SKINNY

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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  • sherrisacconaghi

My friend, *Mary, is a recovering alcoholic. Last year, after being sober for several years, she relapsed. When she told me, I was heartbroken for her as I knew how hard she was working to maintain her sobriety, but I wasn't surprised. To those who don’t know her well, Mary was sober. She did not drink at social gatherings, she did not tempt herself by frequenting her old "watering holes, and she attended AA meetings weekly. But, having been friends with Mary through a prior relapse, I saw the subtle signs creeping in. She was edgy, snapping at me for not returning a text or siding with her on one of her increasing complaints. And she began to "pile on." Turning the little things that occurred throughout her day, a work meeting gone long, a extra needed trip to the grocery store, or going to her son's soccer game into huge inconvenient tasks. Mary had relapsed before her lips ever touched the bottle.


"Why didn't you say something to me," Mary said when she got back on track, and I, after much Alanon soul searching, shared with her my observations.


"Would you have believed me?" I asked.


When my dietician Gretchen finally handed me my" walking papers" and I left her office for that final day, I felt like Mary Tyler Moore, spinning around on the sidewalk joyfully tossing my blue beret into the air. But simmering under the initial elation, was a fear, I wasn’t going to “make it after all.” Although overall, I liked the way my body looked, the increased energy, and the clothing choices available to me in adult sizes, I was not entirely comfortable in it. I was still very aware of my slight tummy pooch as I glanced sideways in a mirror, the way I felt my breasts bounced when I ran for a ball, and how the waistband of my jeans left an indentation on my skin when I took them off for the night. I was afraid without Gretchen and Kirsten's watchful eyes on me, I would, within a week, take my years of hard work and destroy it with one step on the scale or run on the treadmill.




Some days the best you can do is to just hang on. ( Zion, 2019)

Man, I have had the opportunity for a great deal of learning these past two post-treatment years.


I quickly learned staying in recovery means I have to be on alert. Anorexia is sneaky. It can creep up like a cat, silently hiding unaware until it pounces on its unsuspecting prey. Unlike some other addictions, I cannot "blow it" overnight. I do not have to worry that if I go one night without ice cream or play tennis twice in one day, I will wake up the next morning, and my pants will slide down my body. I have learned I can say no to a dinner out with friends without the fear it will turn me into an isolated shell. But I have to be aware of the feeling those activities elicit in me. The sense of control over denying myself something I crave, the high from prolonged exercise, or the comfort and safety of routine. I have to be deliberate in my choices. When left unchecked, especially in times of emotional stress, these occasional occurrences can quickly spiral into old rituals and routines that signal danger is ahead.


Recovery is catching a relapse in my behavior well before I notice it on my body.




*Name and slight details changed to protect anonymity.



  • sherrisacconaghi

By spring of my senior year in high school, I was D-O-N-E. Although I was going to miss my

friends, teammates, and mom’s spaghetti, I was ready to move on. Prepared to head to the University of Oregon that fall, I had everything ready to go: My new beige dorm room bedding, my favorite pasta poster newly framed, my big green fluffy bathrobe, a blue shower caddy, and a mini-fridge (a luxury item in 1986). I was excited for the freedom and adventure waiting for me outside my hometown. On the big day, my parents and I loaded the family station wagon and made the two-hour drive down to Eugene, the warm sun and vibrant fall leaves idyllically framing my vision of football games and fraternity parties. But as we got closer to campus and reality hit, the nerves set in. I’m not sure I’m ready for this.


“I’m fine, you guys can go now, “ I said to my parents after they had helped me unpack my stuff into the tiny room, the tears rolling down my mom’s cheeks threatening to unleash my own.


“Call me later?” my mom said, looking back at me as my dad led her down the hallway toward the exit. I wanted nothing more than to run to them and beg them to take me home. Despite some rocky years, they had been there for me. My mom and dad were my safety net, my security blanket, my anchors . Although they were only a phone call away, I need to prove I could do it to my parents, but more importantly, to myself.



“I am sure going to miss you, “ my dietician Gretchen said to me, shaking her head beaming with pride.


Gretchen,” I choked, unable to find the words big enough for my gratitude, “ thank you for….everything.”


Two weeks prior, Gretchen had informed me that she and my therapist Kirsten had agreed I was firmly rooted in my recovery. Although my weight was still lower than they would have preferred, it had been stable for quite some time, even holding steady during a much anticipated but potentially risky family vacation. Our first for Marc, the boys and I since D had returned from Evoke, and we had embarked on Intensive family therapy to put our family back together. It had the potential to be a disaster for my family, and my body. But, despite some speed bumps, it was fantastic in many ways, and I held my own emotionally and physically. It was the final assurance Gretchen, Kirsten and I needed that I had the tools necessary to keep myself healthy outside the guidance and security of treatment.



For two years and three months, I had been trekking across town for my weekly sessions with Gretchen. Hours spent sitting across from her in that green chair as she helped me untangle the knotted ball of rules and rituals that I wound so tightly around myself. Gretchen, who pushed me when I was stuck in a weight rut, celebrated with me when I went up a pant size, and showed me compassion when I was too sad with worry over my son to focus on myself. She had over the years become my safety net, my security blanket, my friend.


I’m not sure I’m ready for this, I thought to myself as Gretchen and I shared one final hug in the foyer of her home office.


Although Gretchen was only a phone call away, I knew I wouldn’t call, at least not right away. I wanted to prove I could do it, to Gretchen, but more importantly, to myself.



I was excited, yet so nervous for this trip. I felt a lot of pressure for it to go well. To successfully put into practice what we had been learning in family therapy. It tested our recovery as a family and my own personal recovery. But we survived and even had some fun in there too! (Maui, 2018).


For the record, I still have the pasta poster hanging in my house. The green robe, not so much.






  • 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.



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