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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“This has been the best day," my mom said, beaming. We were sitting on the veranda of a golf course, the tropical breeze surrounding us with the scent of plumeria and hibiscus. It had been a great girls' day with my sister and niece, shoe shopping, followed by a stop at the resort spa for mom's first experience in a luxurious hot tub. It was fun seeing her so happy. 

A great day. ( Hawaii 2015)

In 2015,  when my parents said they wanted to take, Marc, the boys and I, along with my sister’s family, on an all-expense-paid family trip to Hawaii over the Christmas holiday to celebrate their fiftieth anniversary, I was torn. I loved Hawaii, I loved my parents, and I loved all-expenses-paid, but for me there was a cost. I was not a group traveler. 

While I was in my disease, traveling with people other than Marc and the boys, who were used to my very deliberate routine, was difficult. Having to give up the safety of my structured life and being flexible enough to participate in the activity preferences of others was impossible for me to do. Even when it included things and people I loved, I found some excuse to say "No." The annual beach trip with the "core four," where we drank too much wine and ate chips and salsa for dinner fell by the wayside.  Trips with teammates to play tennis in my favorite resort in Central Oregon, I repeatedly refused. The number of invitations I turned down to participate Hood to Coast, a running relay with a group of women stuck in a van for twenty-four hours is too many to count and loud, structureless, weekend getaways with our neighborhood became something I endured only because it was important to my kids to be a part of it. The idea of sleeping in, doing brunch, endless happy hours, laying by the pool, or anything that included a long car ride caused my heart rate to speed up like I was in a burning building, and desperately needed to find an exit. Like at home, when I traveled, I had to have my own routine; my workouts and my meals specifically timed and to my preference and I didn’t want the judgement that might come from doing my own thing. I feared letting down my guard and relaxing even for a day might cause my whole world to crumble. 

But that family trip to Hawaii meant so much to my parents, my mom, especially. We had made a similar trip eleven years earlier, shortly after my cancer surgery, and the happiness it brought my parents, to be surrounded by their kids and grandkids, was undeniable. I wanted them to have that again for their big 5-0. It was the first thing in ten years that was important enough for me to push through the panic of my anorexic world. I was not going to allow my disease to prevent me from being a part of it. I packed my running shoes and as much of my own food as I could,  and off we went.  

"You were a pain to travel with on that trip," my sister Lisa shared with me several months ago, in response to another of my blog post's on travel, “we had to do whatever made you happy, and it pissed me off."

I wasn’t trying to be difficult. In fact just the opposite.  I spent many hours on that trip fighting. With myself. My anorexic brain begging me to maintain the structure and the rigid schedule that kept me feeling safe and my Sherri brain, louder than ever, urging me to let go and enjoy the moments with my family; the shopping, the spa, the meals out, and the game nights. I told myself I would regret missing out, that those moments were precious and may never happen again.

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This is a serious topic you are writing about,  Polly’s comments, bold and red stared back at me from the page, lines slashed through various parts of the Word document, don’t try and be too funny, it’s distracting.

I had shown Polly the draft of my first Skinny-Truth blog post before I published it fifteen months ago.  Not only is she one of one of my closest friends but she is also an accomplished writer and author and I wanted her opinion before I spilled my guts to the virtual world.

Her comment caused a bubble of self-doubt to float around my brain. I wasn’t sure I could write anything worth reading without the sarcastic barbs and witty puns I scattered through so much of my writing.

But that’s my thing, being funny, I wrote back to Polly, trying to defend what I believed to be my creative talent. 

Just don’t hide behind it, she responded immediately.

I saw her point. Writing about my experience with anorexia, a disease I spent so many years trying to hide, without the protection of a well-placed joke or sarcastic barb, felt like walking down a crowded beach butt naked. I wasn’t sure I had the balls to do it. 

