Maybe I’m Not Sorry, And That’s Okay

I have been trying to cut down on apologizing. I don’t mean that I irrationally yell at someone and then refuse to say sorry, or I stand someone up and don’t apologize. I’m talking about the common sorries that (often women) are taught, in order to be liked, proper, and polite.

Here are some of the ridiculous examples of my automatic apologetic responses (please feel free to share yours):

I apologize before I complain to a customer service representative. (Partly because I imagine that most people take out their anger on them and they are innocent victims of the crimes their companies perform.) I apologize when I order food and ask for something to be taken off the meal that I am paying for and that will make me sick if I eat it (though I was a waitress, and I know how annoying that can be.) I apologize when I hit a wall or door by accident (yes, to an inanimate object.) I apologize when someone steps ahead me at the grocery store to get the produce I was looking at. I even apologize if I get near a person looking at the produce that I want to see. I apologize if I open a door and the person insists I walk in first. Did I mention that I apologize to walls?

But I want to stop apologizing when it is not necessary. Just today, and so many times before, I will be on the phone/walking/in a restaurant with a friend. I will be talking and a baby/cashier/stranger will start speaking to them and they will have to cut me off to answer/take care of the baby/deal with the issue at hand. And my very first reaction is to apologize. And I think that I’m apologizing for speaking. It’s almost as if I cut the other person off. I’m embarrassed and feel shame that I am talking about myself and at that. I start to think: “Am I talking too much? Am I boring them? Do they have something else to do?” And while those questions are common for someone who is insecure, saying “sorry” when I haven’t actually done something is like a natural reaction. I am apologizing for taking time away from their lives for myself – but that’s what talking to your friends is – two people sharing stories about their lives.

It’s particularly bad when I’m angry and trying to express my feelings. I’m constantly trying to invalidate and apologize for my feelings. I’ll say: “You hurt my feelings when you teased me about this issue I have, and I know that I’m horrible and I’m sorry that I’m being such a nag. It just hurt my feelings but I’m really sensitive and I’m sorry because you probably didn’t mean to hurt my feelings and I know that.”

I think part of it is fear that somehow I’m wrong to feel frustrated or slighted; a part of me tries to empathize with their side of the situation – and so while I’m angry, perhaps there was a reason for their behavior.

But I am allowed to express anger and frustration, even if in the end, that wasn’t the intention of the person. I also have realized that at its’ core, unnecessary apologizing comes from a place of self-hate and shame.

Think about it. Each of the examples demonstrate my feelings that I am less valid than the people around me. My feelings don’t count as much as theirs; I don’t deserve the same respect I give them. I think I am apologizing for existing. Wow. That’s awful.

If I’m going to try and find some sort of contentment in the long-term, I have to be able to own my right to take up space, to have opinions, to feel emotions, and to express myself. I have to respect myself as much as I respect others around me and know that my feelings are legitimate and valid.

Sometimes you have to perform an action before you actually believe it internally. Like in DBT, there is a skill called “half-smiling.” It’s exactly what you think: basically it’s fake it till you make it, but in this case it’s fake it until you start to feel it. If you smile long enough, you will start to feel better. So maybe if I control my apologies, over time, I will realize why I deserve the respect to exist, to want, to need, to feel, to be who I am. I want to be worthy – not only to others, but more importantly, to myself. And I’m not sorry about that.

Men; Chapter 32: Male Therapists

A quick note on the title: I have a shit ton of issues with men – to the point that there is no way to just write one post about them. My list of problems run long and deep, and I decided maybe the best way to examine them is to take each issue one at a time. So yeah, I’m starting with Chapter 32. After all, if you were reading a book of essays, it wouldn’t matter what chapter you started with – so roll with it, folks.

I have always had female therapists. I mean, there was never any doubt otherwise. With all of my issues (as mentioned above) with men, the idea of sitting across from one and explaining why I’ve never dated, been intimate while sober, or dealt with the sexual assaults and rape I have experienced – it’s unfounded.

So I am starting this DBT workshop in February. Part of DBT is having a DBT therapist. I have no money and the organization I am working with has a funny idea of what “sliding scale” means. The only way to afford the therapist is to see their intern. They have one. And you got it, it’s a man.

When I first spoke to him on the phone, I flipped out. He just sounded like this young, super hot guy. I know, can you really tell if a guy is hot from his voice? Yeah, you can. I went online and found a picture of him with a description. The good news is he looked much older, almost balding, and had three children and a wife. Okay, unattractive, older but not too old, and settled. That’s not too intimidating.

So I saw him this week. He really needs a new picture. He’s not like speechless hot, but he’s definitely not that old, not balding, and has a fantastic energy. I told him off the bat my concerns with having a male therapist and he tried to explain that he wouldn’t try to understand the female perspective and I could call him out on it.

Yeah…that’s not the issue. I don’t think because he’s a man he’s not going to understand – he’s a therapist – I think he transcends that simplicity of heterosexual gender. So I’ve been trying to decide what “it” is. And I think it’s this: I can tell a woman and a man the same thing. I can tell them about my depression, my mishaps, even my assaults. But when I tell a woman, and it’s not because I think she can understand, but I feel safe enough to be vulnerable (at least if I trust and respect her). I can not only tell her the facts, I can explain the emotional weight and consequence behind it. I can explain the disgust or fear or self-hate and I don’t just say it – I express it. With men, I pull back to protect my vulnerability. I tell them what happened, I might even tell them the feelings it brought up, but I tell them about it like telling a story. I’m self-removed. Like I’d say something personal and immediately follow with: “but whatever. shit happens. emotional fuck up. i get it. blah blah blah.” I’m already dismissing its’ significance and depth.

