Sarah: Welcome to the Tough Girl Podcast, which is all about motivating and inspiring you.
I am delighted to be here with Cheryl Hunter.
Cheryl, thank you so much for being on the show.
Cheryl: I'm thrilled to be here. Thanks, Sarah.
Sarah: Over the years, you've helped to transform and change hundreds of thousands of lives through being very open and honest with the experiences that have shaped you, and not all of those experiences were positive.
I would love for you to share your story in your own words of how you became Cheryl Hunter, the motivational speaker, the bestselling author, and the transformational expert?
Cheryl: I think like many people, life takes a circuitous route sometimes. It wasn't that I started out to be an expert in this, but I found myself of the course of life events, becoming an expert in something that originally I never wanted to be an expert in.
I'll explain. I'm originally from a small town, Colorado mountain horse ranch.
A little tiny town where ... It's so remote that you can't see buildings anywhere from the mountain meadow where I grew up, except for the barn. Our horse barn. There was nothing to be seen. It's so remote.
I had dreams of ... I loved it when I was a girl, but as I got to be older, as a teenager, I had dreams of getting out and going to the big city. I concocted a plan, along with my best friend, to go ...
We were going to go to Europe, and I thought I will figure out a way to stay. I'd heard of modeling and the opportunities that that had, and I thought I'm tall enough, I think. I'm on the boy's basketball team. That was probably a function of being in such a small town, but I did start, so I was somewhat good and tall.
I thought what the heck. We'll go, let's see. We'll just see. No sooner did we get to France, but there was a man with a camera around his neck. That was all the evidence I needed. He was a photographer, right? Big nice camera and he came up and asked me if I was a model, told me he could make me one. I thought gee, it's this easy? That's how easy it is to become a model in France? What the? I'll do it.
I went off with him and his friend, and that's where things turned bad. I won't fill in all the gory details. You can figure that out in your mind by yourself, but suffice to say, they held me captive, and finally dumped me in a park, and for whatever reason, they let me go. I don't know why. Left me for dead, and the irony was then, Sarah, once I was physically free, I realized that that was when ... It was almost as if that's when the true captivity began, if that makes any sense. That might sound totally crazy.
Sarah: How old were you at this point?
Cheryl: I was 18 when they took me, 19 when I was brought back, and I decided at the time, I wasn't going to tell anyone what happened. I was not only physically hurt, but mentally in anguish, and embarrassed as well, and mortified that I had had such a bad error in judgement, and I thought it meant something about me, and that I was ruined, and that if anyone knew what had happened they would know that horrible truth about me, so I couldn't tell anyone, and I didn't for well over a decade.
Sarah: Did you head back to the farm? Did you head home?
Cheryl: No, not for quite some time, but I mustard up a phone call to my mom on which I said simply the words, "I'm okay," which, in retrospect, probably terrified her more than anything, and to this day, we've spoken about it now that it's all out in the open.
The point was, I started to realize if I still feel captive after the bad guys, the criminals have gone, then somehow I must be holding myself captive.
What I mean by that is that I started to feel, understandably, anxious and worried and upset and angry, and second guessing and very suspicious, and frightened, and all of these things that it wasn't who I was, as this happy, go-lucky, jubilant teenager.
I started to find myself going down a path, in many ways, that I didn't like and becoming somebody that I didn't recognize. I realized that if i became somebody else, somebody who I'm not, then that would mean those bad guys would win, and I said...
Sarah: Was there a turning point of when you noticed ... Or when you thought, actually, this can't go on. I've got to do something different?
Cheryl: There was. I said to myself ... After this had all happened, I was physically okay again, and started to be able to jump back into things mentally, I said I've done all of this in service of being a model. I'm going to do it. I went out and found an agency, and I went to Germany, and I had an agency there, and I met this German guy, and we were very young, and hopeful and excited and really fell in love. He seems like my first love, really. He imported motorcycles. Brought them into Germany from the US. Old American motorcycles. Indians, and Harley Davidsons, and he'd gone on a trip to the US to get some, and was killed in San Francisco in a motorcycle accident.
