Here’s part two of my interview with Cheryl Kerrigan, eating disorder survivor and author of Telling ED NO! and Other Practical Tools to Conquer Your Eating Disorder and Find Freedom.
Below, Cheryl reveals how she deals with her emotions in healthy ways, her advice for loved ones, what to do if you’re losing hope and more. Her words aren’t just wise and insightful but very inspiring. Always, always, always remember, not to give up hope.
In the book, you state that ED was your go-to method for dealing with any emotion, including happiness. Can you talk about some of the healthy ways you deal with your emotions now?
Back then, I ran to ED for everything. I wanted him to make the uncomfortable feelings go away. I wanted comfort and safety. I even went to him when I was happy; I wanted his approval and wanted him to pat me on the back and tell me “great job.” When I went with ED, I was numb to all feelings. ED was my escape.
Today is different. Now that I follow recovery, I embrace all the feelings that come along with life….the good and the bad. I am amazed that I can actually “feel” all the feelings and experience them in a healthy way.
Today when I am experiencing feelings of joy or excitement, my heart is open as I take it all in. I don’t run to ED and tell him if I’m happy, I now look within myself and also run to friends and family. I tell them of my good fortune and feel proud and honored for the great things that come my way; for I deserve them. That was hard for me to accept in the beginning as ED always told me I didn’t deserve anything. Knowing and accepting that I do matter and I do deserve it has made me respect and honor myself and all I do. I acknowledge, with gratitude, the feelings of joy I experience.
When I experience negative feelings these days, I turn to various things to help me through. Yoga helps center me and helps expunge the negativity from my being. It calms me down. (Yoga also helps with my body image.) I communicate with my friends, family and therapist to talk through things I am having trouble with so I can accept it and then get past the feelings I am experiencing.
I also use journaling, positive self-talk, deep breathing, punching a pillow, counting to 50, smelling calming scents, music, crying, pets etc. to help me deal with emotions. It’s important to feel the feeling, accept it and then let it go. Because of recovery, I can feel and for that I am grateful.
In another part of the book, you talk about how disappointed your loved ones were after you went back to the hospital. You write, “They had hoped that I was ‘fixed and all better’ since I previously went into the hospital. They wanted to see me in good health but did not understand why it was not as simple as telling myself to ‘just eat.’ I hate those words. An eating disorder is not about the food, but many people who haven’t suffered with an eating disorder don’t understand that.” What are some other misconceptions people have about eating disorders?
Most people think they can tell by someone’s appearance that they have an eating disorder. For example, you only have anorexia if you are stick thin. Or if you have sunken eyes, puffy glands or cheeks then you have bulimia. Or if you are overweight then you must binge. None of these are true. You can’t tell by looking at someone if they suffer from an eating disorder. Someone in a normal weight range can suffer from an eating disorder and can also die from it as well.
Another misconception is that only adolescent girls suffer from eating disorders. That is also false. Increasing numbers of women ranging in age from 30 – 50 are seeking treatment for their eating disorders. Some of which they have had for years and some of which were just diagnosed. Also, 1 million men and boys suffer from eating disorders. Eating disorders are not just a teenage girl disease. Eating disorders can affect anyone regardless of age, gender, race or demographic.
What would you like family and friends to know about helping a loved one struggling with an eating disorder?
Support is key. Help them obtain a qualified treatment team such as a medical doctor, nutritionist, therapist and psychiatrist. A treatment team is essential in the recovery process. A person cannot recover alone. It takes an army to fight ED.
Keep the communication lines open. When conversing and expressing things to your loved one, use “I” statements. Refrain from saying “you do this, you do that or you make me feel.” If that language is used, it could be viewed as threatening and demeaning and the individual may lash out or shut down. When my family did an intervention on me, they used the “I” statements and even though I was scared and very mad and upset as to what was happening, I still heard what they were saying.
Never give up hope that your son or daughter will recover because recovery does happen. Be patient with the recovery process and your loved one as recovery does NOT happen overnight; it’s a long process. Time and patience are necessities…for everyone involved.
Continue to tell them you love them and you are here for them. Never stop supporting. Even if you don’t think your loved one is listening and aware, they are.
Ask your loved what you can do to help them in their recovery—perhaps eating with them, making a meal plan together, going to support groups or appointments with them, going grocery shopping with them. These are things that I asked help with.
I would also suggest that loved ones find support for themselves as well. Most likely they will need to talk about the difficulties they are having in trying to help and/or live with someone who is struggling.
Like you write in the book, recovery is not linear and it takes hard work. It has its ups and downs. For many individuals, that means going to several treatment facilities or trying several therapists. And this can chip away at one’s hope for recovery. What do you say to these individuals?
I would tell them to look at each admission, each therapist, each fall, etc., as steps towards freedom, not obstacles or negatives…they are all positives. They are all getting you closer to living without ED and his rules.
Learn something with each step you take (even if it’s a backwards step) and acknowledge the work you are doing along the way. Pat yourself on the back and tell yourself you are worth it and you deserve it. Keep the positive attitude at the forefront.
With each step you take, you will get stronger. Recovery is hard work and is a process. It’s a process that has ups and downs and during them all you need to be sure you hold on to hope and faith to help you through. Keep affirmation cards around you to give you hope. Obtain and carry with you an affirmation stone or rock or another object to give you hope. Mine says “believe” on it. Write down positive recovery messages to give you hope and remind you of where you are headed. Always remember that recovery is possible and it can be yours. Never lose hope.
Anything else you’d like readers to know about your book or eating disorder recovery in general?
Telling ED NO! is a unique survivor’s guide with over 100 successful recovery tools and exercises to help you navigate through your recovery and conquer ED. With hard work, patience, practice, time, persistence, commitment and determination, recovery is possible. Believe in yourself and don’t give up. Freedom can be yours!
Thanks so much, Cheryl, for sharing your story and spreading such a positive pro-recovery message!
Favorite post: “Body Image Under Attack” by the incredible Kendra Sebelius on her blog, Voice In Recovery.
P.S. Please check out part one of Golda’s revealing interview with Biggest Loser contestant Kai Hibbard at Body Love Wellness. Trust me, it’s a must-read!
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From Psych Central's website:
PsychCentral (June 9, 2010)
Last reviewed: 9 Jun 2010