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

"Sherri, why don't you wait by the car," my friend Heather suggested quietly, "this will not take much longer."

We were on our way to the airport after a five-day girls getaway in Palm Springs to watch the Paribas Open, a professional tennis tournament where all the big names compete. I knew we had an hour's drive to the Ontario airport, and already I felt we were at risk of missing our flight back to Portland. After five days, I felt jittery with a desperate need to be back in the comfort of my own surroundings. When it was suggested we stop at a Starbucks just off the highway, I calmly expressed my time concern, but in an attempt to "go with the flow," I left it at that. Of course, we ended up driving two miles to the slowest Starbucks EVER. As we waited for our order, I alternated between obsessively watching the time and giving the baristas a look of death. Pacing, pacing, pacing, feeling my face become flushed and my heartbeat echoing in my ears. Hold it together, Sherri, you have almost made it.

For many years it felt like "everyone" went to the Paribas Open. I peered enviously at social media as FB friends posted pics; cocktails by the pool, outdoor meals under twinkling lights, and courts adorned with players such as Williams, Rafa, Djokovich, and Hingis. I desperately wished I could be a part of such a fun adventure, but I knew my structured, rule-bound anorexic world would prevent me from ever being a part of such a trip.

When I did received an invitation to join a few tennis friends to Indian Wells, I was high off my successful girls' trip to Bend, and I responded quickly “YES" without thinking. I figured by the time the trip arrived, I would have six more months of recovery under my belt—a no brainer. Of course, as the trip approached, reality set in. This trip was going to test my recovery far more than my quick weekend getaways had. Although I was much more flexible around food, after seven months in treatment, I still struggled with two things; timing of my meals and sitting. Eating an early lunch or a late dinner continued to raise my anxiety, making my stomach tense and my heart race. making it difficult to focus on conversations. And I sucked at sitting still. Thirty minutes was my limit before my skin felt like it would peel off my body, my mind consumed with how I could get movement. I was aware of being fidgety and distracted. My body language signaling "distance from the tribe," as Kirsten put it. I so wanted to be a part of this tribe. Ann, Heather, and Joyce were some of the most thoughtful, smart, funny, adventurous women I knew. Over the past year, our friendship started on the court had progressed to fun outings and female bonding off the court. Just being around them brought out the authentic qualities I had buried inside of me. I felt more like my old fun Sherri self when I was with them.

But five days? Between flight times, match schedule, and the preferences of three other women, my need for structure, planning, exercise and vegetables would be tested like never before. I would have to work OT to keep my Anorexic Brain from taking over and revealing a side of me these women had not yet seen.

Long story short. If my recovery process was a marathon (and it felt like), then this trip was my Personal Best. In Palm Springs, I was able to push through the discomfort and achieve things I deemed impossible less than a year earlier. Most importantly, I spent five days connecting with three fantastic women: sharing laughs, struggles, cocktails, and sunscreen. As with the Bend trip, I enjoyed just "being." I never felt the need to share with them my battle with anorexia, nor did they ever seem to notice. Despite my freakout at Starbucks, it was by far the best girls trip I had been on. Ever.

Returning home from that trip, I was more confident than ever regarding my future in treatment. I had achieved my goal. My life was filled with a loving, supportive group of friends. I felt connected, no longer watching life from a isolated distance. Although physically in seven months I had only gained a little weight, emotionally, I felt as if I had gained fifty pounds. Life was good.

At least I felt it was good enough.

Late night meals. Hours sitting still. Leisurely walks.

The things I never thought were possible for me. With these women I found the courage to push through the discomfort and find fun, support, laughter and lifelong friends. (With my tribe, Joyce, Heather and Ann, Palm Springs 2017).

  • sherrisacconaghi

"Do you ever weigh yourself?" A friend of mine asked recently during one of our socially distant coffee dates. She was someone I had confided in throughout my recovery process, and since she had weight and body image issues herself, she understood more than most how the number on the scale could mess with your head.

“No. Well, I have peeked sometimes when I have gone to the doctor for something,” I confessed.

"But never at home?" She asked, with genuine curiosity.

“Im tempted but I can't," I said, "because I know better." And I do. Just like an alcoholic can never take a drink, I know stepping on a scale, "just this one time" could quickly spiral into once a week, to once a day to once an hour.

But in reality, I don't need the scale because I know.

