The Truth Behind the Lies Of An Anorexic Mom

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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.

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I walked out onto the court for the first match of the season. It was my first since starting treatment six weeks earlier, and I was distracted. My favorite tennis skirt was fitting a bit too snugly around my waist, and I couldn't stop touching the little roll of fat I imagined it created above the band. My opponent was strong but beatable. Always a slow starter, I figured I would find my rhythm, but I couldn't get moving. My body felt foreign. And more distracting than the extra jiggling around my thighs was the guilt that consumed me with every groundstroke.

Walking and yoga. After much negotiation, those were forms of exercise Gretchen, and I agreed would be acceptable throughout my treatment, although Gretchen strongly advised no exercise. Arguing my body needed to rest so it could heal from the years of abuse I had put it through. But I was adamant I needed some movement. I honestly thought I would go insane if I could not move my body, and Gretchen willing to meet me halfway, as long as the walking was slow and the yoga was gentle. Tennis was nowhere in the agreement.

Anorexia was my illness. The exercise was my addiction. I spent over a decade making sure I could exercise every day. Like a drug, I used it more than I should, sometimes until I made myself feel sick. I often skipped attending my kids sporting events and family get-togethers because they interfered with my workout, feeling guilty if I missed even one sweat session. And I lied. I lied about when, if, where, and how I exercised.

I knew I shouldn’t be playing but I hadn’t yet shared that with Heather. My favorite partner on the court who has become my treasured friend off court. (Winning second place at a local tournament, 2017).

In treatment, I agreed to walking and yoga because I was grateful to be getting approval from my treatment team to do some movement. I was willing to give up some forms of exercise like the elliptical and stepmill. I even agreed to give up my six am boot camp. Those activities were like a wine cooler to an alcoholic. They did the trick to quell my anxiety about life, but I didn't enjoy them. Tennis, however, was like perfectly aged wine or a craft beer. It was my top shelf.

The high I got from the exertion of a long singles match was second only to the high of WINNING a long singles match. On the court was the only place, for years, I felt strong and confident. Where I could prove to myself and others, despite my skeletal frame, I was not sick. I loved everything about playing.

But treatment changed that. It dimmed the rosy glow I got from hitting that yellow ball. Because in treatment, I learned what exercise, in any form, was doing to my body, testing my fragile bones, putting stress on my weak heart. With every groundstroke I sliced, with every lob I chased, with every serve I hit, I knew I was taking a risk with my life.

I was well aware that I should heed my treatment team's advice and stay off the court. But something was stopping me, and it had less to do with exercise, calories burned, or stress relief, and more about something else.

I was facing an opponent I had met many times before. And this time it was trying to stop me from winning the biggest match of my life.

  • sherrisacconaghi

When my friend Joyce invited me along with two others to her new vacation home in my favorite Bend, Oregon, I wanted to go, or more specifically, I wanted to want to go. I adored this group of women. Joyce, Mary, Victoria, and I had been playing tennis every Friday for the past year. Actually we laughed, gossiped, supported, and sometimes managed to get in a game or two. Although our friendship was relatively new, there was something about them that made me feel comfortable. Accepted. They knew nothing of my struggle with anorexia or that I was currently in treatment. They never commented on my body or questioned my soda water and two chip limit at our post tennis happy hours. And being a bit ahead of me in life (read older), they all had been through the rocky marriage moments and parenting angst I was currently experiencing. Their support and guidance felt, at times, like an umbrella in a shitstorm. 

The trip sounded perfect in theory. Good friends, my favorite city, a luxurious home, and a lot of wine/whine and although I was making slight progress in treatment, I was still slowly learning to let go of many of the unhealthy habits I put into place. I had not tested my recovery in unfamiliar territory without my old vices, my own food, exercise, structumeal times to turn too if I need to. I couldn’t go.

Could I?

What if they had no plan for meals and just wanted to graze all day? What if they wanted to lounge around and read with no intent to hike or bike? What if I didn’t get alone time to freak out with discomfort? What if I was so uncomfortable I spent the whole time wishing I was in the safety of my own home. The thought terrified me.

On the other hand;

What if I stayed home? What I took my morning walk alone? Ate my lunch exactly at Noon? And stayed well within my comfort zone of structure and predictability? Wishing the whole time I was laughing and bonding with my friends. The thought terrified me. 

