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

He sounds happy! I texted my sister, referring to a recent phone call with my nineteen-year-old son. He just started his sophomore year at the University of Oregon, and during the call, for the first time in a long while, his voice sounded buoyant and content. It filled my mom heart with a mixture of joy, relief, and hope that my sweet boy, who has struggled for years to find his place in this world, may finally be starting to feel okay with who is.


It is what I have always wanted for my kids.  And personally,  at the age of forty-eight,  I wanted that for myself as well. Starting with my new recovery group.


I was the first one to arrive the night of the initial group meeting, allowing me a moment to assess the room and choose my seat around the tables set up in a big U shape. As usual, in new situations, I decided on a chair closest to the door, finding comfort in an easy escape should the need arise. 


Initially, I had not asked Kirsten much about it; even when she shared, it would be "different" than the body image group I initially inquired about. Realizing participation was a condition of Kirsten agreeing to work with me, I readily accepted, confident whatever it was it would help me dig out of the eating disorder hole I had gotten into. As I sat there, waiting for the others in the group to arrive, I felt jittery with anxious anticipation, like before getting on a plane for a long-awaited tropical vacation. It was the only part of the treatment plan that I was looking forwards to. Where I was dreading the bi-weekly weigh-ins and the means I would have to employ to gain weight, I was excited for this opportunity to connect with others who were living in the same unbearably lonely world as me. Delighted for the chance to be in a room where I felt part of something instead of feeling like the odd, anxious, skinny outlier.

I kept myself distant from others. It was how I protected my disease, but it came at a cost that left me feeling disconnected and alone. ( 2016)

As the other participants began to trickle in, I took a quick note of each one. First, was the red-headed woman in her late fifties who sat right next to me. Followed by a petite woman carrying a bicycle twice her size. Then entered a tall, blond twenty-something who looked like a college volleyball player, and shortly after, a masculine-looking woman with gorgeous blue eyes who avoided eye contact with all of us. Two chatty teenagers walked in and took seats across from me, animatedly comparing their scores on a recent chemistry test. Lastly, a suburban mom type who blew in at the last minute,  flustered, and apologizing profusely for being late. As we sat around the table in awkward silence, waiting for Kirsten to begin the group, I could not ignore the obvious. They did not look like me. Not one of them appeared to have extremely low body weight, tell tale signs of anorexia. They all seemed to be of average weight. Maybe the cyclist came close to "too thin." Maybe. I was instantly disappointed and a little pissed off. What kind of group is this? I remember thinking, frustration swelling and the exit door looking very appealing. I was craving a connection with other people. It is why I ultimately found the courage to reach out for help. I was tired of feeling so lonely. In this group, I desperately hoped to hear my struggle come from someone else's heart, helping to make me feel less crazy, scared, and alone. But sitting in that windowless room with these unknown, seemingly healthy women, I highly doubted any of them knew what it was like to live the dark, painful, structured, unforgiving hell of anorexia.  


 And once again, I found myself feeling like the odd one out.



  • sherrisacconaghi

No scale. That was the first thing I noticed as I scanned Gretchen’s office for the first time. It was not the sizeable polished antique desk set up against the rustic red wall that caught my attention or the mixed bouquet of fresh flowers that sat upon it. Nor was it not the plush green chair across from the enclosed antique bookcase with the glass front exposing shelves full of books of a personal and professional nature. All of that came to my attention later. For the moment I was looking for the scale. Grethen was a dietician, and I assumed somewhere in the room would be a large white standing scale like in a gym or a doctor’s office. But finding none, I breathed a sigh of relief. Thank goodness , I thought to myself, hoping that maybe eating disorder treatment in 2016 was a modern ”numbers don’t matter” type of thing. Allowing me to keep my daily weighing ritual within my own bathroom walls, accountable only to myself.


The fantasy was nice while it lasted.


Not only did Gretchen have a scale, but it was also a solidly-made machine that she had nicknamed the Little German Dictator. Tucked discreetly under one side of her desk, the little dictator was a bad ass. It was a sturdy polished white and stainless steel machine with a round face and rubber pads to step upon.  It was not digital but instead had actual numbers with the slash marks. Old school. If my flimsy digital scale at home was a Honda Civic, Gretchen’s scale was a Porsche. It sat upon a sturdy board that allowed her to slide it out from its hiding place beneath her desk without disrupting the calibration. 

Gretchen recently shared with me that she kept the Little German Dictator under her desk to remind him of his place in the world. I get it now. Recovery is about so much more than weight.

 

“I’m going to ask you to step on backward,” Gretchen said as I took a deep breath and got ready to get on for my first weight check.  


WTF? I thought to myself and shot her a “are we really going to do this,” kind of look.


“Gretchen, I know what I weigh, and it doesn’t bother me,” I said casually, waving my hand in the air, to signal it was no big deal, trying to downplay the fact it was a huge deal. 


