I am sorry.
Three simple words that are not always easy to utter. A sincere, heart-felt apology requires humility, self-awareness, and a vulnerability that does not feel comfortable to me.
I fought my I am sorrys tooth and nail for years. When my behaviors warranted an apology, I would go into full-denial mode, my overactive mind working quickly to concoct the perfect, justifiable reason for why my behavior was, indeed, acceptable.
Just like that, I would excuse myself from ever having to say sorry. This became my routine: mess up, creatively justify my actions, move on with my day and repeat.
I remember the first time I actually challenged myself to apologize.
On this particular day, I was the opposite of my best self. Certain that everyone was out to get me, I was angry, bitter, exhausted, and tired of scrounging around for money and living paycheck to paycheck. Plus, I was holding it all in, fake-smiling like a champ, hiding my frustrations. Perhaps I had others fooled, but I knew I was about to blow.
This was my state of mind when the very nice lady at the bank told me some not great news in a very nice-lady voice. She was kind and patient; merely doing her job and doing it well. I was running on empty and what happened next is a bit of a blur.
I raised my voice, delivered some cleverly worded insults about this kind woman’s lack of desire to help me, and made a scene in that Wesbter Bank lobby. I felt okay about it, too. My immediate reaction was, “Wow that felt good. She deserved it.”
Then I turned to leave the bank and I looked at the faces of my three, beautiful, innocent children.
They stood there silent, with dropped jaws and fear in their eyes. What had I done? Who was I? Was this the mother I wanted to be?
We left the bank. Instinct took over and I began justifying: Doesn’t she know I am a single mother and I need that money! Nothing ever goes my way!
But then I heard that voice in my head. That new voice. The voice I now call integrity. I could not continue as usual. I could not continue to entertain my rationalizations and justifications. I needed to do something to answer to my own conscience. After all, I had three little faces looking up to me.
I explained to my kids that I was sorry I had lost my patience. I had a bad day. I should not have taken it out on that Nice Bank Lady. What they had just witnessed was wrong. I wished I could take it back. I let out a breath, but the voice was still talking.
Integrity had more to tell me: another person who deserves your apology is sitting in that bank lobby at her desk. Oh noooooo, I thought. This stinks. I had to publicly apologize to an innocent stranger.
This was my new way of life, though. This was the principle I had adopted to become a better me. When I was sick and tired of being me, consumed by guilt and shame for repeatedly making the same mistakes in my parenting and other relationships, I vowed to acknowledge my faults and make amends for them immediately, whenever possible.
So I knew I had to do it.
I walked into that bank, three kids in tow, and waited in line to meet face to face with Nice Bank Lady. I was sick with nerves and my mind was still trying to tell me I could leave, but integrity would not let me.
I apologized to Nice Bank Lady. I complimented her ability to remain patient and kind despite my temper tantrum, and I asked if she could please forgive me.
Sure enough, she was compassionate, forgiving and maybe a little confused at the two extremes she had just witnessed from the same person. I left the bank, while my kids wrestled with what had just happened.
What had just happened was growth.
I sat with the discomfort of vulnerability, humility and accountability, and I chose integrity. Leaving the bank that day, I felt proud that my children could see first-hand how to right their own wrongs.
I felt lighter, and I knew I would think twice before going crazy on a bank teller again because now, thanks to this thing called integrity, I would have a responsibility to march in and apologize.
In the years since this incident, saying “I am sorry” has grown easier. Whereas my impulse is still to justify, deny, and excuse my own behavior, integrity does not let me go that route anymore.
Sometimes that feels like a curse. Rather than make excuses, my integrity guides me to express the hurt and fear behind my impulses to lash out; that is challenging for me.
Mostly, though, it feels like a blessing. Apologizing cleanses my soul and keeps me in check. It humbles me and reminds me that I am not the center of the universe.
Most importantly, the voice of integrity and the choice to say I am sorry helps me be the best parent I can be.
I know that the biggest stamp I will ever make on this world is in raising the three little humans who are all soundly asleep as I type this.
I want them to be capable of humbling themselves, to sit with the discomfort of vulnerability, to say I am sorry when called for, and to live with integrity. Thanks in large part to them, I have experienced the gifts of this way of life.
My new promise to myself is to do everything possible to give this gift back to them in every way I can.