Do You Know How to Properly Say Sorry?

My daughter was in a pretty nasty car accident this morning. Thankfully, she’s fine. She was returning to our home on the Maine Turnpike when a tractor trailer truck likely didn’t realize she was trying to pass it (it’s a two-lane road) and nudged her to the left. She probably would have recovered had the weather not been freezing rain, coating the untreated road with a thin layer of ice.

Instead, she spun around and smacked into the center guardrail quite hard. My wife and I got the call about 5:20 a.m. and what would usually take 25 minutes to reach her took almost 90 because of other accidents diverting traffic on and off the turnpike. It was not a morning to be driving.

The Maine State Police officer who stayed with her that entire time was wonderful. Despite the fact they were the agency that arrested me back in early 2014, I have no ill will against any law enforcement personnel. We can certainly poke holes in the system, but the foot soldiers didn’t create it. Adapting another old saying is true: It’s better to have a cop and not need him than need a cop and not have him.

On the ride home, she was still slightly in shock and the adrenaline was still coursing through her veins. As she started to come down, she started apologizing. We tried to assure her that we knew it wasn’t her fault, we have insurance and we were just grateful that she wasn’t injured.

It got me thinking about apologies. She was apologizing for creating a difficult situation. Yes, it will be a pain in the ass dealing with adjusters, making decisions based on amount of damage and having to split two cars among three people. But, it wasn’t her fault. She was merely at the center of a storm she could not control. I think her reaction to apologize is a knee-jerk one that many of us have, even in situations that we were simply victims.

One of the things that was actually difficult to learn when I entered recovery was how to give a proper apology. I was taught the skills at one rehab, but don’t think it clicked until a year later when I was part of a monthly support group.

Most people confuse real apologies with an opportunity to explain how they are only “mostly” at fault, or how extenuating circumstances dictated their behavior:

“I hadn’t eaten in two days and I knew the sandwich in the fridge was yours, but I was starving.”

“I know most people call into work when they are sick, but I was sicker than I’ve ever been.”

“I was late picking you up because I got in a conversation with Tina, and you know how she can talk.”

These are three very minor examples because I just don’t want to get too heavy with this and lose the meaning. The reality is, most apologies are just excuses tinged with a tiny bit of responsibility attached. That’s not what apologies are supposed to be.

Here are a few things to think about when you’re ready to make a proper apology:

  • When you’re giving an apology, you are not to expect to be let off the hook for your behavior. In fact, you shouldn’t expect any reaction. They don’t owe you an “I forgive you” or “That’s OK.”
  • Apologies are not about making you feel better or releasing the guilt or shame you may have. Get this…they’re not about you at all other than admitting wrongdoing.
  • Ask yourself why you are apologizing. If the reason is anything other than to acknowledge that you recognize you did something to hurt the other person, you’re overdoing it.
  • A simple statement of regret is not inappropriate, but that should be the most you interject your thoughts into the situation. How you feel is not important, and frankly, it’s not what the other person is looking for or needs.
  • An apology should never make a request, especially to accept the apology. It also shouldn’t ask things like: “But you have to see my side of things…” or “I hope you can understand…” This is you trying exonerate yourself of 100% culpability.
  • Do not accompany the apology with a gift or something cutesy, like a card with a teddy bear holding a balloon. If you want to make reparations, do it at some point after the apology is given. Saying sorry and making things even are two different things for two different moments.
  • Consider writing your apology before giving it. If you have patterns of giving incorrect apologies, you may find it best to be able to review what you’re going to say. It may even make sense to send it to them in writing so you don’t go off script.

Let’s take that first example I gave above of an incorrect apology:

“I hadn’t eaten in two days and I knew the sandwich in the fridge was yours, but I was starving.”

There are three justifications for the wrong choice here. If you ever feel like you’re explaining your actions, you’re giving an improper apology.

Here are more wrong examples:

“Sorry. Despite being very hungry and knowing I shouldn’t, I took the food that was yours.”

Your hunger situation has nothing to do with a proper apology.

“Sorry. My mind was just thinking food and I was going to ask but I didn’t see you anywhere and thought I could make up for it later.”

Rationalizing a solution to make your behavior OK is not an apology, whether you bought a new sandwich or not.

