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 stared at her name in my iPhone contacts. Just a first name as I did not know the last. I had copied her number off the group’s phone list. A voluntary list of members willing to accept phone calls when someone is in need of support. Over the years, I had taken down several names , tucking them away, just in case. But I never called. Despite the tremendous support I received from attending Alanon meetings, I never took the next step of reaching out to one person when I was struggling. As bad as things seemed at times, I always thought that I could handle it on my own.

But the situation I was in with my son D, felt far more unmanageable than any I had encountered before in my life. Neither my resentment towards my mom’ drinking nor my husband's could compare to the terrifying grief of watching my son struggle and feeling incapable of helping him. I needed more support than a meeting could give. I felt confused, scared, and alone.

I gripped my phone tightly, my hand sweating not from the warm spring sun hitting me as I sat on my front porch but rather from the nervous energy coursing through my body. My heart pounding as if I were about to jump from a plane, not make a phone call. I willed myself to press the red call button glaring at me from the screen under her name. *Andrea.

Although I barely knew Andrea, since sharing with our Alanon group the heartbreaking journey with her teenaged son, I felt an instant connection. I returned every week, hoping Andrea would be there and share more. I was ready to absorb her words like a withered sponge. Her wisdom was like water and I had never before felt so drawn to a virtual stranger.

Perhaps we focused on the future because it was easier than dealing with the present. (Young Entrepreneurs Business week, Eugene, OR, 2017)

I stood up from the porch, pacing my way around the small sloped lawn in our front yard. Andrea was the only person I knew that had openly admitted to walking the difficult path in which I was now traveling. She had made tough choices regarding her son and yet she seemed at peace. I knew if I called her, I would find the support, knowledge, connections, and courage to help my son and my family. But I was also aware by making the call and honestly admitting my struggle to someone other than my therapist I would be crossing a pivotal line. By reaching out to someone who understood my pain, my fuzzy reality would become clear, no longer allowing me to wish, ignore, rationalize and blame in order to avoid making an agonizing decision. But to do so, I was going to have to set aside, at least momentarily, the things D, actually I, was hoping for; his graduation from high school, potential lacrosse scholarships, and acceptance to Cal Poly, his dream school.

With that call, I would finally understand I could no longer allow what I wanted for D to get in the way of what he needed from me.

*Name changed to protect anonymity

  • sherrisacconaghi

Mommy, when I grow up, I want to marry you," D said, cuddling up closer and resting his head on my shoulder. We were snuggled in his little blue race car bed for book time, his words, so innocent gave me an unwavering feeling of joyful contentment.

I was confident I would never love anyone more than I did my little boy at that moment.

"He hates me," I said to my therapist Kirsten during our session, one that followed a particularly explosive incident between D and me. I wasn't trying to be dramatic. I believed my words wholeheartedly.

"He is rebelling against the robotic, overcontrolling, psycho mom persona," she said, citing the words D had used to describe me as of late, "he doesn't like her, but he loves you, Sherri."

"I deserve his hate," I choked, my throat tightening so I wouldn't cry. "I wasn't there for him then."

Kirsten paused, leaning back in her chair as if to allow space for her words to float through the air, and find their way into my heart. “But you can be there for him now."

I didn’t know how to be there for Dylan without hurting myself. Despite my year striving to recover from anorexia, I was struggling to forgive myself for allowing the disease to get in my way of being the mom my boys deserved. I held, and still hold, anger at myself around that. I believed I deserved D's anger too. My guilt made it difficult to find the balance between enforcing consequences for D and setting healthy boundaries for myself. I thought my stringent rules were my way of taking care of him. Keeping him safe. His constant violation made me feel he was being disrespectful and ungrateful. He thought I was a bitch. My husband, fearful of pissing one of us off, made no stance at all. Our time together as a family was spent in raised voices and mean words or holed up in our separate corners, avoiding the tension that seemed to be constantly present in our household. A tension I held tightly in my body, for fear, if I unleashed it, I would destroy what little relationship any of us had left.

There were moments of lightness reminding me what was possible. (2017, OFA conference game night).

My body had felt this way before, the never-ending restlessness that craved a physically demanding outlet. My belly full and distended, made eating a simple snack feel unbearable—the undigested emotions making no room for real food of any kind. Although I had worked tirelessly in treatment to learn new ways to cope with emotional discomfort and distress, I was unprepared for the onslaught of emotions brought on by watching my son slipping away from me. I wanted to blame his rebellious, disrespectful behavior on substance use, but I knew it was more than that. He was being seduced by something more potent than any drug he might be on.

I feared my love for him did not stand a chance against it.

  • sherrisacconaghi

She was so composed, calm, strong. Her story so unbelievable, it was as if she were reading from a book rather than relaying her own experience, only the tears threatening to spill over onto her cheeks giving away her pain. The church basement, had yet to warm up, but it was not the cold that left me chilled. The room was so quiet I feared my own thoughts could be heard by others as they shouted through my head.

Thank God that isn't me.

I began going to Al-anon when my kids were young, just eight and ten years old. My discomfort over my husband's drinking had me feeling crazy and out of control. My life felt unmanageable. After a birthday celebration gone south had left me sobbing secretly (or so I thought) on the bathroom floor, I knew I had to seek help, if not for myself, then for my kids. Finally, taking my therapist's advice, I found an Al-anon meeting. It changed my life.

I love rules and structure so I thought this would be easy.

In Al-anon, I had the opportunity to hear from other men and women whose relationships were affected by their loved one’s drinking. Their stories served as a light switch, shedding light on the dark corners of my life, allowing me to see my situation more clearly. It was in those circles I realized I was not crazy, and I was not alone. Over time, as I practice the principles of Alanon, I learned to set boundaries for myself, and find compassion for my husband. Learning to let go of his struggles allowed me to find the space to finally deal with my own. It took a few years but I felt had the Alanon program nailed.

For a while anyway.

But listening to her story that night, a familiar feeling was poking at me, like an annoying sibling trying to shake me from a deep sleep from which I did not care to wake. Twisting the damp kleenex balled up in my hand, I listened to how substance use had taken from her the boy that she once knew. Her son, just two years older than my sixteen-year-old, went from a sweet, active kid who excelled in school and sports, to slowly over time, becoming unrecognizable. Her once vibrant boy now went through his days sleepy, unmotivated, and belligerent. Her life that was once filled with family meals, team mom duties, chaperoning school dances, and carpools now left her struggling to find balance in a world riddled with calls from school attendance, concerns over missed team practices, and hiding her wallet and valuables. The "I love you mom," as he breezed out the front door was replaced with barely a grunt as he snuck out the back. Nights spent restlessly hoping he would get home safely, if at all. His behavior eventually escalating to a point where trying to manage the drug-fueled stealing and verbal abuse created a strain on her marriage. She found herself desperately trying to set boundaries that would allow her to feel safe physically and emotionally in her own home.

There is a difference between rules and boundaries. When it comes to the people I love, finding the balance is a continuous work in progress. (2017)

She spoke from a place strength yet extreme heartbreak that I felt resonate throughout my chest. Her story honest and raw, serving as a light illuminating my darkest fear, allowing me to see my story more clearly.


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