

I talk to an individual who is in the midst of tears and can barely catch their breath. I tell them that crying is a sign of strength and there is no shame behind it. Then I think to myself, “You haven’t allowed yourself to cry in months.”

I know recovery is not linear, and for the sake of being transparent, sometimes I feel like I may be going backward. It’s terrifying to carry that fear around. The fear of going back to my worst moments, but the hardest thing to carry is the guilt.

How can I tell people in crisis that hope and help are real, when I doubt it myself sometimes? Does that make me a fraud?

I’m not sure what the truth is, but what I do know is that I choose to keep living and showing up even on the days when I feel like a fraud. I still wake up and do the things I need to—even when I don’t want to. Especially when I don’t want to. I still walk into my nutritionist’s office every other week even on the days when I need to be nudged through the door.


Because I want to be a real, thriving, vision of recovery. Because I want to believe that what I tell others also applies to me. Because every once in a while, I find healing and don’t feel like a fraud. I feel worthy and irreplaceable and deserving of all the good things this world wants to offer us, to offer me.

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Comments (9)

  1. Ashley Johnson

    I totally relate to feeling like a fraud. Good for you to keep at it regardless of the doubt in your mind. I understand how old thoughts can resurface, I still have thoughts that I have been intentionally trying to eliminate for a year+. The key is to be aware of these thoughts and when they come up decide to not accept them as your truth.

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  2. Carol

    Lisa – you are way too hard on yourself. I love your honesty and your story. You may not see that you have strength and wisdom and a lot of insight; as well as caring and compassion for others. You are going forward every day – in spite of anything attempting to drag you down. We have to love and accept ourselves/who we are, the way we are. We are not perfect – there are plenty of things I don’t like about myself – – and it has taken me FOREVER to get to a point of acceptance…. (we change what we can when we can if we choose to) You can do it – it is all just a step and a step and a step.

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  3. Cam S

    I feel this. A lot. You’ve put it into words perfectly. Thank you.

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  4. bill

    Thanks for sharing that. I’m sober in AA 33 years and i feel empty. Not always but lots. Have a good day.

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    1. TWLOHA

      Hi Bill,

      Know that it’s OK to feel that way, but also know that you, just like Lisa (the author), are by no means a fraud. Your recovery and your journey are valid. You are doing the very best you can each day, each moment, and that is enough.

      With Hope,

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  5. Grace

    Thank you for sharing this. So often I feel the same way it’s almost like I have a double standard like everyone else has so much worth and so much to live for but when it comes to myself I can’t see my worth or my purpose in life. I’m trying to get rid of that double standard but sometimes I just don’t have the energy to fight any of it. You are not alone in these feelings and I’m not either

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  6. Rebecca Burlin


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  7. ariana

    This has been my story. I don’t struggle with an eating disorder but with mental illness and have moments in crisis. I work in inpatient psychiatry and there are times I feel like a fraud telling kids to stay alive and to keep going when I can barely get out of bed. It’s good to know that someone else gets it too.

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  8. Brooklyn Lee

    I totally know what you mean

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