By my best estimate, I’d been sitting on the toilet seat with my fingertips pressed into my eye sockets for twenty minutes. I stood up, flushed ritualistically, and washed by trembling hands in my brother’s sink. The sink had been decorated with the sparkly blue toothpaste only used by children and glitter ponies. I looked into my red-rimmed eyes and begged the being that lived inside my body to stop revolting with tears. I wished for guts that weren’t planning a mutiny and threatening evacuation. I wanted to be teleported out of this bathroom, out of this body, and into a universe where I didn’t have to follow through on the decision I’d made a few weeks earlier.
Follow through is a bitch. I mean that as both the highest praise and a scathing insult simultaneously. It’s terrible. It’s miraculous. In the case of hiding out in my brother’s bathroom, follow through meant walking through the living room and out the front door with my parents. I had formally requested that my parents take this walk with me this morning. On this walk, I had ambitions to apologize. I’d made a list. I knew my many infractions. I’d hid my personality from them. I’d censored myself and my life. I hadn’t trusted them to love me for who I was as a flawed, godless wanderer. That wasn’t the end of it. After I delivered my laundry list of misplaced fences and lies through omission, once I claimed all my withholding, I would be sharing with my parents the truth.
“Mom. Dad. I’m a recovering alcoholic.” It only seemed fair, seeing how I was apologizing for censorship, specifically censorship I’d chosen to implement for their sakes. I’d attempted to keep them safe from the shame and fear associated with having a compulsive, wild card of a child. For many alcoholics, it’s impossible to hide the truth of their addiction from their families. I, however, had gotten very, very good at hiding. Hiding from myself. Hiding my addiction. Hiding from reality and being seen as I am in this world. Now, I’d decided to apologize for it. Rather, it’d been explained to me that if I didn’t, I would remain insane and live forever in a self created hell.
To call this task difficult would be an affronting understatement. It was a bitch, and again I mean that as the highest praise and a scathing insult. It was terrible. It was miraculous. If my mind is sound I’ll remember this day on my deathbed. Confessions go down like cherry cough syrup. It’s like choking on bittersweet relief.
Apologies are ironic. They’re born in the pool of righteous indignation. Preceding most of my apologies, I’m quite sure I’m right. Often I’m positive that I’ve been wronged. Once blame enters my limbic system it bleeds into my entire life. It rips my autonomy out from under me, drops on my ass, and blinds me to my resources. BLAME IS THE THIEF OF FREEDOM. Blame puts other people and the current circumstances in charge of me and my reactions. Blame is a cockroach.
Before I can apologize to you, I probably blamed you…... hard. That’s where it gets paradoxical. Most of my apologies are born from resentment. I’d tricked myself into thinking apologies were supposed to be clear cut and easy.
“Oops! I stepped on your toe! It hurt you and I’m sorry!” But most days, that’s not how it goes down. I picked up somewhere along the line that if I surrender my blame and claim my part in creating the unacceptable, then I will be surrendering my dignity. I’ve learned, painfully and with infinite failures, to check in when blame and resentment bubble up and ask,
“What did I do? How did I create this? Where was I being selfish? In what ways did I lie to myself and others? When have I done something similar to this person or to someone just like me?” If you’re anything like me, these questions sound terrible, and they are. I’m not going pretend otherwise, AND, MY FRIENDS, they are also miraculous. ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THOSE QUESTIONS, I AM FREE! I am free because I am accountable. To my alcoholic brain, that makes zero sense. Whiskey and I didn’t really vibe with accountability, but there’s a more sage section of my brain that comprehends that freedom doesn’t involve being chained to a bottle OR blame and resentment.
When I own my shit, I can forgive you and I can forgive me. When my dignity isn’t dependent on the sturdiness of my defensiveness, I can be raw and merciful. A genuine apology means, “I can do better and I believe I have the power to do so.” Forgiveness is powerful. Owning your mistakes is progress. Seeking resolution with humility is healing. Zero expectations of the person you apologize to is paramount. While it’s sorta about them, it mostly isn’t. It’s about compassion, and you can’t free them from THEIR RESENTMENTS. That’s their job. And this is yours: to kindly collect the pieces of power and peace you’ve given away when you succumbed to blame. Your task is to return to freedom and come home to feeling whole. For me, at that time, “whole-ness” meant to no longer need a drink to be okay. For someone else it may be different. To quote my favorite poet, Buddy Wakefield in his poem Hurling Crowbirds at Mockingbars,
“Forgiveness is for anybody who needs safe passage through their mind.”