[“Hold On” – Green Sky Bluegrass]
“I know everything for all that I know,
But there’s always two sides to the way both of the stories go.
Sometimes things better left unspoken,
Should be shouted, written down, and quoted.”
I am a superfluously apologetic person, I always have been. I apologize for things that don’t really require it, feelings I have that I am entirely entitled to, even the actions and hurts of others. I think it comes along with anxiety that, at a point, I feel like a burden on the world and so I have always been one to apologize if anything around me is going wrong because I take it on myself, I internalize it, and assume it is a reflection on me.
Someone is unhappy? Obviously I am not doing my job to make them happy.
Someone stubbed their toe? Why didn’t I have the forethought to move that box to a more convenient location? Even though the box was not mine to move.
Why can’t I tell the future and change the past?
I know I have heard the exasperation in the voices of family and friends when I say “I’m sorry” unnecessarily. To me, it was always been better to say it and have my bases covered should some small part of the inconvenience be from my general existence, than to assume no fault and move along my oblivious and merry way. I don’t want anyone harboring me ill will for some slight I wasn’t even aware that I inflicted. Ignorance is not bliss, people… It is an anxiety inducing hell-hole of self doubt.
But, this belt and suspenders approach to apologizing sort of cheapens the concept of admitting fault and seeking forgiveness, doesn’t it?
Sorry, Not Sorry…
It didn’t actually really register with me that this way of thinking really is a problem until recently. There is a difference between ownership of fault and really just expressing a defeatist type of self importance. By taking ownership of faults outside of my control, I was making an issue about me but in a way that expressed that all the bad things happening were somehow because of me. I was, essentially, apologizing for existing—thinking myself a burden in my entirety because there are things I struggle with and do wrong, therefore everything must be my fault. Flawed logic, to an enormous degree, and a type of escapism… It’s always been easier for me to be at fault than to be just a spectator. When someone admits ownership of a hurt, it makes it easier to deal with—it gives it a face, someone to blame. But why would I want to be the face of hurt and pain when my only real intention is to help? And in what way am I helping if I am not giving someone else the opportunity to recognize their fault?
The past few months have seen me apologizing for having feelings. I have always striven to be logical, independent, and strong… Many times to my detriment, but none so harmful as the most recent instances. When the world came crashing down, I took a week off of work and packed up the elements of my life worth keeping. I cleaned out what once was our home and sorted my things into a pile which I then packed into baskets and boxes that had to be schlepped down two flights of narrow stairs—only to do it again the next day. I refused the help and support of my friends and family, stating that this experience was cathartic. But really, I know now that I just didn’t want to inconvenience anyone. When it came to the items that were too big for me to carry myself, I had to shamefully ask my parents and brother to help me. As we stood, panting and sweating, in the un-air conditioned space, in the middle of July, I apologized profusely through my tears, for the inconvenience I had caused them. Believing myself to just be an undeserving pain-in-the-ass (or p.i.t.a. as I like to say) who was incapable of managing her own life. I felt like a failure.
Here I was, life having been completely upended, by someone who had held my heart in his hands and decided it was lacking, and I was apologizing to other people because I was trying to regain some semblance of normalcy in the turmoil. They knew that the reason behind the move was not on me, but I saw myself as the face of the inconvenience so I was mortified and obnoxiously apologetic rather than having the appropriate emotional response of being outright THANKFUL (which I was, but I was too messed up to properly articulate it at the time).
In the months that have followed, I have found myself growing tired of my own voice as I say, again and again, that I am sorry for struggling. I have apologized, ad nauseam, to friends and family for my regularly scheduled 30-second bouts of self doubt and sheer misery. If I am so strong and independent, why am I still struggling so much to come to grips with the drastic way in which my life and future have been altered? Why can’t I get over a decade of friendship, partnership, and love after three whole months? What is WRONG with me that I still have the need to talk about it bubble up within me at least once a week when I can’t clamp down the negative feelings anymore?
They say “true love means never having to say you’re sorry” but I don’t believe that’s true. At the very least, it’s way too simple a platitude to encompass the whole truth. Sometimes, you’re an asshole when you have yet to have your morning coffee. Sometimes, you accidentally whack your best friend in the nose when doing a dramatic retelling of a story. Sometimes, you get mad because everything has gone wrong in your day and you accidentally take it out on one of your favorite people. Love sometimes necessitates a “sorry” or two because it means you value and appreciate the other person enough to care about both their welfare and your impact on it. What true love does mean, when it’s mutually shared, is that you don’t have to excessively apologize or feel like a burden because the other person will continue to love you as long as you both foster and share the good feelings—valuing and remembering them over the bad.
On the Flip Side…
I have been recently asked to forgive… And I am struggling to do so. Having believed myself to be so in need of forgiveness in the past, I have also found myself to be one who easily forgives. I give people A LOT of chances, sometimes more than they deserve. Finally, from a more level headed vantage point, I can say that while I believe everyone does deserve to be forgiven at a point, if they show true remorse, forgiveness has to be earned through actions rather than words.
Getting over my “I’m Sorry Slut” phase, and working to discover the hidden depths of my self worth, has meant coming to an understanding of what those words actually mean and what impact they have for me when said on this scale. They are not a cure-all nor do they erase ills—only time and actions can do that. “I’m sorry” admits culpability but it doesn’t mean you are actively striving to not do it again. Major hurt requires major time spent in earning back trust and respect. This isn’t an “I accidentally let the door go in your face” or “I ate the last donut so you didn’t get one” kind of sorry… This is the big leagues.
Much like “I love you,” the phrase “I’m sorry” really can lose it’s meaning when abused. Yes, it’s important to say it but it’s more important to show. And, just because you say it, does not automatically mean you deserve forgiveness or even that it will be soon to come—nor does it mean, when that forgiveness comes, that it will be in the form you envision or desire.
I am not still enraged by the hurt, but I have yet to fully forgive. Despite that, I wish no ill on the injuring party.
I am Not Holding a Grudge…
But I also refuse to open myself for what can only, for now, be additional and unnecessary pain. Yes, there are two sides to the story and we have both expressed them. We are both dealing in what ways we can as a result of the offending action.
The hardest thing at this point is letting go and knowing I can’t change the past. What I can do, all I can do, is hold on and hope for the future.
Were you in front of me, I would likely still apologize…
Old habits die hard and I have poured my heart out onto this virtual page since September, when I finally found the guts to seek some kind of release from the thoughts that were plaguing my every waking moment. I’d apologize because I am, and always will be, imperfect and lessons are easier said than fully lived. I still struggle every day to not feel like something needs to be apologized for, or like someone’s hurt is my fault.
Writing here is my catharsis. In the past, I had been one to hold too much in, to my mental detriment. Here, I am speaking my truth as best I can and putting out there the words that, in the past, I would have left unspoken but in some ways should have been shouting from the roof tops so that others experiencing the same struggles would know they are not alone. Life is about shared experience, and much of that experience is hard but it’s what we tend to talk about least.
Please friends, know you are not alone. And please remember to value yourself. Don’t apologize for your existence, but remember to take ownership of your own mistakes. Don’t forgive too easily, but don’t hold grudges that will cause you pain. Be true to yourself and live your truth. Always remember you are allowed to struggle and feel so don’t apologize for it. Lastly, don’t let past hurts get in the way of your present. Love is to be valued in all forms, even if you have lost it in the one you had held dearest (I have never felt more like Polonius than I do at this very moment, please don’t stab me if I hide behind a curtain… He meant his pompous advice with love and so do I).
“This above all: to thine ownself be true…”
Photo: E. Campbell (2017)
Dock Street Cannery, Philadelphia, PA