I had a choice. Stay safe and stay stuck, or face my fear and move forward.  

“Do you feel safe with them?” Kirsten asked me, knowing this decision was brutal for me. By safe, she meant in the event I needed to out myself to these women, to admit I was in treatment and that I was scared shitless, could I? 

“I do,” I replied.

“Then I think you have your answer,” She replied, smiling.

 But after packing and unpacking three (or seven) times and planning for every “what if” scenario that might come up, I was exhausted and pissed off at myself for making something fun, be so damned hard. I decided if I was agreeing to go on this trip, bond with my friends, be part of a tribe again after so many years feeling alone, then I was going to GO on this trip. Meaning I would leave all my stupid rules at home, including my food, workout gear, and escape plan.  Staring at my half packed (or unpacked) suitcase, I made a promise to myself. If they were going to lounge all day, so was I.  If they were going to eat breakfast at eleven in the morning, so was I. If they were eating steak and potatoes for dinner, then dammit, so was I. It was the only way I could for see getting through it.

Would there be moments of physical discomfort and emotional terror? Most likely. Would there be thoughts of “what the Hell was I thinking? Probably. Was I risking my recovery pushing myself too hard? Maybe. 

But  I was being offered a chance—a chance to do it differently. A chance to feel a part of something special —a chance at recovering.  

It was a chance I was ready to take.

The fantastic moments far outweighed the scary ones (even finding out there was Mayo in the potato pancakes).. I never felt the need to reveal I was in treatment. I was having too much fun with these amazing women. It was such an incredible feeling to just “be”. This trip was a game changer and motivated me to commit to recovery. I wanted more of this.

From Left: Joyce, Victoria, Me and Mary (Bend, Oregon 2016)

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There are many reasons I decided to go into treatment for anorexia. I wanted to have more energy. I wanted to look healthier. I wanted to honor my mom. I wanted people to stop staring at me. I wanted to be able to shop somewhere other than the teen sections for clothes. I wanted to eat a BBQ’d hamburger on a warm sunny day. The truth is, I wanted a lot of things that anorexia could not give me. But there is one reason that screamed louder and shone brighter than the rest. Something I craved more than brownies or hip-hugging jeans. 

 Connection. I desperately wanted to feel connected to other people. 

Like and addiction or an abusive partner, my anorexia could only survive if it had me all to itself, keeping the threat of worried well-meaning friends and family as far away as possible. Anorexia convinced me, a once outgoing, social sorority girl who loved to travel and dance, that I was an withdrawn, anti-social freak. It told me that the only way to ensure my cancer wouldn’t return, my husband would stop drinking, and my kids would be safe and happy was to put stringent rules into place. It promised me that comfort was found only in calories counted and miles logged rather than on a friend’s shoulder or a night out with the girls. Desperate to feel less crazy, I bought what anorexia was selling.

Every week in treatment Kirsten would have me fill out a diary card to focus on a specific goal. This is the one that came up most often ( highlighted).

While my dietician, Gretchen was working on my body, my therapist, Kirsten was working on my mind, trying to help me reverse the damage that years of having an eating disorder inflicted. During our weekly sessions, Kirsten taught me to question every rule I had put into place over the years. To push back against the thinking that kept me isolated from other people. To face down the angry lion, I was sure would pounce if I let loose of my self-control. Although, in theory, I understood the skill Kirsten was teaching, in practice, it was hard. Often creating long awkward moments during our sessions, the silence gradually swelling, ultimately filling the office and threatening to bust the windows open as I tried to find the answers.

And I needed answers because I was facing a problem. A test of my recovery process. The first since I had started treatment a month earlier. Like the carrot cake, I was being offered something I desperately wanted, only bigger. More critical. And instead of digging in with both hands, I was searching for reasons to deny myself. Not because I didn’t want it but because I wanted it so badly.

I knew what I wanted to do. I knew what I had to do. I knew what I should do. I just didn’t think I had the courage to do it.

While in treatment I would look at old pictures to remind myself of the person I really am and why I was fighting so hard to find her again.

From left; Buying chestnuts in Venice, My twenty oner with my sorority sisters, college graduation with my bestie, Polly.


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!

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