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

“How did it all start?” I get some form of that question a lot, referring to the onset of my struggle with anorexia. My relationship with food has always been turbulent, like a wide flowing river, twisting and turning through compulsion and ease, restriction and moderation. But there are moments that that stick out clear and bright, moments I wish had come with a flashing neon sign that said “Beware! Danger Ahead!” Not that I would have paid any attention.

“Hey Sher, my dad asked me casually one afternoon when my youngest son, Brennan, was six months old, “when are you planning on losing the rest of that weight?” We were standing my kitchen while I was slicing strawberries and with his question my fingers froze, mid slice, crap he said it.

I grew up with my dad’s constant comments about my weight, and everyone else's weight for that matter. I was used to it (recall the potato sack comment mentioned in post March 18, 2019, In My Genes), so the fact his question hit me with such force on that particular day has been the topic for many therapy sessions over the years.

“Oh, I think I’ll lose about ten more,” I answered him much more casually than I felt, as if I hadn’t really thought about it, although in actuality I thought about it every day. “I’m working on it.” Shit, my dad thinks I’m fat. That’s what I heard anyway.

That’s the thing. I HAD been working on it. At two years old Dylan was in a playschool a few

My grandma was the best built in babysitter. ( 2004)

mornings a week and I couldn’t keep my mom and grandma away from Brennan, a cherubic, joyful easy going baby. The luxury of “me” time was always just a phone call away. Time to hit the gym, go to the grocery store without the distractions of little “I wants” and “gimme those “, and time to cook healthy, well planned meals. I took advantage of it. I had amped up the intensity of my exercise routine soon after Brennan was born, adding some strength training to my Stairmaster routine. I bought a double jogger and started pushing BOTH boys around the hills of my neighborhood (with Zoey-dog still trotting along). It felt like enough. Yes, I did want to lose those last ten pounds but I was wearing sweats all day and singling Yellow Submarine while bribing a toddler with M&M’s to poop on a potty. My appearance took a backseat to Play-Doh, park swings and finger paints, and without those flat front Gianni’s calling my name, I found I was able to chill out a little on the weight loss timeline that plagued me after Dylan's birth two plus years earlier.

What I wouldn't give for a few hours of this. A lot has changed except Dylan holding my wallet. That is the same.

Until my dad's question. Granted, it was a dick question to ask, but I wonder, had I not already been feeling uneasy about my weight would it have impacted me so much? Maybe my dad was just asking the question I was already asking myself. Was I going to lose the weight? It had been six months so, why hadn’t I? Regardless, the river was raging again, and any hope of finding ease and moderation went straight out the window.

  • sherrisacconaghi

Here’s what l discovered during my recovery from anorexia, if I wanted to get healthy and stay that way, both physically and emotionally, I had to dig deep and look at the things I’d rather keep swept under the rug. The past is the past. I definitely didn’t want my treatment to center around blaming my parents for my anorexic plight. But, as much as I wanted to, I couldn't ignore the past.

This is hard for me to write because I love my mom dearly and when she passed away unexpectedly three years ago it was like the stabilizing piece of my Jenga tower was pulled out, and I crumbled. I wasn’t sure I had it in me to rebuild another tower. She was loving, generous, supportive and kind. And she was an alcoholic.

As a child, I had the tale of two moms.

Sober mom would patiently help me with my dreaded math homework, and painstakingly sew sequins on my ballet costumes. She made us oatmeal for breakfast and tuna casseroles for dinner. I could count on her to be there to cheer me on through every dance recital, soccer game and choir concert. She was smart, witty and fun. When she was angry her Italian temper flared and when she laughed her whole body shook causing those around her join in. She was present.


Then there was the “other” mom. The one who would wake my little sister, Lisa, and I up in the middle of the night for a drunken drive to McDonalds for hot apple pies, the mom who wandered into the deep end of the swimming pool, Lisa and I in her arms, until she absently let go leaving us to sink under, and the mom who had to be awkwardly carried out of neighborhood gatherings and family celebrations. When drinking she became slurry, sleepy and vacant. Does she even know I'm here?


