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.

  • sherrisacconaghi

I felt chilled. My dad and my sister, Lisa, were standing on either side of me as if we were part of a wedding receiving line rather than greeting guests at a memorial service. The grey day matched the mood of the occasion, but the goosebumps on my arms had nothing to do with the weather.  

Earlier that morning, I had attempted to make myself look presentable. I was aware that, as the daughter of the deceased, I, along with dad and Lisa, would be the center of attention, and I was dreading it. All of it. Earlier that week, I had wandered, sobbing, into my favorite boutique. I asked the saleswoman to help me choose something appropriate but not depressing for my mom's memorial service. She was sympathetic and kind, and I walked out with a pair of black capri pants and a top in mom's favorite color, purple. For any other occasion, I might be excited to wear a new outfit. Still, as I dressed that morning and assessed myself in the mirror, I realized I could not go to the funeral dressed in those clothes. The capri's hung on my frame, making me look like a six-year-old playing dress-up. The top I had fallen in love with on the store hanger, a sleeveless tunic with a diamond shape cut out in the back, accentuated my bony arms and protruding spine. I needed to feel confident to get through the day of hugging, shaking hands, and speaking in front of hundreds of people. Instead, I looked and felt frail and tired. The swollen purple bags under my eyes stood out prominently against my pale skin. The week spent looking at urns, picking out flowers, and cleaning out mom's closets took a toll, leaving me depleted and unable to do even the basics of self-care, like sleeping and eating. I needed to pull from reserves to keep functioning. But my emaciated body had no reserves.  

I have not one pic of the memorial, but here, a couple weeks later with Dad and Lisa, at mom’s internment reality was setting in. (2016)

"Come on, hon, we should get going," my husband said gently for the third time, "you said you wanted to be at the church early." 

 Frustrated, I slapped on some waterproof mascara, grabbed a white long sleeve sweater to cover my rail-thin arms, and headed towards the church where I joined my sister and dad at the front to greet people as they arrived. And arrive they did. My mom was dearly loved.  

Yet, I couldn't help but notice that intermingled amongst our relatives, neighbors, and dear friends, were other familiar faces. More recent friends of mine. Unlike the core four who knew and loved my mom, these friends had never met her. My tennis teammates, women I worked out with at the gym, and people who worked at our family business. I was confused, like a first-grader seeing a teacher at a grocery store. They were out of context. 

"What are you guys doing here?" I asked my tennis friend, Heather, who arrived with half my team, trying to wrap my head around why they were at a memorial service for someone they never even met. 

"We are here for your mom's memorial, silly lady," she responded as if the answer were obvious. 

"That's so nice," I said, genuinely touched, "you never even met her, did you?" 

"We are not here for your mom, Sherri," Heather said, hugging me, "we are here for you."

And they were there for me. Despite a decade's worth of keeping my friends at arm's length. I had over the years declared anorexia to be my BEST friend,  closing myself emotionally away from others. I tucked myself safely into a world of food, exercise, rituals, and routines. I hid behind excuses and superficial banter for fear the people I cared about would get to close and threaten my secret relationship, the one I was convinced I needed to survive.

I wasn’t going to have to go through grief alone. (At mom’s favorite spot, the family cabin in Lake Tahoe, 2016)

But my friends' presence, from all stages of my life, felt like a soft blanket engulfing my aching body and warming me. Slowly melting the walls, I had so meticulously built around myself. Standing there that day, they made me feel safer and more loved than anorexia ever had.

  • sherrisacconaghi

" I’m so scared, “ she whispered between ragged breaths, her eyes pleading with me to help her.

“Mom, you are going to be okay,” I replied, stroking her arm. Although I was scared too, I believed my words.

“I’m not ready to leave your guys,”’ she said, her arthritic hand clutching Dylan’s with a strength I didn’t know she had.

“Mom, you are not going anywhere, “ I said adamantly as if she were a grounded teenager caught sneaking out of the house.

Earlier in the day, I was heading out to Brennan’s soccer game when my Dad called to tell me Mom had been rushed to the emergency room again. I wasn’t overly concerned as this had happened several times over the past couple of months, each time she was sent home with instructions to “take it easy.” They could find nothing wrong. Although my Mom had been having issues with her heart, she was under the care of a specialist, and we had been assured she was in no imminent danger.   

“ I’ll meet you there,” I said to my dad, motioning for my husband to head on to the game without me. I had just seen Mom the night before at Dylan’s Lacrosse game and she seemed okay, although she left early due to feeling cold. Snow, rain, sweltering heat, my Mom never left a game early.

“Dylan, Grandma, is in the emergency room, will you come with me to the hospital? I asked, “it might cheer her up to see you.”

“Of course,“ Dylan said, his Grandma Sandra being one of his favorite people in the world. 

“I’ll stop and buy you a sandwich on the way," I said believing she was not in crisis, and figuring it could be a lot of sitting and waiting. 

Despite the crowded waiting room, there was no waiting.

