Anorexia and my mom

What can I say that hasn’t been said and still make it relevant.  Maybe I have and maybe I haven’t but, I am going to talk about my mom’s anorexia.

While she and I did not share the same experiences and her battles began long before I was ever born, I was in the front lines witnessing what she was doing most of the time.  She admitted to me when she was sick her battles with anorexia began when she was in elementary school.  She had been horrifically abused by multiple people.  Her own mom put her on diet pills and she wasn’t even fat.  When she died she had just missed her 65th birthday.  Now, I am not saying she did not have good years.  Unfortunately her demons stayed with her throughout her life.  At times more controlled than others but, the demons were there.

My mom was very smart.  She excelled in nursing school.  However that inclination to have to be perfect was her downfall.  Her struggles were not reflected in her grades.  My mom kept her room-mate up at night by wearing one of the suits that make you sweat and exercising all night long.  It got to the point where my mom’s room mate needed to say something for her own sanity.  My mom was asked to leave the nursing school at that time.  Truthfully she was so small and sickly looking, she looked worse than the patients the student nurses took care during clinical.  The nursing school said mom was welcomed to come back when her health returned.  My grandma in the meantime took care of her at home giving her these high calorie shakes.  I have no idea if any other outside intervention took place.  Either way when my mom was doing better, she chose not to.  As a result, my mom started working at Ohio Bell where she later met my dad.

Even if mom was doing well weight wise, mentally things weighed on her.  When she married my dad, the ceremony was simple and no pictures were taken.  My mom would not allow them.  She absolutely hated her picture being taken.  So much so that I was given instruction years later when she was dying not to include a picture in her obituary or I would be haunted and not in a good way.

I was born three years after my parents married.  She was thrilled to have me but, unfortunately the parenting skills she learned from my grandma were not the best.  I am not saying she did not love me.  She loved me immensely.  I understand why things happened and I respect and love my mom.  Yes, some things happened that should not have happened.  However, my mom was so much more than that and I focus on the beauty of her.  My mom gave me so many wonderful things and many of them are not material which is even better.

When I was about two years old or so, my mom was pregnant with her second child.  I have no memory of this.  Partly because I was so young and partly because I was battling some medical issues of my own.  My mom struggled with gaining weight during her second pregnancy.  When my mom was considered at term, she was told by her doctor her baby was not going to make it.  My younger sister had spinal bifida so bad she only had half a brain.  The medical staff induced my mom and she had to endure the entire labor process.  That had to have been hell.  On the one hand you know what the doctor said, on the other hand you are praying God steps in with a miracle.  From what I was told, my sister took two breaths and died.  My mom did not get her miracle.  During that same hospital stay, my mom had her tubes tied.

Throughout the years I remember glimpses of some of my mom’s unhealthy habits.  She definitely cleaned more than what was necessary.  She abused laxatives and water pills.  I remember she always had ex lax on hand.  I was later told by my aunt I got caught hoarding food under my bed.  I honestly don’t know why and I have no memory of this.  At the time, I was not battling a weight problem.  Maybe as a child I could sense my mom’s battles.  I really do not know.  At one point mom would change some of our eating habits.  We would have mock beef casseroles.  In other words turkey.

Then my grandpa got sick with lung cancer.  By the time they caught the cancer, it was pretty advanced.  He still underwent treatment, but he lost his battle and passed away when I was in 8th grade.  Then when my grandma came to live with us.  I am sure the stress of it all did not help.  My mom’s anorexia reared its head.  I remember one time saying to my dad, I think mom had a problem.  He tried to tell me he had a handle on it.  I knew he was full of it but, I wasn’t about to tell him that.  At some point my mom was hospitalized for dehydration.  She was basically told she had to go to rehab.

I am not sure how many times mom was in therapy or rehab.  I know she was not a fan of any of it and had a strong distrust later in life.  Eventually my parents divorced.  It was not good for her.  There no longer was someone to have her back whether she liked it or not.  I could only do so much.  I was only allowed to do so much.

When my mom left Toledo in hopes that another town would give her a fresh start, she was maybe 110 pounds.  She moved about two to two and half hours away.  She loved the little town.  Sometimes she would visit.  Even though she complained, she did not always like getting visits.  One time when she was in town staying with me and sleeping on my love seat, the love seat seemed to dwarf her tiny body.  My mom was getting so small, I was almost afraid to hug her.  She would keep us from visiting her I later learned after my mom had an accident or had a fall.  My mom kept a lot from us.

When the doctors came in to tell her how extensive her cancer was, they were surprised the stomach cancer hadn’t been caught sooner.  The doctors asked her if she had any pain over the past year.  She replied “of course, I just ignored it”.  That’s how my mom was.  I knew something was wrong one day when I was talking to her on the phone.  She always complained about being too full to eat.  This time she complained of difficulty swallowing.  That was new.  I told my mom to call the doctor and let them know right away.  I couldn’t drive down there since I had just finished a 12 hour shift and never would have made it safely.  Mom contacted the doctors and the testing schedule began. By the time she had her operation, the cancer took over her entire stomach and the abdominal wall.  My mom was dying.

Ironically when I was begging my mom to turn off the tube feed months later since it wasn’t doing her any good.  Hardly any of it was able to get past her stomach and nourish her body, she told me, “I am afraid people will think I am starving myself to death”.  Yea, the irony was not lost on me either.  Mom finally agreed to stopping the tube feed and taking something for the pain.  She passed away the next morning.  As much as I miss her, I am happy she is finally free of her demons.  My mom as a beautiful tragedy.  She was truly and angel.

–Sarah Cobble


3 thoughts on “Anorexia and my mom

  1. My mom’s in her seventies and still has to fight the body image distortions her father’s sexual abuse left in her. To this day, even though she KNOWS she isn’t seeing things the way they are, she still responds to anorexic thoughts. It’s funny, I ended up marrying a bulimic who used the water pills and laxatives just the way you describe.

    Mothers are the keystone for the whole family. It’s sad that so many of them are “playing injured”…


  2. So carefully and authentically written. I so appreciate the time and effort you took to share this story and to help others who may have similar experiences.

    Coming from a dysfunctional family myself I can relate to the way in which we still love and treasure so many things about our relatives, despite whatever pain and burdens they inflicted on us. They are our history and it takes a lot of work later in life to try and accept and make sense of things. Even the things that don’t make sense.

    You are most certainly a talented and genuine person in your own right.

    Thank you so much.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s