On eating Anger.
I used to think I had an eating disorder. As it turns out, I had an emotional disorder that manifested itself through my unhealthy relationship with food.
From the age of 10 to the age of 20 I oscillated between anorexia and binge eating. My weight fluctuated constantly and I was deeply troubled by my inability to live up to the force-fed beauty standards of society at large. At 20, when I finally acknowledged that this was going on and sought help, I continued to monitor my food intake obsessively. My weight stabilized within a range but I still struggled to maintain a consistent weight without constant exercise and calorie counting. Nine years later, one of the first things I still look at when I am feeling like I need to hold myself more accountable to my potential is the food that I am eating. And while my relationship with food is healthier than it has ever been, the root of my anxiety around how I nourish myself through what I consume has only just started to subside after a few very recent realizations.
On doing the work.
Since I began my studies with Integral Coaching Canada in November of last year, my life has been in a constant state of upheaval. I’ve had old stories, setbacks and suffering come surging up full force as if I had never dealt with it in any capacity. I have watched, horrified, as past behaviours and reactions have shown themselves to be not bygones but still readily available to me. When I started this work with ICC, I was aware that I needed to do some deep personal and professional development in order to move into the life I wanted to live and become the person I longed to be. I have never had trouble acknowledging my foibles even if I have been less than gracious accepting them. That being said, I had no idea the depth at which I would need to work in order to include and transcend my Current Way of Being. In many ways, I am grateful for my previous ignorance as this process is not something I would have rushed to experience right away. It has been uncomfortable and excruciating, to say the least—and, at times, joyful.
If you are unfamiliar with Integral Theory, “Current Way of Being” is used to describe how someone is right now; how they see the world and themselves, and how they go about living their life. The approach used in an Integral Coaching program helps people to develop the capabilities that they need in order to include and transcend their Current Way of Being. This process then allows them to fully embody their New Way of Being—a Way that is defined through a co-creation process between client and coach. Or, in my case, between myself, my teachers, my coaches, and the supportive Integral Coaching community that I am fortunate to be a part of.
A writing diet.
A few weeks ago I was combing through a list of books written by Julia Cameron. Despite my familiarity with her seminal work The Artist’s Way, I was largely unfamiliar with her other writing. I have done the morning pages for years—three pages of stream-of-consciousness writing first thing after waking—but aside from that, hadn’t really explored her other teachings. The brilliant coach who guided me through my first module with ICC recommended I check out her other work as Cameron is a master at designing practices to help people strengthen their creative capabilities. Practices that could be of use to me as I build my offerings as a writing coach. In this list of books was one in particular that stood out to me: The Writing Diet. I downloaded it to my Kindle and started to do the exercises she recommended. Nothing else had worked to help me overcome my disordered relationship with food—not therapy or eating plans or even making art—so I figured I’d give Cameron’s approach a go. Within a week of beginning The Writing Diet, I came face to face with the reason that I have always had issues with food: I have been eating—or trying to starve—my emotions for almost two decades.
On eating Anger.
While I often joke that I have a habit of eating my emotions, I didn’t realize the degree to which this was true. Nor was I aware of how disordered eating was merely a symptom of much bigger issue. Prior to doing this self-work, I would have said that I had a decent amount of emotional control. As it turns out, I am just skilled at shutting my feelings down and not allowing them to express themselves in healthy ways. Now that I can see my Current Way of Being clearly—the subjective has become the objective—I see that I have a lot of work to do around developing my capacity to feel into, understand, and express my emotions. And, of all the emotions that I have been trying to moderate with how much or how little I am eating, is the dreaded Anger. (The research I am doing on emotions has lead me to think of them as entities, hence the capitalization.) Anger being something ugly and unattractive, and largely discouraged within Western society especially if you are a woman or other marginalized people.
Realizing I was at a total loss as to how I was supposed to go about learning about my emotions—specifically Anger—I downloaded two more books recommended to me by my ICC phone coach: Emotional Intimacy by Robert Augustus Masters PhD and The Language of Emotions by Karla McLaren. While I have only just begun the latter book, it has already affirmed that this is absolutely the arena where I need to be working at the moment. McLaren writes, “emotions are not bad and scary things, but signs that the psyche is trying to heal itself.” Anger, when expressed healthily, is a way to erect a temporary boundary to protect oneself. It is fast and sharp and brings clarity to a situation. It is also corrosive if left to maintain those boundaries. So the practice is to feel anger, express anger, and let it fall away so that more sustainable emotions can move in and allow for continued support and emotional structure.
