The Truth Behind the Lies Of An Anorexic Mom

Like what you are reading?  Please subscribe.

Thanks for submitting!

Note:  This blog contains descriptions of eating disorder behaviors.  Although I have tried to be mindful in writing about specific behaviors, there are parts of  that may be difficult to read for those actively struggling with an eating disorder.  For support please see the "resources"page on this site.

  • sherrisacconaghi

Last week I was on a call with some friends. The four of us were planning a birthday celebration for a mutual friend of ours, and with pandemic life opening a bit, our busy schedules required us to settle for FaceTime. Although the topic was light, within seconds, I felt tension between two of the women. Outright nothing was said, but I sensed a stilted body language in one and a sharp tone in the voice of the other. I became uncomfortable and started to do my "thing." When a topic arose that I felt might make one of the women feel excluded, I quickly changed the subject. When someone threw out a party idea, I heartily agreed as not to offend, and as always, when I sense tension, I tried to keep the air light with witty, sarcastic joking.

Although the call only lasted twenty minutes, when it was over, I was exhausted. And extremely irritated. Not at my girlfriends but at myself.

I am a human emotional thermometer. I understand now it is a coping strategy I developed from a very young age. Being raised in an alcoholic home that, although never violent, was highly unpredictable. I often feared for my safety and that of my little sister. However, I found it was safest to deal with it if I was always on the alert. Untrusting of their words, I instead became hyper-aware of my mom's body language, the sound of her voice, and the look in her eye, and always listening to the sound of my dad's voice tone and volume. Feeling safe in my belief that if I knew what was going on in the house, I could act accordingly; the caretaker, the appeaser, or just silently slipping away into my room, not to make anything worse.

It is a skill I have carried over into adulthood. I have over the years accepted the fact that I will automatically take the temperature of any room I am in, even virtual. Like breathing or blinking, it just happens. And if I sense something is amiss, my internal alert system goes off, and depending on the situation, my body goes into a fight or flight mode. My stomach clenches, my heart races, my shoulders tighten, my vision blurs, and my ears ring. Unfortunately, for years it went unmanaged, causing problems not only in my relationships, especially with my husband and my oldest son, but it made me sick. Very sick.

I have learned, for my own health, I cannot get entangled in the emotional stuff of others. It detracts me from dealing with my own crap, and lord knows I have enough of that to deal with. (Mt Hood, 2021).

It has been the most challenging part of my recovery process from anorexia. I have had to learn to be uncomfortable. Not just physically, like when I have had to overeat food or move my body less in efforts to gain weight, but emotionally. I've had to learn to sit through the discomfort rather than numbing it, fixing it, or running from it. And I have been successful for the most part. For example, I've become more accepting of my unease over my husband's struggles because they belong to him. I've learned to breathe through my worry about my son's lifestyle choices because they are his decisions. And I have allowed myself to sit and feel grief over the loss of my mom because she is gone, and that I cannot change.

It has been my challenge to accept that I cannot control everything and everyone so that I will feel comfortable, and sometimes I forget that. And I try to fix what isn't mine to fix. But, as a result, I fail to allow those I love the grace and dignity of their thoughts, feelings, and emotions.

I have to remind myself to get out of their way and stay focused on my own.

  • sherrisacconaghi

The summer before Marc and I got married, we went on a trip to Hawaii. But it was not just any trip. It was an incentive trip Marc won for writing a significant amount of new business with a particular insurance company. Marc was primed to eventually take over the family insurance agency, but he was still pretty new to the biz. This trip was his first, and as Marc’s obvious plus one, I had my sunscreen packed before he could say Aloha.

We have been fortunate to have enjoyed many amazing hosted adventures over the years, but this first one was the double fisting best. (Mauai/Lanai, 1999).

We spent that trip wide-eyed over the decadence and excessiveness of the tropical adventure. Although we both made decent money, as two thirty-something's trying to build a future together, for us, indulging meant eating off the non-happy hour menu at our favorite pub once a week. Nothing like the free-flowing bounty presented before us on this trip. Complimentary cocktails by the pool? I'll have two, please. Breakfast buffet on the lanai? I'll take an extra whip on those waffles. Five-star meals beachside, the sound of the ocean mingling perfectly with the scent of plumeria. I'll have the filet mignon, medium rare.

It was magical. This experience is a once-in-a-lifetime, I thought to myself as I enjoyed the creamy tartness of the key lime pie nestled on the plate in my lap. Watching, mesmerized, as a performance of Phantom Of The Opera was performed on the open-air stage in front of me. Although visions of my newly fitted wedding dress floated through the edges of my sugar-infused mind, I didn't care. What the hell? I am on vacation.

A lot can happen in 15 years ( Oahu, 2014).

