Wednesday, March 10, 2010
Sorry seems to be the hardest word
I vaguely remember playing the board game Sorry when I was a kid. What I remember clearly about it was feeling awful when I got the Sorry card and had to send a player's piece back to the beginning. I was truly sorry when that happened but I did it anyway, I had to. Actually, I was always sorry when I had done something wrong, intentionally or not, I was the first to offer up heartfelt apologies.
Over the years heartfelt apologies morphed into reluctant mutterings which turned into automatic responses. After years of "say you're sorry Michele" the term "I'm sorry" was reduced to meaningless words that flew out of my mouth in order to placate. One time when I was 17, I came home from sleeping over a friend's house, Evil Stepfather was painting and needed something from the hardware store, since I was the resident errand boy I was asked to go. I said I would as soon as I changed my clothes, which had been on my body for about 24 hours. Evil stepfather didn't like that and chased after me, he grabbed me by the shoulders and then proceeded to choke me, eventually my mother intervened and he let me go. I was shaking, scared and trying desperately to catch my breath when I heard "Michele, please apologize for upsetting him." The really pathetic part of all that? I said sorry and then went to the hardware store.
You know how you always remember defining moments in your life and how they changed you? Or if you're lucky, what they changed in you. This was one of mine, I don't think of it very often, for obvious reasons. Once in college I was taking a theater class and one of the assignments was to turn a painful moment into a monologue. Lucky me, I had a plethora of memories from which to chose, for some reason that one immediately came to mind. I actually hated that theater class, I had no interest in acting but it was required so I did what I had to for the A. I sucked at acting, luckily just showing up was all that was required. When it was my turn I got up and told the story by reliving it. When I was done I had a roomful of people silently looking at me. I suppose I got lost in the retelling of the story because I don't remember it, I just remember someone coming up to me, putting her arm around me and taking me back to my seat, I was still crying. When the professor asked me what I learned from it I said "I will never apologize for someone else's mistakes." I also said that I'd have to be really sorry about something to apologize for it, and then I apologized for my terrible acting skills. Comedy is so much easier than Drama for me. I went from crying to laughing almost immediately. I guess that's why I make jokes at the strangest times.
I fully take the blame when I do something wrong, it might take a while but I will always apologize for my transgressions. I will also gladly accept an apology when it comes my way but only if it's from the heart. It doesn't have to be a formal long winded speech either, a simple "that was dumb, I'm sorry" is all I need. As a former serial-apologizer I know the difference when one is genuine and one is just smoke being blown up my ass. I also refuse to apologize for defending myself in any way.
I feel like I am on the precipice of an apology situation. Ever since I traded my grievance story in for a forgiveness story (see To Err Is human for the whole story) a dialogue between me and my MIL has opened up (for her safety it's been strictly via email). She sent me a long letter (after prompting from D) saying how she wanted to start the "healing process" really all I wanted was an apology for her hurtful comments and actions. What I got was a letter that said some nice things about me, some things about being a mom and her telling me that she would not sit down and discuss what happened in the past. D was quite upset that she was unable to simply apologize so we could move on. A few days later I received an email saying that it was her understanding that moving forward was not possible unless she apologized, so she apologized for the "Christmas Incident" and gave her excuse for why it came out like it did. I then replied with why it was so hurtful, a few emails went back and forth and they involve facts so I will leave them out.
I feel like I need to accept an apology that may not be genuine, for my husband and the happy life that we both want and need so badly, I will do this. What I know is right around the corner is my MIL asking me to apologize as well. Since I know that I have done and said nothing that garners an apology I believe what she is looking for is a blanket apology for my behavior. I've written this many times before, I have never, not once said any of the things that I so desperately wanted to say. I am not comfortable in her house and small town because she has created a hostile environment for me. When I am upset or uncomfortable I can hold my tongue but my body will betray me every time, I simply cannot lie. Sometimes my eyes roll so far back into my head I look like Linda Blair in the Exorcist. It was my only defense and I feel I am about to have to apologize for it.
Today in therapy we discussed forgiving and I told Dr. Phil that I fully grasp the concept that being able to forgive my MIL also means that I must do the same for all the characters in my grievance story. I believe that I am on the verge of that, and I'm OK with it, or at least I will be when it's all said and done. The sorry thing is a whole other can of worms.
Thinking back to my childhood games of Sorry, it's no wonder that all I remember is feeling bad when I sent a person back to the beginning, I was defending my place on the board and it was the rules of the game. The rules haven't changed much for me. Sure the game is different, maybe I feel bad for not always trying to be better about taking the high road but I have to defend my place on this board, at our house, in my life. If I was able to do it as a child I can do it now, defend without apology. It's in the rules.
I guess I should be happy that I didn't play Risk.