That was it. That was the turning point, and I started to find, immediately afterwards, I was spiraling downward. I was really isolating. I was very angry. I was snapping at strangers.
Sarah: You were still in Germany at this point?
Cheryl: I left soon thereafter, within a number of days, and I had gone to New York, and I was riding my bike and had tie-ted up ... Or locked it up outside of a supermarket, and I came out and there were two thieves trying to steal my bike and I came out. They were probably on crack. It was all over the news at the time. This is what a crack head looks like. Their erratic behavior, and what they do, and they're stealing things, and I don't know. I'm no expert in that, but there were two men trying to steal my bike.
I came out of the supermarket and went ballistic on them. I was like, "I'm going to crush your skulls!" I was like what? Who the hell is that? Where did that voice come from? I was crazed, yelling at them. It was like a death wish. I was chasing away crack heads, and they were running in terror from me and I thought okay, I am not who I was. This is not going well.
This has got to change. This does not end well.
It was, at that point, I realized I had to do something, and the thing was, when i realized that if I could feel captive and have no captors there, then that must be a human phenomenon, rather than a personal phenomenon.
It wasn't a function of being captive. It was a function, perhaps, of having something happen I didn't want to happen. Then I looked at ... Frankly, I looked around and realized that wait, we all deal with that. We all suffer from that.
I set out to crack the code, and I did, on how to set yourself free when you become captive by things that happened that you didn't want or really, more accurately said that way that we get at war with our own nature, and find ourselves stuck or spinning our wheels or self-sabotaging, or in that analysis paralysis.
That's how I came to do what I do was really initially to save my own life, so to speak, and then regain some semblance of normalcy, and then, ultimately, it became my mission in life to liberate others from that same trap, that same stuck-ness, that same self-imposed captivity.
Sarah: That's such a fantastic mission, and I can see ... You talk about cracking the code. That must have given you a sense of relief almost to break out of your internal prison?
Cheryl: Yes. It was so necessary. It was like I kept having dreams that I was held underwater, and something, and I just needed to get to the surface and get air.
Yet, then I'd wake up and it was like life, while awake, didn't feel much different than that. Like I was still struggling for air.
Now I'm a big advocate of be authentic, be transparent.
Tell your story, good or bad. I'm not talking about trauma sharing, you know?
This is horrible. Look. But I mean, really, the right people share. Be open. It's those things that we think are wrong with us that actually profoundly connect us with another. I think that we all have
... It wasn't just me that felt like I had to hide this about myself. I think that's a human phenomenon. Let me just hide the things I think are wrong.
We all have that, and the moment that we share, we realize, I guess ... A lightning bolt doesn't strike us dead, and the other people don't go, "You're horrible!"
I think what people say, generally, without exception ... Not even generally, in my experience, people think and they respond so positively, like they suddenly have the freedom to be, and to reveal the things that they had thought were wrong with them and defined them, and ultimately held them captive.
Like I said, it could be as simple as simply giving voice to that which you think is wrong.
Sarah: A lot of women are, especially ...
They're so consumed with giving off this perfect image of trying to be the perfect woman, the perfect wife, just being perfect, that they limit themselves in what they do, because they don't want to fail.
They don't want to put themselves out there, in case they are not liked for who they are.
It's incredibly brave to be that authentic and to be that transparent.
Cheryl: Thank you, and yet initially, it wasn't done out of bravery. It was done because, like I said, I couldn't get air.
There was no alternative. I experienced that my back was so against the wall, I had to do something.
Ultimately, when I did actually ... It was the impetus for what I did, but I didn't speak about it, but ultimately, when I spoke about it, that's when the true liberation came.
Sarah: Did you first start by writing your book, USE IT: Turn Setbacks Into Success, or did you first start by speaking about it and sharing your story with others?
Cheryl: Neither, actually. I first started, like I was on a mission to crack the code.
I was reading every book I could get my hands on. Anything. Somebody recommended, "Hey, have you heard of so and so?" I'd write it down, and I'd go get it. I went to therapy. I did seminars and programs of any kind that I could find out about or anyone recommended.
I got coaching. Anything I could come up with. Fire-walking. I was open to damn well anything.
Sarah: Was that Tony Robbins' Fire Walk?