“Sweetie,” Gretchen said, in a voice that was patient yet authoritative, “I know this is difficult, but you are so thin and it is important to make sure you are gaining weight.”  


I stood there, standing by the scale in my stocking feet, trying to slow my racing heart and contemplated Gretchen’s words, not entirely convinced.


Sensing my hesitation she continued to explain that people with eating disorders are obsessed with numbers such as weight, clothing size, and portion size. That often, their lives have drilled down to a series of numbers that they have allowed to dictate their lives.  By Gretchen monitoring my weight gain it would take the numbers game out of it for me.  


DAMN DAMN DAMN, my own words screaming in my head. Gretchen was describing me perfectly. She was right. Of course I knew with the first uptick on the scale, I’d be running out the door (and down the street across town and... and... and.)

I used to pullout old pictures to remind myself I had a life before rules, structure and scales. A time when an ice cream sundae was not to be feared but to be enjoyed. I had forgotten. (With my aunt Julia circa 1978).

But the thought of stepping on that scale backward scared the hell out of me. Not because I didn’t want Gretchen to see the number but because I wanted to see it. I NEEDED to see it.

Over the years, I had come to rely on that number. It was more than about the weight, it was about safety. Seeing a consistent number on my scale every day was how I assured myself that I was okay. Regardless of what was going on in the rest of my life, it was the one thing that I felt I could control. If it crept up, it was a sign I was out of control in some aspect, and by tightening up on my diet and exercise routine, I knew I could bring it back down to a number that made me feel secure. By controlling my weight, I felt I was in control of everything else in my life.


The number on the scale was my compass, my steering wheel, and my safety net. Without it, I was sure I would lose control of everything I needed to be okay.


 



  • sherrisacconaghi

This blog, Skinny-Truth, has been a tremendously positive experience for me in so many ways.  I do not regret a single word. I have become comfortable talking about my experience with anorexia, however, when asked what kind of writing I do, I sometimes find myself hesitating. Depending on the situation, I will  gloss over my  blog and go with a more general, "Oh, I write mom blog-type stuff." Because I have learned, the word anorexia can be a conversation killer. 


Jane Doe: What do you do for a living?


Me: I am a writer.


JD: Nice. What kind of writing do you do?


Me: Well, mostly I write about my struggle with anorexia.


JD: Oh.


Que the silence, enter subject change.


Anorexia is a taboo word that is known to be used in high school hallways, or in my case, grocery stores, restaurants, or the gym, lurking quietly behind lockers (or piles of bananas) with stolen glances or muttered whispers.  Saying it outloud is like dropping the  F-bomb in Sunday mass, it shocks people    


And I get it. 


In those first sessions with Kirsten and Gretchen, the word anorexia rolled off their tongues so easily. Even in their voices, Kirsten's soothing and Gretchen's motherly, the word sounded harsh to my ears, full of sharp edges.  To them, anorexia was an illness. A disease that called for compassion and understanding, like cancer. To me, it represented weakness and failure, the word causing a wave of shame to cascade down my body like a cold shower.


Although by the time I reached out for help, I knew I was unhealthy but being referred to so casually as a person with anorexia not only made me flinch, it kind of pissed me off. Like when I used to argue with my husband, and he said something stupid like I "always" overreact, or I "never" admit when I am wrong, and I calmly begged to differ telling him exactly why he was is wrong, and I was right. ( Now we don’t argue much because we both just agree I am right.)  In these early treatment sessions, I wanted a chance to discuss, plead my case, and tell K and G why I thought they were wrong.

I turned 52 this week. Definitely no shame in THAT! (COVID, 2020).

"I don’t think I’m fat," I said, "I’m not dysmorphic."

"I eat food," I pleaded, "and never once have I thrown it up."

"I just love to exercise” I argued, “it's not about my weight”.


I wanted to argue. I wanted to be angry, so I could use it as an excuse to convince myself that these professionals had me wrong so I should quit them.


 But neither Gretchen nor Kirsten would engage, instead of answering with neutrality;


That may be true.

I imagine it feels that way.

Would you consider a different perspective?


God, they were frustrating and nearly impossible to argue with. And although they continued to speak matter of factly of anorexia and how it related to me. I could not (would not) bring myself to do so.


I bring this up because I realize in my writing and speaking opportunities, I now speak freely of having been a person with anorexia, but even now the word can catch on my tongue. Like a sip of scalding coffee, the word anorexia and what it represents is sometimes still difficult for me to swallow. But now, when it gets stuck, it is no longer because I feel embarrassed about my struggle.  In fact, it’s quite the opposite.


Instead, now when speak about anorexia, I feel overcome with emotion; Gratitude, love, pride, and joy for having overcome this disease. Mixed in with a little regret and sadness for the years I missed out on so much while in the midst of it. But no matter the feelings that emerge I no longer live cloaked in shame for having struggled with it.


And that in itself has been worth fighting for.



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