Messages in a Bottle #8: The Right to Say “I’m Sorry”

animals_misunderstood
Image: Lyrics from The Animals “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood.” Full song playable on Youtube here.

On three separate occasions recently, I have found myself writing about apologies. I wrote about how my Partner always apologizes for hurting me in an argument – even when we have both said hurtful things – because he knows that wasn’t something I ever heard growing up. Then I wrote in another post how abusers never truly apologize. (Saying “I’m sorry you took it that way” doesn’t count!) Never receiving a true apology – even when I begged for anyone to understand just how badly I was hurting – is part of my personal abuse history. Heck, it’s part of my abuse present. I haven’t yet met an official from the 9th Circle of Hell who gives a damn about the hurt that has been done to my sibling and to those of us who have to deal with the guilt of not having been able to stop it. I’ve only met abusers, bullies, and officials who wanted to sweep the issue under the rug as quickly as possible.

But, there’s another side to talking about apologies that I haven’t written about until now. I haven’t written about how I was never allowed to truly apologize. I made mistakes as a kid – of course, I was a lonely, neurodiverse, traumatized kid – and I learned early on to respond to others using all my weak spots against me by trying to do the same to them before they could hurt me first. If someone had shown they’d go for my jugular, I tried to go for theirs first. (Spoiler alert: it’s actually virtually impossible to truly hurt those who are willing to do that to you, so it never did much good.) I’ve also said stupid, impulsive things just because I have ADHD, I’m hyperactive, and rejection sensitivity hurts like Hell. I’ve responded to my Partner like he was part of my past because arguing itself made me forget my present.

My current therapist would say that I didn’t really need to blame myself for the hurtful things I said to people who had a history of saying hurtful things to me, especially when there were rather large age differences and power dynamic differences. But, when I truly decided I did not want to recapitulate my own family dynamics in another generation, it felt like I had to at least try to reach out my hands. It felt like maybe the first one to show vulnerability could make the change. We were a family broken by The System, and, thus, maybe – since we hurt each other because outsiders had hurt us first – we could find our way to healing once we understood trauma dynamics.

Another spoiler alert: showing vulnerability just made going for my jugular easier. It just opened me up to another long list of all the ways I’d screwed up over the years – dating back to age 6 at least – and how all of my failings justified anything that “might” ever have happened to me. Maybe vulnerability might have worked with one family member who is no longer with us (or maybe not) – I’ll never know – but it didn’t work with one with whom I tried it.

I’ve never received a genuine apology while growing up, but I also was never given the chance to offer one, either. I wrote in a previous post about how I was upset and triggered by some things another blogger wrote about ADHD. It hit me in a lot of the “it’s okay to hurt you because you should be normal but aren’t and it’s your choice” abuse buttons. That blogger apologized. She broke the cycle. She saw that I was upset, and she cared enough to write. That really was enough for me.

I also know the legacy of my past is that – even if I try to no longer allow others to hold past mistakes for which I’ve attempted to make amends over me – I’ll hold mistakes over myself forever anyway.

I’ve written a lot about fighting internal stigma within the chronic physical, mental, or developmental illness communities, but I initially forgot to include the most important caveat when we do so:

It’s important to call out internal stigma, but it’s equally important that we forgive mistakes within a community of people for whom just communicating at all is often fraught with fear and memories of years of failed attempts. Point out mistakes, then welcome their makers back into the community with open arms immediately as soon as they make a genuine attempt to correct them. If we continue ostracizing our own internally long after they have apologized, then we risk becoming abusers in yet another way. 

That’s ironic, given that the very earliest journal entry I ever wrote was about the right to be forgiven. It’s likely naive and dangerous to forgive those who hurt us intentionally – they’ll take it as permission to keep doing it – but it’s cruel not to forgive those who hurt us unintentionally. It risks making us into the voice of the bully-in-someone-else’s brain. I wrote in my earliest journal entry how I didn’t want to ever be that again. My subconscious thus thinks that I should post that earliest entry to make sure that I’m always truly keeping myself honest to advocating for calling out stigma in a way that opens arms, not closes fists, since I know too well how easy it is to wield a litany of past mistakes against yourself for years.

The Messages in a Bottle blog post below is the very first homework I ever completed in my leather-bound journal in my very first twelve-week CBT course at student mental health services. It is the earliest Messages in a Bottle I will ever post unless, by some miracle, I find something buried on Dropbox that has survived transfer across literally every external hard drive in every state in which I have ever lived.

The song is by The Animals. There are a couple of their songs that hold personal meaning for me. Maybe I’ll write about the others eventually, but, per my notes, this is the one I was listening to when I wrote this first entry that I have never actually shown anyone until now.

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