Over the years, as I sank deeper in my relationship with anorexia, my travel adventures lost the carefree 'what the hell's’ and were replaced with more stringent 'no way in hell's’. Regardless of the location or companions, one fact was consistent. I always lost weight when I traveled. Always. Whether a beach trip with my family, a relaxing girlfriend getaway, or a romantic tropical escape with my husband, I knew I would not allow myself to gain weight. Being out of my home environment, where I could control my food to the calorie and exercise to the minute, required me to be more diligent when on the road. Without fail, I would get up while my kids were still sleeping to take early morning beach runs. I would hit the resort fitness center on wine and dine award trips while Marc was partaking in the decadent breakfast buffet. I would drink soda water by the pool, pass on handcrafted artisan dessert trays and stare longingly at the enormous ice cream cones dripping slowly in my kids' warm sand-littered little hands. Why don't you get one, mommy?

Even during my years in treatment, I struggled to maintain my weight while traveling. Hard-earned pounds that had taken me months to gain could be lost in a mere week on the road. Whether it was girlfriend trips to Palm Springs filled with ice cream and chocolate or work-related conferences in Central Oregon with of all-you-can-eat buffets and limitless cocktails, I lost weight. Even though, armed with my new healthy skills, I approached each trip with the resolve to let loose, I could never allow myself to let go entirely. To sit still, to indulge, and to say 'what the hell.'

Until I found myself, a healthy fifty year old woman ready to move forward in my life. Wanting to be free of therapy, treatment, and support groups. Although I still struggled with anorexia, I was no longer considered an anorexic.

So what the hell? It was time to get on with it.

  • sherrisacconaghi

When I turned sixteen, my mom took me to the DMV before school to get my driver's license. Being on the younger side, I was one of the last to accomplish this rite of passage, and I was ready. I woke up early, taking extra time with my hair and make-up in anticipation of the DL picture. I couldn't wait to recap the whole experience later at lunch hour with my girlfriends; the route we took, whether or not I had to parallel park, and if I got the DMV guy with the bad breath or the young, cute one. When my number came up, I waved to my mom, hopped into our brown station wagon with Mr. Bad Breath buckled next to me, and just minutes in, proceeded to run a stop sign. I failed the test. (A tree branch was hiding the sign, just saying). I was embarrassed, disappointed, and had no desire to retake the test. Ever.

My dilemma was that if I wanted to move forward and drive, I had to go back and pass the test.

Coming fresh from my 50th birthday celebration, I was excited for the session with my therapist, Kirsten. I spent the first half-hour filling her in on the festivities, who was there, how great I looked and how I felt renewed and reconnected to my old healthy self. I was hoping she sensed how ready I was to move forward in my life outside of treatment.

"So, have you had that burger with Polly yet?" After I finished with my effervescent party recap, Kirsten asked. She had a teasing lilt to her voice, but the message was clear.

I’ not sure who was happier, me or Polly. By my side for the past 30 years, P was, as always, there for me when I was ready. It really was a delicious burger and a great evening. (October 2018).

Having a burger with Polly became a mile marker to my recovery since early in treatment. It began during a therapy session where I tearfully explained to Kirsten a dinner outing with my friend Polly. Being a beautiful fall evening, P and I skipped the pub where we met monthly to catch up and chose to sit outside on the patio of a local bistro in town. The place was pleasantly crowded, the atmosphere filled with the sounds of laughter and clinking glasses. Portlanders who were taking advantage of the last of the warm weather. But the bustle was not what caught my attention. Wafting through the air was a mouthwatering, irresistible smell of grilled burgers. And I wanted one. Badly. I anxiously waited for the server to come before I could talk myself out of ordering one. I was so twitchy and preoccupied with the food negotiation occurring in my head, and I could not focus on whatever world problem P and I were trying to solve at the moment. After what seemed like an hour, the waiter arrived with a "what can I get you, ladies, this evening?"

Polly ordered the burger. I got a salad.

For the rest of the meal, I sat, my mouthwatering at the thought of taking a huge bite of her burger, with the perfectly grilled juicy patty, topped with fresh garnishes sitting atop a perfectly toasted ciabatta bun. I wanted that burger, and I was so fucking pissed at myself that I would not, I could not, allow myself to have it.

"When you ready," Kirsten said after I had tearfully finished beating myself up over the whole burger event, "it will happen."

Over the next two years, the 'burger with Polly' question became a litmus test for progress. And there was so much progress made. Scales thrown out, running shoes donated, cake eaten, girlfriend trips taken, pounds gained, and rules lost. But I had yet to challenge a long-held food rule and have that burger with Polly. I was always ready with an excuse as to why it had yet to happen; too busy, waiting for a warm night, didn't sound good, while my dear friend patiently waited at the ready for my 'burger call.'

Each time knowing Kirsten's question was more of a statement. I had missed a step. I wasn’t ready to move forward until I was willing to take a step back.


Thanks for your interest in Skinny: The Truth Behind The Lies OF An Anorexic Mom. I'd love to connect with you so feel free to get in touch and I will get back to you soon!

Your details were sent successfully!

Laptop On Tray