Sunday, October 25, 2009

What An Apology Is Not.

Any sentence containing the word "but."

As in:
"I'm sorry about what happened earlier, but I don't know why you got so upset over something so small..."

I've heard it suggested that in any sentence broken into two clauses with the word "but" separating them, the truth comes in the second half, and everything before "but" is just window dressing and padding. I think that's probably true, most times. I also would point out that the person offering the alleged apology has not accepted responsibility, they've nicely sidestepped it by using the phrase "what happened earlier." When anyone tries to pass one of these off on me, as an apology, I will stop them, and ask, "What happened earlier?" If they've taken their own inventory, and have clarity as to where they went wrong, they can state this without long pauses for thought. If they haven't done so, and are only trying to make peace, they might respond with "You know..." In which case, I'll say pleasantly, "I'm not sure, why don't you enlighten me."

Before Al-Anon, any hint of apology would have me falling all over myself reassuring the other person that it was ok, I was fine, things were great - all done in service to the people-pleasing part of my character, which finds it so painful when someone is angry with me.

I have learned that it's not up to me to do the work for the other person. I try not to rush to forgive before the amend has been made, because this gets in the way of giving them the room to work an honest program. I try not to say it's all right when it isn't. I try to say what I feel, and what I think. (I'm a work in progress, in this area - people-pleasing is powerfully intertwined with my character.)

This may sound harsh; when I was new to Al-Anon, I wondered what was wrong with smoothing things over? Now, I understand that what I thought I was doing, and what I was actually accomplishing with my peacemaking efforts, were inconsistent.

I've spent years making allowances, and inventing excuses for unacceptable behavior, and all I've achieved in doing so, is to prolong the misery for everyone involved. I've made it possible for problems to go unresolved, because I've accepted what I never should have, in the name of "being nice."

We teach people how to treat us. It's my responsibility to speak up when I don't like the way I'm being treated. I cannot expect the other person to discern this through proximity, osmosis, or guesswork. Al-Anon taught me that I have the right to say "I don't like this - I don't want you to do this to me."

If I want a change, I must be willing to put in the, at times, incredibly tedious work of stating and restating my position - clearly, without heat or abuse. Just the facts, ma'am. I need to be consistent, even when I'm so fatigued I can barely think. If I let the alcoholic get away with it even one time, I'll pay for it later, in their renewed efforts to change the status quo back to a more self-serving place. So many times I have had to close my eyes, breathe deeply, and ask God for help to say whatever it is, again. And again. And again. Gak.

MrSponsorPants has a post today, with a great quote from his first sponsor as to the nature of the alcoholic ego:

Those of us intimately acquainted with an alcoholic can attest to the truth of that. A program friend jokes that every now and then, she wishes for a cattle prod, so she could just give one little teeny tiny zap with it - zzzzzt! Just to get their attention. I laugh each time she says it, because I can indentify so strongly with the feelings behind it.

No rest for the wicked; but hey, what about the rest of us?


  1. "giving them room to work an honest program." thanks for the reminder. I can get so easily hooked into the alcoholic's sideways attempt at forgiveness without taking sincere reponsibility for the actions. I, too, have smoothed it over too quickly, to only discover I've wounded myself. The most loving action I can take is to detach, survey my motives, and let the alcoholic squirm and grow. Makes sense.

  2. I've found that rarely is the alcoholic wrong. And their advice is given without any attempt at control. LOL. Yep...I'm not buying and I suspect that you're not either. Yes, but statements along with what if's and if only's are stricken from my vocabulary.