I am an emotional creature.
While this information still so fresh, it has already put my lifelong battle with food into clear perspective. Of course I was always hungry; Anger has an insatiable appetite. And of course I couldn’t starve Anger out of myself; it is a necessary and good emotion that is essential within the balance of human feelings. The practice, for me, was never meant to be about shutting down Anger and my other emotions—even though that’s what I had done for many years. Instead, I need to learn to skillfully navigate my emotions now that I have the awareness and skills to do so. It is important for me to acknowledge that within this development process I am focused on strengthening my emotional capabilities—or Emotional Line as we say in the ICC methodology. This is not to say that I am trying to become less emotional; I am an emotional creature and that’s not something that needs changing. As Eve Ensler so wonderfully writes,
These feelings make me better.
They make me ready.
They make me present.
They make me strong.
I am an emotional creature.
(You can read the full poem in her book I Am an Emotional Creature or watch/listen to her perform it at the end of her TED Talk Embrace Your Inner Girl. In addition to being a brilliant writer, Ensler does work helping to end violence against women and girls through her organization V-DAY.)
Including and transcending my emotions.
Part of the ICC methodology and coaching process includes honoring what a Current Way of Being allows for. Hence the intention of, “including and transcending” through the work that’s done within a coaching program. The idea is not to become an entirely different human through the application of Integral Theory. Rather, we are meant to take what is working and let the rest fall away as a New Way of Being comes into formation. So, as far as being an emotional creature goes, I am working on transcending the destructive parts of my emotions. The parts that make Anger take up residence in my knotted stomach and demand that it be fed continuously. The parts that cause me to build up stores of emotional dynamite until the wrong type of friction causes me to explode. And definitely the parts of myself that turn Anger into sadness, melancholy, and longing when I really do need that temporary, fiery boundary in place to keep me safe. All that being said, I have no intention of not feeling as much as I currently feel. Indeed, I can see how becoming more skilled at navigating my emotions is actually going to allow me to experience a greater range and depth of emotions.
The emotional Individualist.
As I continue to do this work on increasing my emotional intelligence and agility, I will continue to add to my research and resources. For the next module of my coaching studies, I have needed to familiarize myself with the nine Enneagrams. In a nutshell, the Enneagram system is a way to understand different personalities in all their complex ways of showing up in people. I am a raging Enneagram Type Four: The Individualist. In addition to being moody and self-absorbed—don’t judge until you’ve learned about the shortcomings of your Type—Type Fours are highly creative and able to feel deeply into all emotions. This capacity for feeling often shows up in artistic expression; many creatives are Enneagram Type Fours. In the book The Wisdom of the Enneagram, Don Richard Riso and Russ Hudson write,
Healthy Fours are honest with themselves: they own all of their feelings and can look at their motives, contradictions, and emotional conflicts without denying or whitewashing them. They may not necessarily like what they discover, but they do not try to rationalize their states, nor do they try to hide them from themselves or others. They are not afraid to see themselves warts and all. Healthy Fours are willing to reveal highly personal and potentially shameful things about themselves because they are determined to understand the truth of their experience—so that they can discover who they are and come to terms with their emotional history. This ability also enables Fours to endure suffering with a quiet strength. Their familiarity with their own darker nature makes it easier for them to process painful experiences that might overwhelm other types.
All the feels.
Given the self-revealing nature of this post, I think you’ll agree that this is a fairly accurate description of my Way of Being. And while I have a lot of work to do around becoming more emotionally savvy, I am relieved to have found the root of my disordered way of relating to food. This means I no longer need to eat Anger. Instead, I can express it and use it in a way that serves me. In a way that keeps me safe and healthy. And in a way that makes me a more articulate writer and more compassionate coach. I am an emotional creature and I am looking forward to moving into a New Way of Being where I can eat for nourishment—and still feel all the emotions that make life rich and meaningful.