I’m an internal processor. This means it usually takes me several days to process stuff like a new concept, a conversation, what’s going on in my life – pretty much anything. Whereas some people can talk through these things to figure out where they stand, I need to climb inside my own head to figure it out – taking into account everything that’s said by the external processors – before I’ll even have the words to use to express anything remotely related to the topic.
Just the other day I had a conversation with my husband that started like this: “Hey. I need to talk to you about something. I think I have the words for it now.” It was about something that happened three days before.
Now before you go and think “Wow, is she ever in tune with herself, has she ever got her shtick figured out!” let me tell you that that’s the very first time I’ve ever used those words. It’s taken lots of intentionality, self-talk, and therapy to get me to the point where I actually got myself to say that the other day. My usual routine is that by the time three days have passed and I’ve had enough time to process what I think, I start believing that whatever it was that happened is no longer a big deal because everyone else has moved on and so there’s no use in bringing it up again. So I stuff it. And try to move on, too.
Well, maybe that gig works for the external processors because they’ve already voiced what they think, but it doesn’t work for me. I might have had the time to process my thoughts, but I haven’t had the chance to verbalize them. Even internal processors need to verbalize externally at some point or the fear/stress/worry/hurt/jealousy/anger/misunderstanding/sadness/confusion… will start to eat them alive from the inside out.
A brief aside to the external processors: Please give acknowledgement, space, time, and value to the internal processors in your life. Realize they don’t operate in the same way and at the same pace you do. This does not give you the upper hand, nor does it in anyway indicate they don’t care about something as much as you do. Often they don’t say anything in the moment because they literally don’t have the words to string together. But be patient. Give them the time they need to formulate those sentences, and let them know you’re there for them when they do. And help them know their thoughts are just as valid days later as they would have been if they’d been able to verbalize them in the moment. Deeply valid, in fact, because they’ve taken the time to think things through before saying them. Know this: Internal processors are serious about their words and rarely speak off the cuff. And they will often offer perspectives on things that others don’t see.
I’ve had some time to think lately. I mean, as an internal processor I’m always thinking, but I’m talking about real, quality, silent time. And this is what I’ve been thinking about: We (I) need to be careful our life doesn’t become one giant internal process, with no external expression: Where we face difficult things and don’t let anyone know. Where we struggle in silence and try to carry on like nothing’s wrong. Where we choose to smile because telling the truth is too hard.
Maybe we don’t have the words. Maybe we’re afraid of what peoples’ reactions will be. Maybe we feel we can’t express what’s going on until we have a better handle on it or we’ll risk appearing out of control or weak. Maybe we feel like everyone else has moved on and we don’t want to be a bother and bring it up again. Or maybe we just don’t want anyone to know. Period. So we stuff it.
But if there’s one thing we can be certain about in this life, one thing that every single one of us has in common, it’s that we all will fall.
It’s not a matter of if but when. And how many times.
Every. Single. One of us.
In her book, RISING STRONG, Brene Brown talks about “being in the arena” and lying flat on your face, covered in dust and sweat and tears. She talks about how you get to that place (by being brave, by risking vulnerability, by showing up and being seen when you have no control over the outcome) and she talks about being selective with whose feedback you let in while you’re there: “If you’re not in the arena getting your ass kicked, (too) I’m not interested in your feedback.”
In the arena
Not having control of the outcome.
She also says, in the same book, We’ve all fallen, and we have the skinned knees and bruised hearts to prove it. But scars are easier to talk about than they are to show; with all the remembered feelings laid bare. And rarely do we see wounds that are in the process of healing. I’m not sure if it’s because we feel too much shame to let anyone see a process as intimate as overcoming hurt, or if it’s because even when we muster the courage to share our still incomplete healing, people reflexively look away.
We so desperately want to control the outcome, don’t we? So we’ve created a culture where lives are very carefully curated in public spaces. To make people look at, not look away.
Scars are easier to talk about than they are to show.
Rarely do we see wounds that are in the process of healing.
But we all will fall. Every single one of us. So why do we continue to pretend that we won’t? Or that we don’t? Or that we haven’t? Why do we continue to highlight our happy side, when all that does is underscore the feeling we all have that we need to keep our scars hidden? To process alone and in silence? Do we really believe we’re the only one?
Well, I’m here to say that I’m in the arena. Getting my ass kicked.
This is my arena: My doctor has put me on a short medical leave – circumstances of the past few years in my life, both emotional and physical, have led up to this desperate need for rest; desperate need to step back and disconnect. To heal. Those who know me have seen the gradual decline, the slow creep away from “me” towards … something else. Somewhere else. Neither who nor where I want to be.
Kind hands on the shoulder, out-of-the-blue texts, concerned glances that catch my eye:
“How are you?” “You alright?”
“Eh, I’ll be okay.”
But I’m not. I’m lying face-down, dusty and sweaty and teary-eyed.
I’ve been internally processing, which is totally fine, but I’ve not been intentional (or brave) enough to risk external expression. To risk vulnerability. To show up and be seen. To work towards finding words to express what’s happening in my body internally, externally. I’ve been stuffing it. Because I want control of the outcome.
Sure. I mean I do still want control of the outcome. And I’m not particularly sure I actually want people to see my intimate process of healing – my internal processing. But I am sure that I’m not alone. I am sure that if I risk showing up and being seen, someone will be able to relate; someone will be grateful there is another person lying face-down in the arena with them, both of us dusty and sweaty and trying to string words together to make sense of what we’re going through. And I’m also sure that level of showing up can only happen now. Not after. Not “there was this time when …”
Even internal processors need to verbalize externally at some point, most of us generally preferring to write over speaking. So I’m not suggesting I’m going to suddenly become an extrovert and share my healing scars over coffee with everyone I meet. But what I am suggesting is that I will write posts about my process. I will commit my thoughts to paper.
I won’t promise that my posts will be consistent, because I’m not the consistent type.
I won’t promise that my posts will always make complete sense, because I’m in the middle of processing.
I won’t promise that my posts will inspire you. I haven’t the energy for that.
But I will promise that when I’m here I will show up and be seen. Even though I have no control of the outcome. I’m choosing to show my scars while they’re healing so those of you who are healing, too, will know you have someone in the arena with you.
I want to Rise Strong. This time.
I want to learn how to Rise Strong for next time.
And I want to share my experiences so you, my brothers and sisters who are in the arena with me, will know you have someone by your side who will lock arms and Rise Strong with you.