Today, I’m thrilled to present part one of my interview with author, speaker and eating disorder survivor Cheryl Kerrigan. Cheryl is the author of Telling ED NO! and Other Practical Tools to Conquer Your Eating Disorder and Find Freedom.

Below, we talked about her book and road to recovery. Cheryl began struggling with eating disorder symptoms at five years old, and, for about 20 years, viewed ED as her world. Her story is another inspiring one that shows it doesn’t matter how long you’ve struggled, you can recover. No matter how strong it seems ED is, you are stronger. I’m grateful to Cheryl for sharing her story.

You can learn more about Cheryl and her book here.

Stay tuned for part two of our interview tomorrow.

What inspired you to write Telling ED NO!?

In the beginning of my recovery, I was told by professionals that I needed to have and use recovery tools in order for me to recover.  I wanted them, right at that moment, to tell me all the tools I needed to accomplish so I could be free, but it wasn’t that simple.  There was no one place to turn that had all these tools.

During the process of my recovery I learned, through the process of doing, various tools that helped me out in certain situations and other tools that didn’t work so well.  I decided that if I had tools that helped me through difficult times and allowed me to follow recovery and begin to leave ED, then I wanted to give others the opportunity and strength to do the same thing.

I wanted there to be a place a sufferer could go to and grab a practical, successful tool to use to help them through a difficult situation and help them choose recovery and not ED.  So, I began to write down my experiences and the tools I utilized to help me through.  They worked for me, so perhaps they would work for others as well and with that, Telling ED NO! was born.

Can you briefly talk about your struggles with ED and what motivated you to seek treatment?

My struggles with ED began when I was five years old and progressed into my teens at which time I was diagnosed with anorexia.  From there, ED stayed with me for over 20 years.  ED was my best friend, my confidant and I went to him for everything.  He comforted me and kept me safe (or so I thought). He told me what to do, what to eat, what not to eat, when to do it and why.  I listened to every word, direction and rule he gave me.  I didn’t want to disappoint him and wanted the things he promised, so I did what he said.  I didn’t know then that everything ED said were all lies.

Over the years, ED wore me down.  Behaviors were dominating, I was isolating, I was self-injuring, my body was giving up on me and I was depressed.  I was slowly dying.  I was just existing, not living.  ED affected every aspect of my life.  I was in denial that I needed help and thought I was perfectly fine living the way I was living.  I had a job and friends so I thought I was OK.   I was living my normal but didn’t realize it wasn’t normal at all.

It wasn’t until an intervention by my family one Thursday evening that I was able to view things differently.  They informed me how they felt and what they saw.  I was angry and scared when it was happening but knew deep down they were doing it because they loved me.  After serious contemplation and fights between me and ED, I realized I wasn’t living and needed help.  I wanted more than I had.  I needed to trust what my family was telling me.

I reflected on what I wanted to do with my life, where I wanted to go and how I needed to get there.  I realized (just for a split second) that ED couldn’t be part of it.   I needed to break free if I wanted to be truly happy and live a life of freedom.  I wanted to be happy,  to live without rules or judgment, to enjoy food, to love and respect my body, to socialize, to enjoying going out to eat, to have goals and dreams—and achieve them.  I made the decision to take my life back and took the help my family offered—I called the treatment facility and made an appointment.  I chose recovery.  From that day on, my journey to recovery began.

What were the toughest parts of your recovery and how did you get through them?

Honestly, there were many parts of recovery that were tough.  Recovery is the hardest, most emotional thing I’ve ever done but all the pain I experienced during the process was worth it.  I wouldn’t change a thing. The journey has given me a life of freedom and taught me to love and respect myself and my body.

Trusting was very tough.  I had to learn to trust myself, trust my body, trust my meal plan, trust my treatment team, trust the recovery process and trust my family.  Throughout my whole life I trusted ED so learning how to trust other things was very difficult.  To help me get there, I took baby steps.  I let myself be open to various things like foods, people, experiences and feelings.  I was honest with my thoughts and feelings and I made myself vulnerable so I could learn and trust.  I put action to things rather than giving excuses. I set small goals and put a plan in place to achieve them.  I did things my treatment team wanted even if I didn’t want to or knew why.

The people around me where there to push me along but comforted me along the way.  They never left my side so I was able to feel and see they cared and were there for me.  I also went on faith.  Faith that God would help me through and faith that the people around me knew what was best for me and my recovery.  At times I felt like they were all in control and I wasn’t but that was not reality….it was guidance and I had to have faith and trust they knew what was right…..and they did.

With time and patience everything got easier: the trust, the recovery process, the eating, the accepting of my body…all of it.  I followed my meal plan, went to my appointments, stopped negative behaviors and did healthy behaviors all in hopes I would be free from ED and it worked.

Throughout the book, you talk about the various harsh and negative things ED would say to you. You first started hearing this voice when you were just a little girl. How were you able to separate yourself from ED and finally silence him?

Throughout the years, I felt intertwined with ED.  I felt like I was a part of him.  He completed me and I completed him.  It was destructive and I felt overpowered.  ED was in control (although I always thought I was).  It wasn’t until I met and began seeing Thom Rutledge that I was able to see that I am not ED and ED is not me.

In early recovery, I attended an Eating Disorder Recovery Workshop in Nashville, TN that he ran.  (Thom still offers them 3 times a year: March, July, October.)  That workshop was based on his teachings and his Intrapersonal therapy model that he developed,  whereby viewing the eating disorder as ED, a destructive relationship, not a condition.

During that workshop, role-playing and exercises were done.  It was all an amazing and moving experience….unbelievable!  It was during a role-playing exercise in which I saw and heard the conversation, manipulation, fight, then power between ED and a sufferer that my eyes and heart were finally opened.  It was like someone grabbed me and shook me and said “can you see it now, Cheryl.  You are NOT ED…you are separate from him.”

I was truly amazed and couldn’t believe what I was seeing and experiencing.  It was at that moment that I realized and said to myself: “I am not my eating disorder.  ED and I are separate!” I felt empowered and felt hope and strength run through me.  It was electrifying.  That workshop was a turning point for me and my recovery.  After that workshop, I added Thom to my treatment team (he was my second therapist—yes, I had two….anything to help me recover) to help me strengthen the separation between me and ED.

From then on, I gained more strength and hope and utilized various recovery tools to continue to help me gain power over ED and silence his chatter.  Doing all of these tools over and over, while following my meal plan, disobeying ED and going to appointments gave “me” the power and diminished ED’s.  With determination, practice, time, commitment and persistence, I won the fight.

Cheryl, thank you so much for sharing your story, and for creating such a valuable book! Stay tuned for the second part of our interview tomorrow.

Favorite post:The Calathea” from the beautifully written blog Finding Melissa.