Love Means Always Having to Say You’re Sorry

By Dana Bowman 12/13/16

I do lie. It’s a tough habit to break. I lie because embellishment is so easy to slide into, like a nice pair of slippers.

crossed fingers behind back
No more lies, own up and apologize.

My son has told me, over four times now, that he did not break the picture of Grandpa Waldo in the living room. Henry is staring at me, his eyes wide and brown, standing over broken glass and Grandpa, and is repeating that, no mommy, he did not do it. Not ever, ever, ever.

He is also lying his cute little face off.

I point out a few things:

  1. He was the only one in the room when the picture broke.
  2. There were no earthquakes.
  3. No ghosts, either.
  4. He broke it.

But still, no admittance. He has the steely focus of man on the witness stand. I pivot in front of him and start in on my closing statement. The kid does not break.

I have found that these moments of parenting have the added bonus of totally working on my recovery, in a family-fun kind of way. I sat down, took the kid onto my lap, and lecture him on being honest in all our affairs.

When I got sober, I had to learn how to do everything differently. This started with the huge concept of not drinking, of course. But eventually the learning worked its way down to little stuff, like tackling how to have basic conversation with the UPS guy even though I am terribly shy. Somewhere in the middle of all of this re-zoning of my behaviors were two new challenges:

  1. Don’t lie.
  2. Say ‘sorry.’

I hated both of these new rules, as most of my life prior had been a deeply woven fabric of lies. This makes me sound like a pretty horrible person, and I kind of was. And, when I was drinking I hated any sort of accusation, because if one strand started to unravel I might totally collapse into self hatred and guilt. I preferred to stay on my pinnacle of Always Perfect, At Least on the Outside.

It is very hard to make sure every tiny part of your life is spotless. And, so, the unraveling began.

Now, I never lie. And I always say sorry.

Actually, that’s a lie.


I do lie. It’s a tough habit to break. I lie because embellishment is so easy to slide into, like a nice pair of slippers. I lie because, like my son, I want to avoid getting grounded.

Sometimes, I lie for no reason at all. The other day my husband called me, and we had one of those random and boring conversations married couples do, about our day and the kids, and what’s for dinner, and then, in the middle of it, I told him I needed to get off the phone. “Why?” he asked. There was no real reason except that I had no idea what was for dinner and that was kind of depressing me. But instead, I blurted, “Hey, I hear one of the kids. I think they need me. Gotta go, darling. Ok? Bye.”

Now, truthfully, I do have two young boys, so the actual act of being able to hear them? Not a lie. They make a lot of racket. But the rest of it? Total fabrication. My children were happily bashing at each other with Legos. They wouldn’t need me for at least another thirty minutes or so, until they figured out that they were hungry and wanted a snack. So, I lied.

And here’s the most interesting part: It really bugged me. In my past, this little fib would have been just a quick way to get off the phone and back to life, and I would have allowed it with a shrug. Besides, my life at that point was so endlessly tangled with much bigger fabrications, all hungrily circling me, waiting for me to get tired of treading water. Using my kids as an excuse to get off the phone was a “catch and release” lie, forgotten as soon as I uttered it.

No more. As soon as the conversation ended, I became irritable and fidgety. I wandered into the kitchen for a cup of coffee and stared out the window. I meditated on that lie. I analyzed the sucker. I tried to lob the serenity prayer at it, but it still bobbed up to the surface of my brain until finally, I called the husband.

“I didn’t hear the kids. I just didn’t want to talk to you,” I blurted after he said hello.


“When we talked. Before. I didn’t want to talk to you, so I used the kids as an excuse to get off the phone.”

There was silence for a minute, but I swore I heard Brian rolling his eyes at me. So, I took a deep breath and spent ten more tedious minutes trying to get him to understand how my brain works. I felt for him. There were no children nearby getting into fake trouble so he could get off the phone.

And then, I had to say sorry.

This whole phone conversation was becoming a big deal, at least to me. I am pretty sure my husband had it filed under, “I really don’t get her,” and put it away as inconsequential, but I was in the process of rewiring my brain. This whole being honest and openly apologizing about things was still difficult for me. As a highly-functioning alcoholic, admitting a wrong, saying “sorry,” was accepting defeat. Defeat meant I was a total loser.

Also, I grew up thinking “I’m sorry” needed to be followed by the word “But,” which was then followed by a retraction of what you just uttered. For example, I might say, “I’m sorry. But, you are being such a monumentally huge ass that I had to yell at you.” This is not a good way to apologize. It makes you sound like a politician and that never works.

Now, as a sober woman, all my sorrys had to be real. And, there were still so many of them. I had to say sorry for lying. I had to say sorry for being grumpy. I had to say sorry when I cursed at the cat in front of my kids. The cat didn’t seem to care much about the whole incident, but the kids did.

I had to say sorry for big things too, but less often, thankfully. Being in recovery does allow for progress, after all. I still had to make some formal amends. And sometimes it still felt like I had to have the words pulled from me, like a sore tooth.

“So,” I said to my husband. “I’m sorry.”

“That’s okay,” he responded. I waited. “Oh. I mean, I forgive you, honey. Let’s have pizza tonight, okay?”

It was epic. It was like all those big amends that I had to do in my first year of sobriety. Only, smaller and about something we’ll both forget in an hour or so. But still. Really important.

Love Story is one of those classic 70’s movies you can still catch on late night television. Ryan O’Neal and Ali McGraw fall in love amidst lots of witty banter. She gets sick and dies. He’s sad about it. I’m a little hazy on the rest of the details, but I remember two things very clearly: During the whole movie, Ali’s character, Jenny, maintains perfect 70’s hair, long and straight, with a part right down the middle. And in one scene, she cries so prettily, and tells her beloved Oliver: “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.”

This is total crap.

Love means we say sorry, all the time, especially as a recovered alcoholics, because we are finally finding out what love is all about. Love means we are worthy, and we can love ourselves enough to be vulnerable and do the next right thing. Love means saying sorry about twenty times a day because I mess up a lot. Progress, not perfection.

While I was drinking? My life was nothing but lies, mostly to myself.

My life now is some lies and lots of apologies. It’s a good life. It is not easy, but it is good.

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