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

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?

  • sherrisacconaghi

My oldest son is graduating from high school today and I sit here, my body achy from the mix of emotions that have been tumbling around inside of me the past few months. Emotions that in the past I would have run from, literally, running miles until my joints hurt and my mind went numb.

But today, as hard as it is, I am sitting and feeling it all. I feel so proud of him for accomplishing this milestone, it hasn’t been an easy journey for him. I feel excited to see what he does in the next chapter of his life, but I also feel a desperate desire to turn back time for a great big F*&%ing do over. Although I have come to accept that anorexia served a purpose for me for many years ( many blogs to come about that) It also took things from me, it kept my brain so occupied with maintaining my addiction preoccupation with foodand I can’t help asking myself, “was I there for Dylan?” I don’t mean physically present, I mean emotionally. Was I his safe place as he learned to navigate his world or was I too pre-occupied with food, and exercise and my rigid schedule to really be there? Was I a good mom?”

“You did the best you could at the time Sherri, that’s all any of us can do,” my therapist Kirsten, a mom of a teenaged boy herself, said over and over again during our sessions, “and you have so many years ahead to be his mom, a healthy mom. You aren’t done yet.”

But still.

When I made the decision to quit my job and stay home with Dylan, I was all in. Just making the decision calmed my brain and my nervous system. I loved being home with him. Not only was he an easy, happy kid, he also had three sets of grandparents and one great grandma who were waiting at the ready to spend time with him. Seven adults and one toddler. Yep, his life was pretty good. And so was mine.

The biggest adjustment was the pace of my day. Being at home with one kid who was napping twice a day was quite different than my job, where crisis management was the daily motto. Between reading If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, watching The Wiggles (toot toot chug chug), and outings to the park, the hours went by S-L-O-W. And of course, me being me, I passed the down time with two things. Food, and exercise. Oh and Dr. Phil, ok three things.

I used to politely nod to women who would stop me as Dylan and I were in the grocery store, me sweating and cursing while trying to grab bananas as Dylan wailed loudly while trying to climb out of the cart. “Enjoy this time dear, long days and short years.” Um thanks lady, can you toss me that bag of grapes.

But I loved it. Then life got messy and complicated and as a result,Dylan has grown up with a mom whom, for a majority of his childhood, had anorexia. It has had an impact on him and our relationship. But today, his graduation day, instead of wallowing in the “I wish I would have’s” and the, “was I enough’s, “I will celebrate the amazing kid he is and man he is becoming, and consider the possibility that the best I could was good enough. And I’m not done yet.

It's been a road for Dylan and I, but I'm happy to say we have come out the other side closer than ever.

Did he know something we didn't? Dylan is headed to the U of O in the fall. Go Ducks!


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