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Providing non-judgmental and non-criticizing support for family and friends of end-stage alcoholics through one-on-one coaching, support groups, blog posts, workshops and public speaking.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

I didn't mean it...

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to hurt you.” How many times have we heard those words? The fact is that alcoholics never intentionally hurt those who love them. And they are always sorry. But as sure as I’m sitting here, it will happen again and again. Each time there will be “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to hurt you.”

I don’t really care to hear the alcoholic tell me “I’m sorry.” Those words mean nothing to me. Telling me you are sorry and actually being sorry is two different things. Let’s examine the phrase declaring that someone is sorry which can apply to anyone and not just to alcoholics.

First we hear: “I’m sorry.” Why are you sorry? Are you sorry you got caught? Are you sorry that you did the offending thing? Are you sorry that someone else got hurt? Are you sorry that someone else is angry with you? Are you sorry that you weren’t smart enough to keep your actions a secret? Just exactly what is it that you makes you be sorry?

Exactly what does saying I’m sorry mean? Does it mean
the next time the offense happens that the offender will be better about not getting caught? Does it mean that he will work towards making amends and be very nice for a few days? Or does it mean that the person will do everything in their power to keep from having it ever happen again?

Then there is the “I didn’t mean to hurt you.” What exactly did you mean to do when you decided to take the course of action that hurt me? Did you not know it would hurt me? And if you didn’t know, why didn’t you know?  You may not have MEANT to hurt me, but the result was that you did.

I believe that in our society, the word “sorry” is just another word without a lot of meaning. I hear my 5-year-old grandson saying to his sister “sorry, sorry” after throwing a toy at her. When I compare it with him saying “I’m sorry” after he accidentally stepped on her hand, I can hear the difference by the tone of his voice and him looking at her hand. There is a whole different meaning. The only thing he was sorry for in the first scene was that he missed. In the second scene he is truly sorry and would not do it ever again because it was an accident.

Riley used to tell me he was sorry all the time. I finally got to the point where I told him not to apologize to me because his apologies were empty. He once told me that it was easier to apologize than to tell me in advance that he was going to do something that would upset me. He was smart enough to know that I would never say “Oh yes! Get in the car and drive drunk, possibly hit and kill someone. That will be OK with me because you told me in advance.” So he would claim that he didn’t MEAN to do it and that he was sorry. He was really only sorry if he got caught or if it could calm down a tense situation. His saying I’m sorry meant that he didn’t want to fight and just wanted me off his back. He thought an “I’m sorry” would shut me up.

I would explain to Riley that if you kill someone while driving drunk and you say you’re sorry, it means nothing. The dead person will still be dead. The action cannot be reversed just because you say you’re sorry. Dead cannot be undone.

So… my grandson borrows my car for a simple errand. He ends up having dinner with a group of friends and has too much to drink. Instead of calling and telling anyone that he cannot come home right now or that he needs a ride, he decides to get in the car and drive home.

On the way home my car ends up in a ditch. The back tires are shredded and the lower front panel is cracked. The car is not drivable. It can be fixed, but it will be out of commission for a while. Of course, he is sorry. As he is telling me that he didn’t mean to hurt me, I walk away shrugging off his pleas for forgiveness. I want nothing to do with his remorse. I will not ease his guilt by accepting explanations or apologies. The car can be repaired but my disappointment in him will not so easily be resolved.

The problem isn’t just the car. It’s the attitude during drunkenness that disturbs me even more. He is mouthy and mean to everyone – his wife, kids, mother, grandfather and me. There are not enough apologies in the world to erase the mean things he said.

All of this could have been handled easily with a simple phone call to home. An admission that he over-indulged would have gotten him a ride home. Simply saying that he was not in a condition to drive would have been far more responsible than trying to prove he was in “control.” And what about the friends who knew he was too drunk to drive? Where were they when they watched him get behind the wheel of a car?

It will take a lot of time and a lot of good actions to create anything like trust between all of us and my grandson. It will be a very long time before he borrows my car again. He must show us that he is sorry rather than give us the words because words are just words. Actions are required – they speak far louder than words.

Next time you say you are sorry – think about what you really saying. Make sure you can back it up with actions.


IreneM said...