I think my unhealthy boundaries with men as a child; spending time with boys growing up where I was seen as asexual even though I certainly didn’t see them that way; my horrible decisions with men as I got older due to my overwhelming self-hate and destructive behavior; my traumatic sexual experiences which have kept me emotionally stunted with men for over a decade now…I imagine all of this plays into it.

There is a power dynamic with men – maybe because I fear their emotional power over me in their ability to reject or lead me astray and in my attraction to them. Maybe because I fear my weakness in setting boundaries, in feeling guilt and shame, always feeling like I have to constantly prove my worth or they will get up and walk away. I guess for me, vulnerability is the scariest release I could provide. Allowing myself to be open, makes me feel dirty and disgusting, pathetic and unworthy.

It’s not that I don’t have these feelings around some women, especially those I have yet to develop respect for or trust in their support (i.e. all women except my therapists.) And if I am vulnerable with a woman and she judges, crosses a boundary, walks away, it hurts like a motherfucker. But it’s a different pain, a different power dynamic, a different exposure.

The good news is, DBT isn’t so much about exploring your past. It’s about dealing in the present. Of course the first module we are working on is interpersonal effectiveness, which is going to mean discussing my issues with men. But DBT is less emotional, it’s more of a skills-based practice of managing life. And maybe that in and of itself sets a boundary of safety.

My female therapist, who I will continue seeing, said that it is common for women to not want men as therapists – especially if they have had severe negative experiences with them. But she also said that for some, it’s an amazing opportunity to actually develop a healthy, trusting relationship with a man.

He seems really kind. I don’t believe he has ulterior motives or an agenda. I really believe he wants to help and he is excited to start this journey with me. The real problem is within me and my skewed perspective of him. I just hope he wears a really ugly sweater next time I see him or has something in his teeth. Could that change the power dynamic I have somehow established in my mind? It certainly couldn’t hurt.

my kitchen table

i need to write this because if i tell anyone they will tell me i’m being irrational, i’m tired, i’m scared, i’m stressed, i’m just depressed. i need to write it because it feels so true i ache.

tonight, i looked over at the desk in my kitchen. it was piled with notes, documents from class, open books – the whole desk was covered and stacked with documents. i remembered how in college i dreamed of getting my PhD and what my life would be: you would walk into my office or room or house and know that i was a coffee-drinking, spastic, over-achieving academic, who was forgetful but charming, articulate but real. i would always have tables that looked like the one in my kitchen.

i accepted years ago that that would never be my life. the same way i knew i’d never be an actress, or a producer, a lawyer, or television anchor. that i’d never be in a relationship no matter how many i concocted in my mind. i’d never be thin enough or pretty enough. i would never look in the mirror and be okay with what i saw. i had images of myself, but none ever felt real – they were all fantasies of what my life would be like if i wasn’t me.

i hoped that it was the depression and after this past year, with the chemical depression lifted, i thought it was my time to finally start figuring out how to live life and what it would look like.

in the last year, i have been accepted into an elite university in a country i have always dreamed of living in, i have lost 60 pounds, i have kept an apartment, done my dishes, cleaned my bathroom, cooked even when tired. i took two classes at a community college and i’ve only gotten A’s. my teachers commend me. verbally and in notes. my 70-year old spin friends tell me they believe in and they see me for an hour once a week. i’ve seen my GP once this year, the first time i met her, and she saw my mom months later and told her that i had to go to the university – that i was too smart not to.

i should be proud of my accomplishments. i should smile and feel warm from the compliments of strangers – people who see something in me even from such a small glance. but they make things worse. because every time i do get an A or accolade, i get this tinge of excitement. sometimes it lasts for about a minute. and then i feel like someone has slapped me upside the face. i am the abused and the abuser in my relationship. every time i try to stand up for myself, i throw myself down. i rip into myself and tear apart any shred of hope or joy i may have felt. achievements don’t sit right – they feel dirty, embarrassing, uncomfortable and irritating – like alcohol on an open wound.

and so i’ll never find the right job. i’ll never be able to accept love from a man or believe he thinks i am beautiful. i will never feel good about an A -because it all feels like a farce. it feels like a lucky consequence but not truly earned. because i could always do better, be better, be thinner, be prettier, be kinder, do more. i can’t figure out what i want to do because i know that no matter what i choose, i will feel like i am failing.

and in a way, i am. it’s like i’m in a race, and i have these people around me cheering me on, and i try to run but after a while i realize i’m just running in place, and i’m so exhausted from trying, from pushing myself, that i sit down. but people continue to cheer and i don’t want to let them down. i don’t want them to see how they’ve wasted their time. i get up again and i try to start running again. but i’m just running in the same place.

it doesn’t really matter why, but i guess it started as a child as a way to protect myself from bullies. you make fun of yourself before the kids can make fun of you so they can’t hurt you as much. but it doesn’t feel like protection anymore. i don’t have the bullies around me. i have become my own bully. and when i tell myself i am not good enough, that i will not last, it feels completely and totally right throughout my entire body. it is a truth at the core of my being.

maybe i can find a way to live like this. i mean, i don’t feel suicidal right now. i feel kind of defeated, tired, a little sad. but i will keep running in place until i’m too exhausted and then i will do my best to get up and run some more.

looking at that table, i realized it will never be enough. because no matter what i do, no matter what those around me say, i do not believe it in my heart. i can’t. it’s too deep inside me. it is who i am and it is what has defined me. i cannot love myself. not because i don’t want to, but because there is no part of me that truly believes i am of worth. no matter what i do, no matter how others see me, i will never believe in me. i will never be good enough for me.

i know i am damaged. i am broken. and i just don’t see how i can be fixed.