“Sorry. The next time I have anything in the fridge, you can eat it. You don’t even have to ask.”

Encouraging the same behavior toward yourself does not cancel out your poor choice.

 

Here’s are a few examples of a proper apology:

“I took your sandwich without asking which is stealing. I’m sorry.”

“You were probably hungry because I stole your sandwich. I’m sorry.”

“I apologize for stealing your sandwich. It was the wrong thing to do.”

Usually, the proper apology is the shortest one. It doesn’t preface with situational exceptions nor ask if everything is OK at the conclusion. It is an act of contrition, an admittance of guilt and understanding of wrongdoing. And that’s all it should be.

Questioning the Changes in My Attitude Toward Healthy Sexuality

I’m anti-pornography, but I’m not militant about it. I understand that pornography has been around as long as man could draw on the wall of a cave, and getting into a battle you can’t win seems like a waste of time, energy and resources. There’s also the civil libertarian in me who doesn’t want to tell you how to live your life because I don’t want you to tell me how to live mine. But, yeah, I’m anti-pornography.

When you’re a heroin addict, a gambling addict, an alcoholic, a video game addict, a cocaine addict, etc., the goal is clear in recovery: Stop using or stop behaving that way. My goal was clear, too; stop using pornography. But, much like with food addicts still needing to eat, a further goal for a sex or porn addict is that they are supposed to develop healthy sexual habits and attitudes. Moving completely away from sexuality is known as being a sexual anorexic and that can be just as unhealthy as being an addict.

Without going into too much intimate detail, I feel like I’ve achieved much healthier sexual habits, but I’m wondering if my sexual attitudes, which were once “anything goes between two or more consenting adults” have swung too far in the other direction.

In researching several podcasts that I’m going to be on, I have spent a fair amount of time being exposed to the titles and icons of a lot of sex-based podcasts out there. Some pitch themselves as lurid (usually hosted by someone in the adult entertainment industry), others as health-based (usually hosted by someone with real credentials, or some sort of “sexual shaman”) and there’s a segment that just seems to treat it as matter-of-fact (usually a couple of friends just talking about sex.)

I’ve looked at the descriptions of some of these shows, because they seem like perfect places for someone like me to warn the masses about the potential dangers of pornography. I mean, I’ve got a pretty good story and I’ve got a ton of statistics on my side. I don’t see myself as a missionary, but you go where they need you – even if most reject you.

Further, I’ve been connecting with a lot of people on LinkedIn lately, mostly medical professionals. I have stumbled upon many people who fall into that “sexual shaman” category where they may have some degree they earned in the 1980s, but they’ve taken a New Age approach to sexuality. I tend to not connect with these people.

Frankly, what a lot of these podcasts and alternative sexual healers are pushing scares the hell out of me. I don’t think it would have 10 years ago. Back then I probably would have wished I had gone down their road of openness and experimentation. Today, though, I’m kind of repulsed.

I’m not sure that should be my reaction. If you and your partner (or partners) decide to embark on a journey that is far more kinky than anything I’d be comfortable with and it’s consensual, or you’re able to talk communicate about sexuality on a level with a frankness most people can’t muster, is there anything wrong with that?

I’ve never been a BDSM guy, but 10 years ago, I was a live and let live guy. If whips and chains do it for you, just have a safe word and don’t hurt anybody. Today, I tend to gravitate more toward a “they are deviants” point of view. Nothing changed with them. It changed with me.

I’ve been to red light districts in a few major international cities and I’ve stayed at a clothing optional resort in the Caribbean. Those places now seem gross and I really don’t want to judge the people buying or selling the sexuality, but I can’t help it.

Maybe I’m just getting more conservative with age. Maybe all of the fallout of my recovery has caused this shift. It could be I’m just a hypocrite and dismissed that extreme sexuality before because I was hoping to be a part of it. Something has caused a change in my attitude toward what “healthy sexuality” means.

Objectively, I still say if it’s between two or more consenting adults and you can keep it behind closed doors, I really shouldn’t have any input into your sexuality. I also respect the First Amendment enough that I’d stand next to these people and fight for their right to say whatever they want on their podcast. Nobody should ever dictate Free Speech.

