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 need to walk, I thought to myself as I gingerly climbed out of the car, my muscles feeling like they might snap as I unfolded my body into an upright position. My husband Marc and I had just returned from dropping D off at a week-long business camp in Corvallis, a ninety-minute drive from our home outside of Portland and I felt a pang of guilt for how much I was looking forward to D being gone. Despite the progress in my ability to sit still, three hours in the car pushed me out of my comfort zone, especially as of late. The stress of trying to find peace and sanity in my house left me constantly edgy. My body was feeling that familiar desire to move. Before getting distracted with the usual weekend chores of grocery shopping or folding laundry, I ran into the house, popped on my walking shoes, and headed out into the 90-degree heat, dragging my stiff legs through the winding paths up the hill to the top of Mt. Sylvania. The heaviness of the summer air was thick, making it feel like I was breathing through a paper bag. Why am I doing this? I asked myself.

I already knew the answer.

"When you stop trying to control your body, it will settle," my therapist Kirsten explained to me once again during our session. I had confessed to her my heat walking outing, knowing it was an old anorexic behavior that had nothing to with enjoying nature.

"I am afraid to sit still, Kirsten," I said, frustrated that I was back in this place of anxious restlessness. I was afraid the chaos in my household was proving to be more than my year of treatment could manage. The skills I had learned as a way to regulate my body physiology in a healthy way had disappeared from my mind like an eighth-grade math equation.

Sherri," she said when I was done rationalizing and justifying my actions, "you are getting in your own way."

I was afraid I was going to lose this. ( Family portrait by artist Diane Russell, 2017).

I spent my time tiptoeing around D, never knowing if he would be explosive, sneaky, or sweet. I was fighting with my husband over the best way to set boundaries in our house while trying to keep my youngest son, B, from slipping between the cracks of our fractured home. I could have easily derailed and backslid into anorexia. I was on my way. Days spent keeping my body distracted with cycling and tennis only to find myself hungry mid-afternoon, yet refusing too eat and forcing myself to wait until dinner. Nights nervously waiting up to hear D creeping in the back door, craving a big bowl of my beloved Ben and Jerry's to soothe my nerves yet only allowing myself a carefully measured half a cup. I could hear the old narrative creeping in. Being indulgent means, I am out of control. I desperately felt the need to control something to fill the void of being unable to fix what I felt was so broken—my family.

My year in the treatment had given me more than a few added pounds. It brought me an awareness of my anorexia. It helped me decipher when my Anorexic Brain was taking over and taught my Sherri Brain how to talk back. In a year, I gained new coping tools, developed a stronger self-esteem, and a healthier outlook on life. I didn't need my anorexia, but I couldn't seem to find the courage to toss it out. Like my favorite ragged grey sweatshirt, I felt the need to hang onto it.

Just in case.

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I stared at her name in my iPhone contacts. Just a first name as I did not know the last. I had copied her number off the group’s phone list. A voluntary list of members willing to accept phone calls when someone is in need of support. Over the years, I had taken down several names , tucking them away, just in case. But I never called. Despite the tremendous support I received from attending Alanon meetings, I never took the next step of reaching out to one person when I was struggling. As bad as things seemed at times, I always thought that I could handle it on my own.

But the situation I was in with my son D, felt far more unmanageable than any I had encountered before in my life. Neither my resentment towards my mom’ drinking nor my husband's could compare to the terrifying grief of watching my son struggle and feeling incapable of helping him. I needed more support than a meeting could give. I felt confused, scared, and alone.

I gripped my phone tightly, my hand sweating not from the warm spring sun hitting me as I sat on my front porch but rather from the nervous energy coursing through my body. My heart pounding as if I were about to jump from a plane, not make a phone call. I willed myself to press the red call button glaring at me from the screen under her name. *Andrea.

Although I barely knew Andrea, since sharing with our Alanon group the heartbreaking journey with her teenaged son, I felt an instant connection. I returned every week, hoping Andrea would be there and share more. I was ready to absorb her words like a withered sponge. Her wisdom was like water and I had never before felt so drawn to a virtual stranger.

Perhaps we focused on the future because it was easier than dealing with the present. (Young Entrepreneurs Business week, Eugene, OR, 2017)

I stood up from the porch, pacing my way around the small sloped lawn in our front yard. Andrea was the only person I knew that had openly admitted to walking the difficult path in which I was now traveling. She had made tough choices regarding her son and yet she seemed at peace. I knew if I called her, I would find the support, knowledge, connections, and courage to help my son and my family. But I was also aware by making the call and honestly admitting my struggle to someone other than my therapist I would be crossing a pivotal line. By reaching out to someone who understood my pain, my fuzzy reality would become clear, no longer allowing me to wish, ignore, rationalize and blame in order to avoid making an agonizing decision. But to do so, I was going to have to set aside, at least momentarily, the things D, actually I, was hoping for; his graduation from high school, potential lacrosse scholarships, and acceptance to Cal Poly, his dream school.

With that call, I would finally understand I could no longer allow what I wanted for D to get in the way of what he needed from me.

*Name changed to protect anonymity

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Mommy, when I grow up, I want to marry you," D said, cuddling up closer and resting his head on my shoulder. We were snuggled in his little blue race car bed for book time, his words, so innocent gave me an unwavering feeling of joyful contentment.

I was confident I would never love anyone more than I did my little boy at that moment.

"He hates me," I said to my therapist Kirsten during our session, one that followed a particularly explosive incident between D and me. I wasn't trying to be dramatic. I believed my words wholeheartedly.

"He is rebelling against the robotic, overcontrolling, psycho mom persona," she said, citing the words D had used to describe me as of late, "he doesn't like her, but he loves you, Sherri."

"I deserve his hate," I choked, my throat tightening so I wouldn't cry. "I wasn't there for him then."

Kirsten paused, leaning back in her chair as if to allow space for her words to float through the air, and find their way into my heart. “But you can be there for him now."

I didn’t know how to be there for Dylan without hurting myself. Despite my year striving to recover from anorexia, I was struggling to forgive myself for allowing the disease to get in my way of being the mom my boys deserved. I held, and still hold, anger at myself around that. I believed I deserved D's anger too. My guilt made it difficult to find the balance between enforcing consequences for D and setting healthy boundaries for myself. I thought my stringent rules were my way of taking care of him. Keeping him safe. His constant violation made me feel he was being disrespectful and ungrateful. He thought I was a bitch. My husband, fearful of pissing one of us off, made no stance at all. Our time together as a family was spent in raised voices and mean words or holed up in our separate corners, avoiding the tension that seemed to be constantly present in our household. A tension I held tightly in my body, for fear, if I unleashed it, I would destroy what little relationship any of us had left.

There were moments of lightness reminding me what was possible. (2017, OFA conference game night).

My body had felt this way before, the never-ending restlessness that craved a physically demanding outlet. My belly full and distended, made eating a simple snack feel unbearable—the undigested emotions making no room for real food of any kind. Although I had worked tirelessly in treatment to learn new ways to cope with emotional discomfort and distress, I was unprepared for the onslaught of emotions brought on by watching my son slipping away from me. I wanted to blame his rebellious, disrespectful behavior on substance use, but I knew it was more than that. He was being seduced by something more potent than any drug he might be on.

I feared my love for him did not stand a chance against it.


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