I had thought I found a new voice. Friends noticed a difference and I was filled up by their affirmations and encouragements even as I was facing a new way of being: sad not mad. But 30 years of loneliness, isolation and taking people far too seriously than they seem to want to be taken titrates a rage with a particularly long half-life.
So I hesitate. Anger has its place. And also, it can wither and recess relationships.
Although friends I trust are sure otherwise, I feel that a few deeply core relationships are over, another nearly so and yet another currently very marred. It’s not all my fault. But I am guilty, too; in at least two of them, the majority of the fault is mine.
And I am sorry.
I fear apologies, giving and receiving them. Saying sorry is difficult for all of us, I think, but I struggle with two things specifically: I do not want to be a promise breaker; I am fatigued and despaired by how many people do not keep their word, by how it seems that we use lack of follow-through and indefinitely putting each other off as relational currency, that I strive hard to let my yes be yes, my no be no and no more while others do not seem to. “I’m sorry,” when I say it, is a commitment to that person, that relationship, that I either will not do something again or have a plan of action for eventually not doing something again, depending on how deeply ingrained or how connected to my trauma it is. I do not want to break my word and so I guard when and where I give it. Another way of saying that is, I don’t apologize as much as I maybe should. Sometimes, though, it doesn’t seem to make a difference when I do. The other reason apologies are difficult for me is because my experience is that, when I name and own my part in a hurtful dynamic, it often ends there, as if I am the only one responsible for the breakdown. I regret how much this sounds like “eye for an eye;” it is hard to feel as if the way I was injured does not matter.
I don’t like enduring apologies because there is something in me – and this is totally incongruous, I know – that seizes up, feels compelled to say nothing more of my pain and immediately alleviate the burden the other person presents me with. This is one symptom of Oldest Child Syndrome, I think: you are responsible for everything and everyone forever and ever amen, including if your mom makes a scene at the bank and embarrasses the poor teller, just as an example. This is not to say I am not deeply touched when people come to me of their own volition and apologize for when they have done something wrong without my prompting. “If on your way to the altar, you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, put down your gift and go back to make it right.” The one time I was at a church service where we practiced personal reconciliation as preparation for communion, I was so healed by the relational balms I was offered (and that I gave to others), I could barely stand. And yet, I have only ever experienced this honoring of relationship the way it should be – as itself an act of worship – once in my decades of church experience.
But that’s the voice I want. The one that honors relationships even when there is nothing in my culture, and a dwindling amount in my life, that encourages me to do so. The one that introduced this series (I may have spoken too soon when I said I’d captured it) and the one in my Atlantic article. Because that was not an angry voice. I do not want to be angry anymore. I don’t want to lose more relationships.
I don’t want to be abandoned.