Subjectively, none of it’s for me and I wonder if going that far in the other direction, unintentionally or not, is a good thing.

I’m Still Failing at Empathy

I feel like a rotten person for admitting this, but despite my best efforts there are still people who I feel incredibly awkward around: elderly people over 90, people with developmental disabilities, police officers and just about any kid except my own. There is nobody I feel more awkward around though than my mother when she’s crying.

It’s exceedingly rare that she cries. In fact, the only time I’ve ever seen it is when she’s at funerals or mourning afterward. Unfortunately, she got some horrible news about my uncle, her younger brother, yesterday about his ongoing battle with cancer.

Despite a year where it looked like immunotherapy treatment was appearing to work, in the last two months the tumor on his liver has grown rapidly. They are going to try an aggressive form of chemotherapy, but the doctor said if he doesn’t respond well, it’s going to be time to have some palliative care discussions.

Without getting into too much history, my uncle is eight years younger than my mother. Their parents weren’t the warmest or most attentive people. She missed out on a lot of typical middle and high school activities because she was required to babysit him. This created a bond that has always seemed almost more like mother and son rather than brother and sister to some of us in the family. In a lot of ways, she was his first kid and they have been immensely close ever since.

When it comes to death and funerals, my involuntary reaction is to mentally and emotionally detach. I’ve probably been to 20 wakes/funerals in my life and I recall crying at one, for one of my best friends when he was 18 and I was 21. I can almost always go look at the body and feel nothing. When people say, “He looks peaceful” or “She’s not suffering now,” I get the urge to say, “He isn’t peaceful. He isn’t anything” or “Of course she’s not suffering, but she’s also not feeling good. She isn’t feeling anything.” This is why I sit toward the back and only speak when spoken to at those things.

Detachment happens when I feel incredibly awkward and/or can sense I’m about to feel incredibly sad. Funerals and wakes are an intersection of both emotions.

Detachment turns off my empathy. It turns off all of my emotions, but the appropriate one in most situations I find myself detaching is empathy.

I perfected the art of detaching as a young kid. I think it was from when my babysitter would put me in a dark room, and I didn’t know how long I’d be there. I learned to trick my mind into seeing two hours as 15 minutes, or more accurately, suspending the typical sensation of time elapsing in my head.

It’s not all bad. I can sit at the DMV, or any waiting room, for an hour and barely notice it. Detachment is what made driving 9,000 miles this past August seem like a breeze and when I was in jail in early 2016, detachment let the days bleed into one another until I somewhat lost all sense of normal time elapsing.

The problem with detachment, and it’s a problem I’ve been trying to address throughout my recovery, is that it’s lead to a lifelong lack of empathy. When I hear or see my mother crying, it’s easier – and more natural for me – to shut down than to process it.

I think detachment and lack of empathy go hand-in-hand. I also think that I have empathy deep down, but I know that when I start to let it out, it doesn’t stop. I’m not mean to really old people or developmentally disabled people. They just make me so, so sad. I don’t like watching movies designed to make me cry either. And, in my very grueling therapy appointments that came early in recovery, I had to learn to schedule them at the end of the day because I’d be an empathetic wreck thinking about all the people I hurt. I didn’t want that to happen early in the day because then it was a lost day.

Sympathy I can do. Empathy I still have trouble with. For those who don’t know the difference, I described it this way in rehab once and the counselor said they were going to adapt it because it’s the bluntest they’d ever heard:

Sympathy = That sucks for you
Empathy = Sucks to be you

It’s a subtle difference, but with empathy, you’re putting yourself in a person’s spot and understanding how they feel. It’s relating to another’s emotions. With sympathy, it’s a sterile recognition of what the person is going through.

I’m not an idiot. I can recognize my mother is very sad by the fact she was crying on the phone and will probably be experiencing more of that in the future as this ordeal with my uncle continues. But I also either can’t, or don’t want to relate. I know that I should. I know that’s the right thing to do, but despite my recovery going smoother than most people’s, this is still a giant hurdle. I love my mother and I love my uncle. I don’t know what to say to either of them that is both genuine and won’t leave me a complete mess. In the past, my way of handling it is to just not say much of anything or pretend like it’s not happening.

