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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

By spring of my senior year in high school, I was D-O-N-E. Although I was going to miss my

friends, teammates, and mom’s spaghetti, I was ready to move on. Prepared to head to the University of Oregon that fall, I had everything ready to go: My new beige dorm room bedding, my favorite pasta poster newly framed, my big green fluffy bathrobe, a blue shower caddy, and a mini-fridge (a luxury item in 1986). I was excited for the freedom and adventure waiting for me outside my hometown. On the big day, my parents and I loaded the family station wagon and made the two-hour drive down to Eugene, the warm sun and vibrant fall leaves idyllically framing my vision of football games and fraternity parties. But as we got closer to campus and reality hit, the nerves set in. I’m not sure I’m ready for this.

“I’m fine, you guys can go now, “ I said to my parents after they had helped me unpack my stuff into the tiny room, the tears rolling down my mom’s cheeks threatening to unleash my own.

“Call me later?” my mom said, looking back at me as my dad led her down the hallway toward the exit. I wanted nothing more than to run to them and beg them to take me home. Despite some rocky years, they had been there for me. My mom and dad were my safety net, my security blanket, my anchors . Although they were only a phone call away, I need to prove I could do it to my parents, but more importantly, to myself.

“I am sure going to miss you, “ my dietician Gretchen said to me, shaking her head beaming with pride.

Gretchen,” I choked, unable to find the words big enough for my gratitude, “ thank you for….everything.”

Two weeks prior, Gretchen had informed me that she and my therapist Kirsten had agreed I was firmly rooted in my recovery. Although my weight was still lower than they would have preferred, it had been stable for quite some time, even holding steady during a much anticipated but potentially risky family vacation. Our first for Marc, the boys and I since D had returned from Evoke, and we had embarked on Intensive family therapy to put our family back together. It had the potential to be a disaster for my family, and my body. But, despite some speed bumps, it was fantastic in many ways, and I held my own emotionally and physically. It was the final assurance Gretchen, Kirsten and I needed that I had the tools necessary to keep myself healthy outside the guidance and security of treatment.

For two years and three months, I had been trekking across town for my weekly sessions with Gretchen. Hours spent sitting across from her in that green chair as she helped me untangle the knotted ball of rules and rituals that I wound so tightly around myself. Gretchen, who pushed me when I was stuck in a weight rut, celebrated with me when I went up a pant size, and showed me compassion when I was too sad with worry over my son to focus on myself. She had over the years become my safety net, my security blanket, my friend.

I’m not sure I’m ready for this, I thought to myself as Gretchen and I shared one final hug in the foyer of her home office.

Although Gretchen was only a phone call away, I knew I wouldn’t call, at least not right away. I wanted to prove I could do it, to Gretchen, but more importantly, to myself.

I was excited, yet so nervous for this trip. I felt a lot of pressure for it to go well. To successfully put into practice what we had been learning in family therapy. It tested our recovery as a family and my own personal recovery. But we survived and even had some fun in there too! (Maui, 2018).

For the record, I still have the pasta poster hanging in my house. The green robe, not so much.

  • sherrisacconaghi

Last week I was on a call with some friends. The four of us were planning a birthday celebration for a mutual friend of ours, and with pandemic life opening a bit, our busy schedules required us to settle for FaceTime. Although the topic was light, within seconds, I felt tension between two of the women. Outright nothing was said, but I sensed a stilted body language in one and a sharp tone in the voice of the other. I became uncomfortable and started to do my "thing." When a topic arose that I felt might make one of the women feel excluded, I quickly changed the subject. When someone threw out a party idea, I heartily agreed as not to offend, and as always, when I sense tension, I tried to keep the air light with witty, sarcastic joking.

Although the call only lasted twenty minutes, when it was over, I was exhausted. And extremely irritated. Not at my girlfriends but at myself.

I am a human emotional thermometer. I understand now it is a coping strategy I developed from a very young age. Being raised in an alcoholic home that, although never violent, was highly unpredictable. I often feared for my safety and that of my little sister. However, I found it was safest to deal with it if I was always on the alert. Untrusting of their words, I instead became hyper-aware of my mom's body language, the sound of her voice, and the look in her eye, and always listening to the sound of my dad's voice tone and volume. Feeling safe in my belief that if I knew what was going on in the house, I could act accordingly; the caretaker, the appeaser, or just silently slipping away into my room, not to make anything worse.