Cheryl: It was somebody else's, but yeah, same kind of thing. I was like, "Oh what the hell. If burning flames on my feet are going to cure me, who cares what it is?" I did it all.
Finally, I had taken some personal growth program someplace, and I felt really enlivened by it, and I noticed that it seemed to be the communal experience from other people that were taking them. I had taken some professional growth seminars as well, and I ...
Professional development, and I had a similar experience there, and I thought, you know what?
What if I trained myself, so that I led these, so that rather than have to come to take those, I could do it myself and generate that myself.
I started training to lead personal and professional development seminars, and then really dove in, and did that for a good long while, and became quite adept and masterful at it. Leading programs for thousands upon thousands of people, and really providing value for them, and getting value in return.
One day, at one of the personal development programs, there were a couple hundred people in the room, something like that, and we were doing an exercise ... I was leading an exercise on forgiveness.
A woman stood up with a horrible, horrific experience in her life. She'd come from a country where they had genocides and horrible acts against women, and she had been abused, her children had been abused, they were able to flee there and come to the United States, and her husband then continued to abuse she and her children, and she said some things are unforgivable.
Ask 100 people and at least 99 would probably agree with her. They are unforgivable, and yet, she was trapped. She was still held captive by all of it. She and her children didn't have the ability to walk free, and I was committed to that.
I said, "Just consider. I'm not saying you have to forgive, but consider that it's possible." One step further, not for him, not for them. The country from which you came. Not for any of that, but for you, for your children.
She couldn't get there. Understandably so. She suffered atrocities at the hands of others that she had nothing to do with. Through no ill intentions or wills or actions of her own.
You could understand why she couldn't get there, but the room was starting to turn, and people were getting up and milling about and somebody walked out, and people were throwing things down.
It was like, okay, I'm losing the room and it's not going to happen. The freedom here, that transformational experience that I'm trying to cause isn't going to happen, and I realized, in that second, Sarah, that if I didn't share my own story, it was a disservice.
I told it then. For the first time ever.
You could've heard a pin drop. People had known me for years and never had heard me utter a word about it, and it was ... I got set free in that moment, but so did she.
That woman burst into tears, and realized, more than a hypothetical, that it was possible. I assert that many others in the room did as well.
One of the people that was in that room was a filmmaker. His name is Demian Lichtenstein, and he's made a lot of big Hollywood movies, but he was making a movie at the time called, Discover the Gift. He was talking about ... Along with his sister, and the two of them were writing a book, and making this movie.
I was honored to be asked to come and share the story. I thought ooh. There's one thing to share it with a group of people who know me well, and another just to share it.
I looked in the mirror and had a real talking to with myself, and I realized that anything that would have me not share it was just that teenager, still something incomplete. I did the inner work, sucked it up, and it was ...
Like I said, I waited a long time to share it, and once I told it in the movie, it was out there, and I realized it was a duty to share it, because a lot of people deal with things that they think are unforgivable.
A lot of us do. A lot of us deal with circumstances. I think ... It's a bold assertion, but I think each of us has dealt with stuff that we would have never chosen for ourselves.
Who teaches us how to break through that? Nobody. That's not ... We learn math, and we learn spelling, and you know? We know how to dress ourselves and tie our shoes, and feed ourselves, but inevitably, we'll all deal with some sort of challenge or loss or grief, but not ... We're not educated in how to deal with that, and while I don't want to stay in the space of challenge, and loss and grief forever, I want to empower people to be resilient and free.
Sarah: That must've been a big turning point in your life, and all of the people in that room who were there with you at that point.
How were the next couple of years, because you have turned your setbacks into success, like the title of your book.
You've cracked this code, and you've been out there sharing this knowledge about how to do it. I don't want you to give me the whole book, but what are the main tips or one or two pieces of information that have really helped?
Cheryl: Absolutely. Happy to share that.
One, I said, is to be wiling to share the things that you think are wrong with you.
Again, not trauma sharing, not complaining, any of that, but in a safe space, and you decide what that is, share those things about you.
Another thing is, I say in the book, your thoughts are not your friends.