I know what the comments are likely going to say on this post because I’m telling myself the same things: Suck it up, you’ve got to be there for them. Sometimes life is uncomfortable and avoiding it doesn’t help anyone. What would you want your child to do in the same situation?

I get it, I really do. And to give myself a tiny bit of credit, I’m better at this kind of stuff than I was before recovery. Several people, including my mother, have made mention I’m an overall better human, but that’s easy on most days. The dark days ahead are going to be challenging.

I wouldn’t have believed it if you told me at the beginning of recovery that the toughest part was going to be emotionally connecting and allowing myself to feel empathy for others. Now, it seems obvious it was going to be the toughest part. Hopefully I can learn to better deal with it.

Recovery Included the Surprisingly Therapeutic Task of Simplifying My Life Story

I’ve been a professional writer since I was 17 years old, which means people have been paying me to put words down on paper that others presumably want to read for 26 years now. Oddly enough, it’s a couple of non-paying assignments that I think have helped me the most in recent years.

Despite a few need-to-survive, part-time jobs here and there, writing is all I’ve ever really done in my professional life, yet I know if I never got a cent again, writing would continue to be the cheapest and one of the most crucial parts of my recovery.

When I entered my first rehab for alcoholism in April 2014, one of the first assignments given to me was to write my autobiography to share with the group. Every newbie got this assignment. While telling our overall story, we were asked to focus in on the things that brought us to rehab. I ended up writing 56 pages. When Bob, my caseworker, heard about this, he said that I should not read mine, and just tell the story from memory.

I thought I was doing everyone a favor because most of my fellow residents wrote three or four pages. I wanted to show everybody writing was my strength and delight them with an epic tale of triumph and tragedy. Then, I couldn’t even read it.

Fast-forward a year or so and I’ve entered my second rehab for the porn addiction. Once again, they asked me as a newcomer to share my story. Remembering that I went overboard at the first place, I wrote 30 pages this time. I did get to read it in my daily small group session, but the feedback was still that it was too long. There were many important parts of the story, but they were buried within sections that were just long anecdotes, the group agreed.

After I got out of jail, one of my probation conditions was to participate in group therapy with men who also had sexual offenses. Unsurprisingly, I was told to write my life story. This time, I wrote about eight pages and nobody complained about the length. After three attempts over three years, I was finally able to highlight the important parts of the story. The point of the assignment clicked.

* * *

All three times, I was required to write my story by hand. Maybe that should have been a clue it didn’t need to be a novel. Writing by hand is a bit of an old trick, believed to force the writer to think about their words more carefully. I can type around 75 words per minute, but I know I can’t write that fast.

My story isn’t about funny or interesting events that happened at my jobs. It isn’t about trying to prove I’m a good father or husband. Nobody needs a rundown of places I’ve travelled or sidebars full of opinion. Most of my failures and triumphs have just been run-of-the-mill and had no serious long-term effects on my life.

No, my story is about a kid who was raised by decent parents who made the one mistake of picking the wrong babysitter. The time spent at that babysitter created maladaptive coping skills, which were only enhanced when I developed early addictions to pornography and alcohol. Despite putting together a fairly normal life, those addictions and poor coping skills remained. I was (finally) correctly diagnosed with mental health issues, including bipolar disorder, in my early 20s, but despite therapy and medication, I continued as a functional addict. That stopped in my mid-30s when negative conditions in my life caused a complete breakdown. Part of the breakdown involved an illegal act, but that was my opportunity to seek help. I’ve done well in recovery, never having relapsed, and now have coping skills and tools that were lacking for years. I’m relatively content now as I warn others of the harm of pornography addiction and make up for lost time with my family.

That’s it. That’s my life. Despite the hundreds of thousands of words I’ve written, that’s what it comes down to and I think it’s important I can sum it up in 160 words. It allows me to focus on what’s really important. Yes, details count, but in this case brevity is therapeutic.

I know many of the people reading this have their own blogs, or do a lot of writing as part of their professional endeavors, but if you’ve never done it, I would urge all of you to write your life story in five or six pages and then write a single paragraph summarizing it. If you write long, edit it down when finished. Given those somewhat limiting parameters, it’s surprising what you can learn about yourself.