I became astute in reading the signals, taking the temperature of the room as I describe it now. With just a look in her eye, the sound of her voice, the way she held her body, I knew within seconds which mom I was dealing with. My life felt wobbly and uncertain and I learned to navigate it by staying quiet, and small. I was painfully shy, afraid to even speak when called on in class. I avoided any interaction with other adults, be it the checker at 7-11 or a friend’s parent I knew well, as if eye contact would allow people to see right through me, unveiling the family secret I was trying desperately to protect. I preferred to stay in my room and listen to Dolly Parton records, and read Nancy Drew. Just pretend this isn’t happening and maybe it will all go away.

I quickly identified that mom’s drinking was worse when dad was out of town on business. He would call every night when he was on the road and ask, “how’s your mom tonight?” Code for, "has you mom been drinking?"

I never told him, I didn’t want dad to be mad at her, I didn’t want our family to break apart. I felt my silence was the glue that held our family together so I kept my fear and shame buried inside, hoping to the outside world we looked like a “normal” family.

My mom got sober while I was away for my sophomore year in college. I never asked her about her drinking. To this day, I have no idea why she used alcohol, what thoughts, feelings and emotions surrounded that period in her life or how she recovered. I've always felt she buried so much guilt and I didn’t want to hurt her further by bringing it up.

Despite it all, my mom and I were very close when she passed away al-anon, she and I were friends, and she was the best grandma I could ever hope for my kids. Losing my mom was my own rock bottom and the reason I found the strength to go into recovery and rebuild my tower. It has been difficult for me to face the relationship between my mom’s disease and my own adult child of an alcoholic. Had I made the connection sooner, before marriage and kids, then maybe when life, once again, got wobbly and uncertain I wouldn’t have felt the need to be quite so quiet, or so small.

Top Left: Mom and I in 1968.

Top Right: Lisa (4) and I (6). About the time I started to figure out something was wrong in our house.



Bottom Left: With her grandkids. This pic says it all.

Bottom Right: The year before she passed. I knew she was worried about me, but we never talked about it.


  • sherrisacconaghi

I find myself fascinated that anorexia is the disease I have lived with for well over a decade considering, not only have I always loved food, I have also considered it my comfort, my reward, my medicine, my ally. I identified as having bulimia in my twenties but as the binge/purge urge eased, I believed having an eating disorder was just a phase I had gone through, I never imagined that when eating disorder 2.0 emerged it would be so different, so sneaky, so fierce. Why anorexia?


Apparently, I have the right personality for it.


When, after her initial assessment, Kirsten suggested that I had the traits of a person with an over controlled personality, I laughed.“Tell me something I don’t know,” I said to Kirsten, “my family gets on me all the time about how controlling I am.”


“Being over controlled is not the same thing as being controlling,” Kirsten patiently explained, “it is more a matter of excessive self-control.” As she continued to describe some of the characteristics of an over controlled personality, my brain simultaneously tried to absorb and resist the words. Was this accurate? Was this what I had become? Over controlled characteristics.

“It’s not a bad thing Sherri,” Kirsten tried to assure me, “people with over controlled tendencies are the people who get things done in this world. They are do-ers.” Ok THAT I could kind of see.


The get-er done” mentality was the reason Marc and I married, had a second kid, and live in our current home. It is also the reason Marc has thrown up his hands in frustration much of our life together. Marc likes to think about things, write lists, and research before making a decision, all which have made him a successful business owner. Me not so much. When I make up my mind about something it’s not an “if” it’s a “when”.So, when Dylan was just over a year old, I decided it was time to shoot for a second baby. I was hung up on that whole "two years apart is the ideal sibling age difference" theory. Good thing I got us going because unlike Dylan, this was not a one and done deal. It was more like five months and done.


“Marc, we cannot raise two toddlers in this house”, I adamantly declared two months into my pregnancy, “It isn’t kid friendly and I think we need to consider looking for something smaller and flatter,” (now with two teenagers I regret those words). Our house was a spacious tri level on a hillside lot. The backyard was two stories down from the main floor as were what we planned as the kid’s bedrooms. Nope. Not gonna work for this mom.

Tired much? Maybe giving birth and moving into a new house in the same week was a little TOO ambitious. (2003).

“Sherri, let’s think about this,” Marc was using his calm voice, the one he uses when he is trying to slow me down. “We have only lived here two years, we will lose money if we sell now so let's talk more about it when I return from my business trip next week ok?” Needless to say, we ended up talking about the FOR SALE sign he found displayed in our yard upon his return. Oops, were we going to talk about that first?

So when did it all change? When did I go from a get it done do-er to a risk avoidant, rigid, compulsive, perfectionist? And more importantly why?

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