“Sorry seems to be the saddest word,”
~ Elton John
Donovan was adept at saying “I’m sorry.” After receiving his third DUI, he apologized to his wife, Mary Anne, and again after he crashed their new Acura and, once again, after he forgot to pick up their daughter, Chelsea, at an evening school event. There were other occasions too, when Donovan’s drinking got him into trouble, always followed by apologies and requests for forgiveness.
Donovan’s apologies were strong, emotional and seemingly heartfelt. He was a Shakespearean actor, reciting his lines, stage center. Sometimes he would cry, his eyes wide and frightened. Mary Ann really wanted to believe that he was going to stop drinking. She kept the fires of hope alive.
It was 8 p.m. when the ah ha moment struck, bringing about a profound clarity for both Donovan and Mary Anne. It happened as he fell down the basement steps. He broke several ribs, punctured his spleen and suffered a severe concussion. There was blood, strands of hair and pieces of broken teeth on the steps.
On that night, Donovan, reeking of alcohol, almost died.
Mary Ann dialed 911. She screamed at Chelsea to go to her room. The EMT’s used a stretcher to transport the battered, bloody body up the stairs and into the awaiting ambulance, revolving lights pulsating across the neighborhood.
The neighbors all watched and, along with her emotional roller coaster, Mary Ann suffered the embarrassment of public humiliation and castigation. It was a small town and everyone knew about Donovan’s court dates, his DUI’s and the time he passed out in the front yard. He was viewed with pity, perhaps contempt. None of his neighbors reached out and offered help. Donovan was shut off and ostracized from what could have been his most valuable resource.
Still, he was strangely remorseful. He seemed different. He pledged to Mary Ann that he was sorry, that he would stop drinking.
It was an old story she had heard many times before. She had had enough. Donovan’s cousin said it best, angrily proclaiming that, “It was the straw that broke the camel’s back.”
Some quip that pain is a great teacher. Donovan was sick and tired of being sick and tired. Looking back at his lifetime of past transgressions, he was consumed with remorse. He cursed his life, an ever-escalating pattern of legal and social issues, a never-ending dance of drama and unresolved conflict. The accident was his moment of truth, his final bottom. Donovan had hit the end of the line. There were no more options, no more crossroads or alleyways diverting around his alcoholism. There was nowhere else to go.
All roads had been cut off. It was do or die as Donovan heard the incessant inner mantra that if he continued to drink, the final end would be “jails, institutions or death.”
For the first time in his life, he was scared, scared that he was going to die a painful death.
He couldn’t live like this anymore. Donovan begged forgiveness, vowed to stop drinking, offered to make things right. He made frantic phone calls and began to attend AA and NA meetings.
Donovan knew about hitting bottom. He spent hours searching the Internet. There seemed to be some insane cosmic law stating, “Before things got better, they had to get worse.” It was crazy talk. It didn’t make sense to him, didn’t seem to apply to him, but he could admit that maybe he did have a problem with alcohol, maybe his life had become unmanageable, and maybe it wasn’t about his former boss or his wife’s nagging, or anything else. Maybe this was where the rubber hit the road.
Mary Ann also discovered that she had a bottom, a point where she simply could not take it anymore. Mary Anne moved out, filed for divorce, and joined a fitness club. She lost 14 pounds and quickly began a relationship with a toned fitness trainer, several years younger.
She hated Donovan for squandering what could have been their wonderful life, hated the years spent cleaning up after his messes, lying for him, acting that everything was all right. Consumed with anger and resentment, she loathed herself for being the enabler, caught in a spell of something that she couldn’t understand or control.
Mary Ann refused to accept Donovan’s amends. She had heard it before. Now was her time to say “no.” Mary Ann was familiar with his lies. The false promises were repeated again and again, like a beautiful song, but these words, perhaps meant to be sincere
on some cerebral level, rang hollow. The repetitive “I’m sorry” and “I’ll never do that again” eventually lost all credibility. These were apologies, not from the heart, but lies and distortions, festering scum like, at the bottom of the bottle.
Donovan had destroyed his marriage and his family and needed to make amends. Alcoholics Anonymous provides a strategy for restitution. Two specific AA steps include Step Eight, which reads, “Make a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.” And Step Nine, “Make direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.”
Donovan found these to be difficult and painful steps. Amends need
to be more than mere words of an apology. They need to signal a genuine change in behavior and that takes the passage of time, and the blessings of forgiveness and restitution. After years of hurt and betrayal, his amends fell short. Mary Ann refused to accept his apologies. She said that “maybe,” in time, she could forgive him, but not now.
His only option was to make indirect amends, such as volunteer work, becoming an organ donor, donating blood or working towards the betterment of his community. Donovan could also make symbolic or “living amends.” Donovan would dedicate his life to staying sober a day at a time, practicing an ongoing process of kindness, brother-hood and altruism. He would strive to be the best person he could, impacting on everyone in his life as a positive influence.
Only after making amends could Donovan, straddling the line between fear and anxiety, walk proudly into the daylight with renewed confi-dence. It could take days and weeks and months. It could take years, but he was becoming stronger every day, living in the moment, con-quering the dread of his past and facing the fears of his yesterdays.
He was changing, evolving, arriving. Donovan had moved on. He no longer needed to say, “I’m sorry.”
Maxim W. Furek has a rich background that includes aspects of psy-chology, addictions, mental health and music journalism. His book Sheppton: The Myth, Miracle & Music blends facets of the miraculous and supernatural into a psychological profile of survival. Learn more at shepptonmyth.com