I have always enjoyed making people laugh, and it gives me joy to put a smile on someone’s face. However, over the years, as my struggle with anorexia progressed, my sense of humor became more than getting a satisfied chuckle from family and friends. It became a coping mechanism, a way to get through those painful, confusing, lonely years of living with an illness. The sicker I became the more unleashed I became with my humor.

Not much of a football rivalry when one team knows how to win and the other one....well, has baseball I guess.

Being funny was the way I connected to others. The further I isolated myself, the more I relied on my sense of humor, especially in regards to my life of a wife and mom. It was my way of saying, "I know I look different, but I am just like you." For this reason, I loved social media and posting universally funny things. Stuff I suspected might resonate with others. Food containers put back in the fridge with one bite left, empty toilet paper rolls sitting on the holder for weeks, and pretty much anything to do with my Oregon Ducks kicking the crap out of my husband’s OSU Beavers. The three men in my life have given me a lot of good material over the years.

But humor was more than just connection, it served as my protection too. If my friends and acquaintances thought I was funny, maybe they wouldn’t notice my body or disordered patterns. Perhaps my absence at neighborhood events ( wine at three in the afternoon, no thank you) or my kid’s team celebrations ( ugh, a pizza buffet for lunch, gross) would be excused, and my lighthearted humorous persona would override any concerning differences in my behavior.

Most profoundly, however, being funny was how I kept family and good friends at an emotional distance. If I could keep the mood light over a night out with the girls, perhaps I would not have to hear about their concerns over my dwindling weight. If I could distract at family get-togethers with witty stories of my kids’ shenanigans, then maybe I could prevent the comments about the lack of meat on my plate that so often would cause the heat of embarrassment to spread cross my face and leave me wishing they would all go home.

Maybe if I were funny enough I could convince everyone I was fine.

  • sherrisacconaghi

“I like that painting, I never noticed it before,” I said to my dietician Gretchen, as I walked into her office for my weekly session. It was a sizeable striking abstract of golds and dark reds that hung above the chair in which I had been sitting for the past year.

“Oh, sweetie, I’ve been waiting for you to say something like that,” Gretchen said, smiling widely and giving me a radiant look, “this is a great sign.” 

I stared back at her, confused. Gretchen, a creative and confident woman, never struck me as one to seek compliments, but I figured she must be very proud of the painting.

It turns out Gretchen wasn’t proud of the artwork; she was proud of me.

A zoo animal. That is what living with anorexia felt like for me, pacing, and watching from my self imposed cage, as people milled about living their lives, seemingly carefree from the rigid rules and rituals in which I felt so burdened. Freedom that allowed them to do the things I could only dream about; enjoying happy hour cocktails with friends, eating pizza while watching college football or enjoying an ice cream sundae in the middle of a hot summer day. In turn, I felt these people staring back at me, the frantic woman in her skeletal frame, always moving as if in a rush, drinking soda water and eating carrot sticks while her family lounged by the pool, enjoyed homemade pasta, and ate pie for breakfast. That poor woman, those poor kids, such a shame.

 I felt isolated, different, a freak.  

I never paid much mind back then that others might be struggling, and that those seemingly happy carefree people, eating, lounging and laughing might be dealing with their own stuff.  Perhaps struggling with health issues, financial worries, or personal secrets they too were trying to hide. And maybe they were so insecure about their own bodies, they didn’t notice mine at all.  

I learned through recovery that anorexia is like that.  An abusive partner, my eating disorder made sure it was my main focus taking all of my time and attention.  Managing it, feeding it, and above all else, protecting it from being discovered as a genuinely manipulative force, left me with very little bandwidth to concern myself with anyone or anything else. So consumed with controlling my illness, I isolated myself and missing the essential things in the lives of the people I care about, their struggles, their milestones, their achievements, or even their favorite piece of artwork.

A big achievement that did not go unnoticed. In 2015, Marc was inducted into the Oregon Music Hall of Fame, and my amazing friends, (Victoria, Joyce and Mary) were by my side to celebrate. At the time of this photo, they were unaware of my struggle, they just accepted me, as me.


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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