It is a skill I have carried over into adulthood. I have over the years accepted the fact that I will automatically take the temperature of any room I am in, even virtual. Like breathing or blinking, it just happens. And if I sense something is amiss, my internal alert system goes off, and depending on the situation, my body goes into a fight or flight mode. My stomach clenches, my heart races, my shoulders tighten, my vision blurs, and my ears ring. Unfortunately, for years it went unmanaged, causing problems not only in my relationships, especially with my husband and my oldest son, but it made me sick. Very sick.

I have learned, for my own health, I cannot get entangled in the emotional stuff of others. It detracts me from dealing with my own crap, and lord knows I have enough of that to deal with. (Mt Hood, 2021).

It has been the most challenging part of my recovery process from anorexia. I have had to learn to be uncomfortable. Not just physically, like when I have had to overeat food or move my body less in efforts to gain weight, but emotionally. I've had to learn to sit through the discomfort rather than numbing it, fixing it, or running from it. And I have been successful for the most part. For example, I've become more accepting of my unease over my husband's struggles because they belong to him. I've learned to breathe through my worry about my son's lifestyle choices because they are his decisions. And I have allowed myself to sit and feel grief over the loss of my mom because she is gone, and that I cannot change.

It has been my challenge to accept that I cannot control everything and everyone so that I will feel comfortable, and sometimes I forget that. And I try to fix what isn't mine to fix. But, as a result, I fail to allow those I love the grace and dignity of their thoughts, feelings, and emotions.

I have to remind myself to get out of their way and stay focused on my own.

  • sherrisacconaghi

The summer before Marc and I got married, we went on a trip to Hawaii. But it was not just any trip. It was an incentive trip Marc won for writing a significant amount of new business with a particular insurance company. Marc was primed to eventually take over the family insurance agency, but he was still pretty new to the biz. This trip was his first, and as Marc’s obvious plus one, I had my sunscreen packed before he could say Aloha.

We have been fortunate to have enjoyed many amazing hosted adventures over the years, but this first one was the double fisting best. (Mauai/Lanai, 1999).

We spent that trip wide-eyed over the decadence and excessiveness of the tropical adventure. Although we both made decent money, as two thirty-something's trying to build a future together, for us, indulging meant eating off the non-happy hour menu at our favorite pub once a week. Nothing like the free-flowing bounty presented before us on this trip. Complimentary cocktails by the pool? I'll have two, please. Breakfast buffet on the lanai? I'll take an extra whip on those waffles. Five-star meals beachside, the sound of the ocean mingling perfectly with the scent of plumeria. I'll have the filet mignon, medium rare.

It was magical. This experience is a once-in-a-lifetime, I thought to myself as I enjoyed the creamy tartness of the key lime pie nestled on the plate in my lap. Watching, mesmerized, as a performance of Phantom Of The Opera was performed on the open-air stage in front of me. Although visions of my newly fitted wedding dress floated through the edges of my sugar-infused mind, I didn't care. What the hell? I am on vacation.

A lot can happen in 15 years ( Oahu, 2014).

Over the years, as I sank deeper in my relationship with anorexia, my travel adventures lost the carefree 'what the hell's’ and were replaced with more stringent 'no way in hell's’. Regardless of the location or companions, one fact was consistent. I always lost weight when I traveled. Always. Whether a beach trip with my family, a relaxing girlfriend getaway, or a romantic tropical escape with my husband, I knew I would not allow myself to gain weight. Being out of my home environment, where I could control my food to the calorie and exercise to the minute, required me to be more diligent when on the road. Without fail, I would get up while my kids were still sleeping to take early morning beach runs. I would hit the resort fitness center on wine and dine award trips while Marc was partaking in the decadent breakfast buffet. I would drink soda water by the pool, pass on handcrafted artisan dessert trays and stare longingly at the enormous ice cream cones dripping slowly in my kids' warm sand-littered little hands. Why don't you get one, mommy?

Even during my years in treatment, I struggled to maintain my weight while traveling. Hard-earned pounds that had taken me months to gain could be lost in a mere week on the road. Whether it was girlfriend trips to Palm Springs filled with ice cream and chocolate or work-related conferences in Central Oregon with of all-you-can-eat buffets and limitless cocktails, I lost weight. Even though, armed with my new healthy skills, I approached each trip with the resolve to let loose, I could never allow myself to let go entirely. To sit still, to indulge, and to say 'what the hell.'

Until I found myself, a healthy fifty year old woman ready to move forward in my life. Wanting to be free of therapy, treatment, and support groups. Although I still struggled with anorexia, I was no longer considered an anorexic.

So what the hell? It was time to get on with it.



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