Guest Post: 4 Things to Determine If You Can Trust Your Sex-Addicted Spouse

For this guest post, I welcome Eddie Capparucci. He’s an LPC, CSAS, CPCS, a licensed professional counselor, certified in sexual and pornography addiction. He is the author of the soon-to-be-released book “Going Deeper: How the Inner Child Impacts Your Sexual Addiction.”
Pre-orders are now available at  https://www.blackrosewriting.com/nonfiction/goingdeeper  Use the promo code PREORDER2019 to save 15%. He can be reached at edcappa@gmail.com.

By Eddie Capparucci, LPC, CSAS, CPCS

It is one of the most common questions a spouse will ask during a couples’ first counseling session when a sex addiction has been discovered. “How will I know when I will be able to trust him again”?

It’s a great question because at the core of the couples’ issues is the broke bond of trust. Sex-addicted partners:

  • Violate their commitment, to be honest, and faithful.
  • Drive a wedge in the relationship that feels like the size of the Grand Canyon.
  • Create a sense of hopelessness that leaves the other feeling numbed and confused.

Ask any partner who has been betrayed sexually and they will tell you, while the infidelity is like a punch in the gut, the worst part is the dishonesty and lying. While they hate being cheated upon they detest the lack of integrity their partner displays in their attempts to cover their tracks. That is why at some point, the focus on re-building trust is as critical as helping the sex-addicted partner manage the addiction itself.

So how can a betrayed partner start to become comfortable and regain a sense of confidence that their sex-addicted spouse is safe? Let’s examine four key factors to look for to determine if your spouse is becoming trustworthy.

  1. He is committed to his recovery

Of course, this is the one number key to not only learning to manage a sexual addiction but to begin the process of rebuilding a tattered relationship. A sex addict must demonstrate dedication to the game plan that has been created to assist them in breaking the bondage of secrecy and betrayal. I have seen partners who dive in and go beyond what is asked of them in recovery. I also have witnessed spouses who barely scratch the surface in doing the work that is required of them. When this happens, it is incredibly disheartening to the wounded spouse.

If your spouse is following a treatment regimen and sharing with you his progress, then have hope better days await both of you.

  1. He doesn’t shut you down when you vent

One of the first things I will tell a husband who has abused sex is that his wife has a barrel of rocks and she will be throwing them your way for the next 12-24 months. The ability for a woman to properly grieve the betrayal of the relationship is critical in order for there to be a chance for the relationship to move ahead.

But some men struggle when their grieving wives are throwing rocks. They become defensive and attempt to shut down the conversation. However, this is a grave mistake. When a woman is not given an opportunity to grieve she will continue to sit on those emotions and learn how to express them in other ways including perhaps being passive aggressive. As I tell men, when she grieves, she is healing. Let her grieve.

You can start to sense your spouse is getting better when they can sit with you in your pain. This demonstrates they understand the extent of your anguish and are committed to helping you get to a better emotional place.

  1. He starts to develop and engage in healthy communities

Clinical studies have demonstrated a critical key to recovering from sex addiction is participating in a healthy community. Yet, it’s the most significant pushback we receive from our sex addiction clients. In their intense shame and embarrassment, it would be easier to get them to agree to walk a tightrope across two New York City skyscrapers than attend a recovery group meeting. Men who refuse to participate in a support group are playing Russian roulette with their recovery. The lone wolf fails.

As the wounded spouse, if you see your husband is attending a support group; working with a sponsor and engaging in a men’s group, you should feel comfortable that he is learning how to step outside of his negative comfort zone. Establishing authentic relationships with others will help him maintain accountability, which for you and your relationship is a significant win.

  1. He demonstrates the ability to attach with you emotionally

A man struggling with sexual addiction is confused about intimacy. Somewhere along the line, they confused physical intimacy for emotional intimacy. They have an easier time connecting physical, and therefore their emphasis is on sexual relations.

When you find your spouse being able to identify and express emotions, or showing signs of being open and vulnerable, you know he is on the right track of recovery. Sexual addiction is an intimacy disorder, and the course of treatment is designed to broaden the addict’s view of healthy intimacy to include an emotional connection.

An addict who is committed to recovery; supports his wife’s grieving; engages in a healthy community and begins to identify and express deeper emotions is an individual who is on the right path for recovery.