“Put these on,” the receptionist said quickly as we checked in, handing us visitor passes. I searched her face for clues to Mom’s condition, the clenching sensation in my gut telling me I may have underestimated this trip.

The room was bustling with hospital personnel when we walked in, Mom hooked to wires that connected to machines bleeping like an orchestra playing off-key.  Her breathing was labored, and tears rolled down her cheeks as she saw us walk in. 

“We are here mom, it’s okay we are here,” I said with a calmness I did not feel.

"I’m not ready to leave you guys,” werethe last words I would hear her say.

Without warning, an alarm sounded overhead, catching me off guard like a fire drill during a yoga class. All available personnel to room four came

over the loudspeaker. 

Room four? We are in room four.

Hospital staff rushed in as Dylan was ushered out, my Mom, a moment ago writhing in pain, was suddenly very still. Medical people surrounded her as chest compressions began, one, two, three, four, her body bouncing with each thrust, my Dad leaned over her pleading, “breathe Sandra breathe!” I watched praying that the next compression would bring her sputtering to life. I began making desperate deals with God; I would be a better daughter, I would nurse her back to health, I’d start going to church, and I'd tell her that I loved her everyday if he would help her come through this. It all was happening so fast, yet moving in slow motion. Five, six, seven eight. Nothing.

“Dad, I can’t watch anymore,” I said as I stepped outside the room, collapsing into a metal chair, my legs feeling like water. 

I pulled out my phone and called my sister who was out of town visiting a friend, “Lisa, come home,” I choked, "it’s Mom.”

My Dad and I waited silently next to each other in those cold hard brown metal chairs, the frantic bustling in her room giving me hope she was still alive. 

 Then silence.

The doctor walked towards us, his scrubs drenched in sweat, and his eyes not meeting mine. I willed him not to speak, knowing the words would make it real.

My life was about to be forever changed.

  • sherrisacconaghi

"Mom, would you want to be a black person?" My sixteen-year-old son asked me earlier this week, catching me off guard, leaving me at a loss for words while I tried to come up with a mom-like answer. 

We have had some interesting conversations around here this past couple of weeks. I am grateful to be able to do so.

"I'm happy being a white person, "I answered non-committal, an unfamiliar discomfort snaking is way down my body.

"That's not what I asked," he said sounding like every therapist I have ever had when pressed on a hot topic. 

I knew what I should say. But that would be a lie.

"That's not what I asked," he said sounding much like every therapist I’ve ever had when I have tried to avoid a topic. 

I knew what I should say. But it would be a lie.

My son's question and the feelings it has evoked in me have been weighing heavily on my heart and head this past week.  I've struggled to do justice to my weekly Skinny-Truth blog post as this moment feels more significant right now, so am pivoting, for today, from my story. 

You see, until recently, I believed it was enough to treat people respectfully regardless of the color of their skin color. I thought I was doing my part by being equally kind, curious, or pissed off with people no matter what their race or gender identity. Like millions, I sat heartbroken and incredulous, watching the brutality of the George Floyd murder. I cursed the officer who cruelly took Mr. Floyd's life, and as it followed so closely behind the Ahmaud Arbery murder, it has caught my attention. Yes, I may be slow, but I would like to believe I am not stupid. I have begun to see things differently.

 Until recently, I found myself bristling at the term "white privilege," instantly getting my hackles up, ready to argue the point. Just because I'm white doesn't mean I'm privileged. The term made me feel as if my struggles were insignificant in some way. That I have not suffered because I am white.  

I see things differently now.   

I've been confused about why my mostly white social media friends were recommending books on how to be anti-racist and what that even meant. I am not a racist I thought; I have friends of color whom I adore, maybe others need to read those things but not me. 

 I see things differently now. 

All week I have been listening and reading about how white people need to do more to combat racism in this country. I've watched peaceful protests that have given me hope, violence, and destruction that have made me feel hopeless. I have laid awake at night, trying to figure out where I fit, and how can I do more. Thinking am I the only one that feels stupid for not knowing what to do?

I do not know what it is like to be a person of color in this world, and I realize I will never understand how that feels. So I have been afraid to say something for fear of sounding ignorant or worse, offending by an ill phrased sentence, or politically incorrect word.   

 I see things differently now.

 My experience is as a white person living in this fucked up world. A white woman who no longer believes that being kind is enough to combat racism and that staying quiet is useful. A white person trying to figure out how the hell to do something that will make this world, well, less fucked up.  

I am not one to protest in mass or post political or social justice opinions on social media, but that does not mean I can remain silent. I have decided to the one useful skill I have, my words, to join the conversation.  Hoping through the exchange of respectful expression that I might learn something I can do to make a difference. I will undoubtedly mess up, and I may unintentionally offend. Still, I'm willing to take the risk and stop worrying about doing something right and just start doing something. 

I am hopeful someday when a white child asks their parent a question about race preference, there might be a different answer, or better yet, perhaps there may be no context for the question at all.


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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