Mine never said "I'm Sorry". Either didn't remember why there should be an apology or thinks he didn't do anything wrong. Over the years an apology was never expected. What I needed was acknowledgement. Now 2 years sober after 28 years of drinking, there has not been acknowledgment and at this point I'm not expecting that either.

Neal Larter said...

When are cars going to have to ALL have ignition interlock devices..WHAT ELSE stops a drunk from driving? Pleasse tell me!

JBthatsme said...

Hi Linda & Readers, naturally as a child of an alcoholic father, and as an adult I can completely identify with this post. First I want to say that It's certainly nice of you to loan out your car, I remember offering to move my grandma's car / park it in our driveway (as I've certainly had more experience driving in it, it has a wall of landscape rocks), she said "No, her 2nd husband wouldn't like that. I've found as a child of an alcoholic and the mess that goes with it I've always had a hard time trusting pretty much anyone and everyone. Another readers comments brought up a very good point, why don't all cars have ignition breathalyzers to prevent drunk driving? They certainly offer a ton of amenities, and it would probably be a nice added comfort for parents when purchasing a car for a teen / young adult. But unfortunately like everything else if they made them, someone else would come up with something to by pass it or remove it. Personally the horror I watched my father go thru with alcoholism that ended up creating pain, chaos, distrust and eventually taking his life away from him, has made me think long and hard about the indulgence of any alcohol. Why chance it? I would hope that after seeing what your husbands going thru and the extra stress and work it creates for others, most specifically you, that any and all in the family would rethink indulging in alcohol as well. I'm in complete understanding, agreement and support of what you said and it's very difficult to regain trust in any event, but certainly one that hits so close to home. I think all of us want to be able to trust, but it's gotten to the point where we all feel as though we're setting ourselves up for disappoinment. As you mentioned in the event of a drunk driving death tradgedy, an I'm sorry doesn't change anything. And anyone who's involved in something so horrible can't escape the guilt, even those who weren't guilty of anything., friends, family, anyone on either side feels the guilt. Guilt of an accident that shouldn't have happened, and could have been prevented if someone was able to admit that they shouldn't be driving, willing to release some control and get a ride from someone able to drive. I wouldn't blame.you if you never let your grandson your car again. Years ago I remember seeing an excellent but sad MADD (mothers against drunk driving) poster that said "famous last words, I'm okay to drive".

JBthatsme said...

I just looked online and found some discussions and articles regarding that. I agree that it would make sense to have breathalyzers in all cars http://www.debate.org/opinions/should-every-car-have-a-built-in-breathalyzer

Trisha E. said...

I think if I had it to do again I would strongly consider alerting the police to my husband's drinking in the hope they would give him one or more DUIs and force him into treatment. The fact that our financial condition had declined so severely kept me from doing so, but I know others for whom it worked and got their spouse into recovery. We did purchase a Breathalyzer and he used it briefly, but when it had to be sent in for calibration he refused to start again. So sad, as it could have saved his life and we all wouldn't be missing him now.

Anonymous said...

I can't help but wonder if your grandson - after so many years witnessing what you've chosen to sacrifice, put up with, clean up after, enable, etc. - might think to himself, "what's the big deal?"

Why won't you tolerate from your grandson what you've chosen to tolerate from Riley? I would imagine your grandson is getting mixed messages and might be wondering why his grandfather's actions are allowable and forgivable, while his own are not.

Linda -- The Immortal Alcoholic's Wife said...

Anonymous -- My grandson is a grown man and seldom drinks. When he does drink he doesn't usually over-indulge. I don't "tolerate" him because there is nothing to tolerate. He made a bad choice and now he must pay the consequences -- which he has already done.

I guess you haven't read my book or much of my blog... I did not tolerate Riley's drinking. I left him. I only took him back because he was on the banana peel of his grave and I wanted to prevent my daughter from becoming his caretaker. Riley is not rewarded for his drinking unless you think being completely bedridden and loss of most of your brain function is a reward. He lives in a house with a lot of people, but he is alone.

I never once said that I forgive Riley for anything he has done in the past. However, as his legal wife, I do what I feel is my responsibility both morally and legally. That doesn't mean he is either tolerated or forgiven for any past behavior. There is nothing to forgive for his current behavior. He is a man with dementia who is unable to attend to even the smallest things for himself.