What I'm referring to is there's that internal dialogue that we all have, as they say in Gestalt therapy, they coined the phrase, I don't know, in the '50s or something, but it refers to that ongoing, incessant chatter, and it's negative in nature, although, generally we don't notice it or distinguish it as such.
If we can start to recognize that those thoughts that we have, those things that we're saying to ourselves are not exactly the truth, they're simply designed to keep us safe, then it can give us some space from them.
If we have just a little bit of space, that awareness there, it can give us the space ... The few inches of space in between our own ears, you know? Those few inches there can make the difference between a fulfilled life and an unfulfilled life, between hitting goals and not, between being stuck and being liberated.
The first step is to recognize those thoughts when they're happening, and stop believing them as the gospel.
Sarah: I was going to say, especially with your thoughts in your head. I go to a lot of schools and I speak to girls out there, and they do tell me, sometimes they're looking in the mirror and they don't like what they see. It's like you're fat, you're ugly, all of these thoughts that are constantly going on.
It can really affect your self-confidence and your self-worth, which can ultimately impact on your life. Especially when you talk about goals and dreams and everything else.
What would you say ... How would you switch those negative thoughts off? Is it a case of being really on it? Like, that's negative thought. Get out of my head. Let's put something positive in there?
Cheryl: There's a few different steps to it, but if you ... Just for a moment, I'm going to bring back a previous conversation.
If you have negative thoughts ... If there we are with a negative thought, I'm fat, I'm too old, too young, too short, too tall, too whatever ...
It's not that men don't have these thoughts, but you're right. It seems as though women tend to believe them more, and there's a lot of research to that, even research that I've done over the years.
If we've got a thought that something's wrong, and it's wrong with me, and then the natural response is that we hide that, we're going to be trapped in a prison of our own making.
One, if we recognize the conversation, and in an instant, recognize that it's not us, it's not the truth, it's just a thought, and isolate it, create some space there, and then communicate it. Like I said, if you create a safe space
... For example, you could have an accountability partner, a best friend, somebody who you're on this committed journey with and say, "I want you to hear what's going on in my head."
For example, this is a thing. I have an accountability partner, and what we'll do ... We make promises for the day of what we're going to accomplish, but first we take a moment to clear out and empty ... Dump out the bucket of all the junk that's there. We'll say things like, "Nothing fit. I was going to an event last night, and I tried on my suit, and voila. Nothing fit. It didn't fit. I couldn't find anything that fit. I feel like 1,000,000 pounds, stones, kilos, whatever. Ugh, I'm so frustrated. I don't know what to do."
She, my partner, just listens. Doesn't go, "Oh, but you've got a lovely face." Doesn't add anything back to make it more real or substantiate it in any way. She just hears and listens. I hear you. I understand. Is there anything else, and I was like, "Ugh, I'm stressed. I've got a list of so much things I can't get done today," and listen, listen, dump. I feel like I'm insufficient to the task. Dump. Dump. Dump. Then, it all ...
There's these experience, when someone hears and doesn't try to fix it or change it or do anything with it, they just are the space to receive it without taking it on themselves, there's this phenomenon where we can walk free of that crazy internal dialogue, that would otherwise be running the show. It's a simple couple of things here, and then I'll be able to make a promise for two things.
This is our structure.
You could create anything, but I'll promise, then, what am I going to do that day? What am I going to accomplish, and I also promise who I'm going to be in the matter. I choose a couple of qualities. Each of us do. She and I both do. We choose a couple of qualities for the day.
Today, my qualities happen to be undauntable and unstoppable, because that's what felt good today. Some days I choose at peace or accepting or embracing. It depends. Today, undauntable and unstoppable seemed to be of the order.
Having some place to stand, like boom! I'm planting myself here, undauntable and unstoppable today. Then, when the conversations show up and go oh lord, you haven't gotten anything done, and you're fat and slow. Or whatever. That happens to be conversations that are there today. Thank you for sharing. I am undauntable and unstoppable. Get thee away.
It gives you a little armor to fight it with. It gives you a little space from it and distance from it. It's a structure that allows for something other than the default nonsense that gets in our head.
Did that answer a question? Did that provide something?