The Courage of An Apology, The Grace of New Insight

apology cats
I apologizee

And when the music plays
And when the words are
Touched with sorrow
When the music plays
And when the music plays
I hear the sound
I had to follow

I recently had a chat with a high school classmate about the long-ago rift in our friendship and the chance to offer an apology. They said I was a gossip. And that’s why they distanced themselves from me. They just stopped talking to me my senior year in 1987, leaving me to wonder “why?” for a long time. So I asked.

We still haven’t truly spoken in the ensuing 33 years. But I do appreciate the unadulterated truth to my inquiry. And I’m proud of myself for politely asking for clarification around something that had lingered in my mind me all of those years. I thought it was my unresolved, if wistful, feelings for this person as I had a tendency to romanticize everything. But perhaps it lingered to help me understand how I had navigated people and relationships, for good and bad.

casual or unconstrained conversation or reports about other people, typically involving details that are not confirmed as being true.

Truth be told, I was a gossip. I wanted to connect with other people, to make them like me. I was desperate for bonds those those, far beyond the typical teenager.

In fact, I was a trauma survivor. My abuser groomed me to feel disconnected from anyone but him. He never extended an apology. I craved connections I had no skills to navigate. He was a part of my extended family, my grandfather, and he did many terrible things throughout his life. As one victim, I was just stumbling through life trying to reconcile what appeared normal with the turmoil inside of me. Surrounded by other victimized people, I struggled.

To scramble out of being caught I used lies, deflection, and deception, not wanting to get called out, like everyone in my extended family,. I didn’t understand that this was tied to trauma as a teenager, in part because I was still under the thrall of the abuse. These were simply tools I was taught and exposed to. I suspected we weren’t normal, but I didn’t know. When they stopped talking to me, I just assumed they saw the darkness inside of me. I had no language for this. I had no apology language.

My family abuser was alive with access to me throughout high school, college, and beyond. Trauma isn’t something that happened in my past. It was still happening because my brain could not process. There was no apology. As I grew older, I learned about the depth of his depravity, the countless victims, and felt gratitude for whatever twisted tools I used to survive. But it took a long time to realize how deeply wounded I was, that it happened to me as well as other members of my family.

The mist is lifting slowly
I can see the way ahead
And I’ve left behind the empty streets
That once inspired my life

Clearly gossip is hurtful, unkind, and unacceptable. It’s also understandable that a traumatized child would use gossip to try to drag herself out of horror. That doesn’t offset the hurt I inflicted on other people. Even as a damaged teenager, I understood that gossiping was unkind, but also that getting caught was worse. It was a horrible dilemma.

After our conversation, I thought back to what I remembered. I can think of three specific incidents where I am pretty sure I gossiped in ways I didn’t intend to be hurtful. But how could I not foresee what I was doing? That’s the paradox of trauma.

Obviously, there were other incidents I don’t remember. I don’t remember incidents with this person. And I didn’t ask for details. I just apologized because remember or not, I am responsible as an adult to stop the impact of this generational trauma. I should not have behaved that way, regardless of the reason. And they accepted my apology.

Will we speak again or even become friends? Probably not, but that’s more a factor of circumstance than being directly tied to this.

I’ve been thinking a bit about my tendency to gossip now. I’m not recovered from a lifetime of being molded to please people. I’m sure if I now told my childhood friends what I was going through then, they would factor that into things. I was a victim of absolute atrocity, but I was still capable of hurting others.

But talking about your grandfather’s serial sexual predation and molestation of dozens of girls and women is not an easy conversation to start. Or finish. It changes everything.

I’ve asked a few friends now if they consider me a gossip. One said “You rarely go anywhere so I’m glad to hear you talk about people – any people.” Another said “I don’t know most of the people you mention, so no.” And a third said “Sue at 16 is not Sue at 53.”

I asked my therapist. She says most of the research on gossip focuses on low self-esteem not mental health issues. But she said there is also a body of research on mental health issues and self-esteem, so it is not a big leap. Then she pointed out that my reflection on the matter is a processing skill. I realize now I was so wounded and in need of connection, that I stretched any kind moment out with whatever I could say. If I could just stay connected for a few extra minutes, maybe it would stave off the unceasing horror.

Stretching is a mental health tool. Not unlike physical stretching, your brain can extend a memory or a feeling or a thought for a few extra seconds. You are retraining a traumatized brain to connect the left cortex to the right cortex. It doesn’t have to always be the trauma, it can be the good moments that do this work. That’s what I was trying to do – to stretch human connection. I often made poor choices, but my mind was trying desperately to heal. It is hard for me to find the right words to explain how mind-blowing this is to me.

I expected to feel better when I learned the truth about this teen-aged situation. And I do, but more so for the grace my childhood friend showed in accepting my apology, That is unexpected, the opportunity to simply own injury inflicted, however unintentionally, decades ago. And to realize that navigating my trauma doesn’t only turn up bad memories, it turns up opportunities to experience grace in the here and now.

the words that I remember
From my childhood still are true
That there’s none so blind
As those who will not see
And to those who lack the courage
And say it’s dangerous to try


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