After six months of meeting with Gretchen, I was used to backward weigh-ins on the little dictator that began our sessions. I had gotten good at reading Gretchen's face as she recorded my weight on her notepad, the furrowed brow meaning I had lost (or not gained) weight, and the ever so slight uptick of a smile meaning things were moving in the right direction. But the truth is, I didn't need Gretchen's reaction to confirm my weight. I knew what the scale would say. Perhaps I didn't know the number exactly. Still, I spent so many years obsessing about the outside of my body to distract myself from what I was feeling inside, I was attuned to my body. How it moved, how it felt in my jeans, how it looked in the mirror. I just intuitively knew if I had lost or gained weight, pretty much down to the pound.

And as I stepped on the dictator for our session that day, I didn't need to look at Gretchen's face to know her brow was furrowing. Big time.

"Sweetie," Gretchen said as she sat in the chair opposite from me, my eyes avoiding hers, "you have stalled."

"Really?" I asked, feigning surprise, "what do you mean?"

"You have had three weeks with no weight gain," Gretchen said, a concerned look on her face as she studied my reaction. "What are your thoughts on why that might be?"

"Hmmm," I muttered, chewing my lower lip, my feet quickly tapping against each other on the footstool in front of me, "I'm not sure."

We sat there in silence, Gretchen contentedly pretending to look at her notes, signifying she had all the time in the world for me to come up with an answer. While I sat there intently, picking at a hangnail on my left middle finger as if I were performing brain surgery. Desperately searching for an excuse that would explain how my supposed eating more and moving less could equal no weight gain for the past twenty-one days.

My mind is always clearer at the coast. And I had stuff to think about. (Cannon Beach, OR 2017)

I had no bigger champion in my corner than Gretchen. In the tearful moments I didn't think I could take one more bite, gain one more pound, or sit one more minute, Gretchen was there to cheer me on (and hand me tissues.) She had the confidence in me, my ability to recover, that I did not have in myself. I was afraid if I confessed to Gretchen why I stopped gaining weight, I would disappoint her. But then again, if I didn’t tell her, the person I would let down would be myself.

  • sherrisacconaghi

This is ridiculous and completely irrelevant, I thought to myself as Kirsten explained the assignment for the upcoming week. I had quickly learned that my Tuesday night RO-DBT group, the one I agreed to as part of my treatment plan, was less a therapy group and more of a class. Each week we would learn a new skill, practice in class (usually in some sort of dreaded role play), and then have the assignment to work on through the week. And although several in the group were grappling with an eating disorder, some were not. We were, however, all proud, right-fighting owners of overcontrolled personalities. For all of us, our lives had become stunted by rigid, black, and white, rule-bound thinking. The women in the class understood the loneliness I suffered by isolating myself from others. They shared my need for structure and routine, and they all craved re-connection to others. Being with these women was like finding other humans on Mars. They were my people. So when Kirsten introduced our assignment for the week, all of us looked at each with an,“OMG she has lost her marbles," eye roll.

The skill was called VARIES. I understood the concept. For years, staying in my zone of safety was a non-negotiable must. Eating at pre determined times, only going to places I felt comfortable such as my gym, and tennis center, and hanging with people who did not question my thin body or isolating lifestyle choices were as important to my survival as breathing. Simultaneously so was ensuring I avoided situations such as travel with others, unexpected dinner plans, or wearing sleeveless shirts. Things that would make me feel nervous, watched, and uncomfortable. I spent over a decade planning my day to the minute, my food to the calorie, and social interactions to the word. I had a litany of planned excuses at the ready for comments that might come my way that made me feel uncomfortable and exposed.

But with this assignment, Kirsten was asking us to shake that up. Our task was to put down the planning and rehearsing and so something “silly.”

Her suggestions included;

  • Wearing rings on different fingers.

  • Use different bedding.

  • Write with a purple pen.

  • Ask to be called another name for a day.

  • Watch TV and repeat every other line in an Italian accent.

  • Communicate in mime.

  • Wear our underwear backward.

  • Talk to everyone wearing pink at a party.

  • Wear mismatched socks.

WTF, Really? I was irritated. I didn’t feel I needed more shaking. In finally committing to recovery, I had already spent months doing hard stuff. I had been forcing myself to eat more food, sometimes to the point of tears. I had painstaking suffered through anxious moments when I had to force my body to sit still, I had traveled…...with people! But I trusted Kirsten, more than I trusted myself. I had gotten myself into my anorexic situation and I needed her expertise to dig me out.

So, aside from miming (because thats a hard NO) , if picking ill-fitting Calvin’s out of my ass while people called me Brenda was something she thought could help to get my life back on track, then D’accordo, E cosi sia.

The VARIES skill was a game changer. It surprised me how making little silly changes started to" bring Sherri back” as Gretchen and Kirsten would say.

R: Participating in Tony Starlight's Christmas show fun, 12/2016.

L: Channeling my Little Bit Country on the Vegas strip,1/2017 .


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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