Since chronic pain set in, I’m constantly apologizing for my limitations. Constantly.
“I’m sorry the kitchen looks like a bomb exploded and I didn’t clean it up.”
“I’m sorry I can’t go out tonight.”
“I’m sorry I’m not the person I used to be.”
“I’m sorry I can’t be there for you when you need me.”
“I’m sorry” plays on repeat, as over and over again I feel guilty for saying no to chores, going out, and all the other things I used to do and the ways I used to be when I was healthy.
And I’m realizing that this simple act of saying “I’m sorry” is sending significant messages to those around me about how I view my chronic pain, and how society by extension views those who are beset with physical limitations.
It is our fault we are ill, and so we must apologize profusely for this burden we place on those around us.
By definition, “I’m sorry” implies fault and culpability. It implies that we have committed something morally wrong, and so we must then apologize, repenting and asking forgiveness for a sinful act. “I’m sorry” is an extension of the guilt we feel for being sick. We are in essence saying: It’s my fault I’m sick. It’s my fault I’m a burden to you. It’s my fault I’m chronically ill, in pain, and physically limited. Please forgive me for being such a horrible human being.
But, we are not sick of our own doing. The limitations we apologize for are not morally wrong or sinful. We are sending wrong messages to the world when we apologize as an act of contrition.
What are you really meaning or implying when you say, “I’m sorry”?
I ask this because there is another meaning to “I’m sorry” that may be appropriate in the context of chronic pain and limitation. Sometimes “I’m sorry” is an expression of condolence. We say “I’m sorry” when someone’s family member dies, when tragedy occurs, and in the face of loss. People tell us they are sorry we are sick, and we never believe this to mean they are taking responsibility for our sickness. They are simply expressing that our pain is hard and they wish they could do something about it. “I’m sorry” express their sadness that we live in such a hard and fallen world.
Perhaps we can use “I’m sorry” in this way. Sometimes an “I’m sorry” to those around us can be an acknowledgement that our pain and the losses we carry also affect our family and friends. “I’m sorry” recognizes that those around us have also experienced loss as a result of our pain.
If we can learn how to say “I’m sorry” without implying we are guilty or at fault, I think it can become a good thing.
I’m thinking through how it might sound to apologize not for our pain, our body, or our limitations, but for how it affects those around us. We are sorry, not for our sickness, but for the losses and adjustments those around us also have to face in the midst of a situation that is no one’s fault.
“I’m sorry you have to take over the chores I can’t do. I know that it is a lot of extra work.”
“I’m in too much pain to go out tonight. I’m sorry this affects you too.”
“I’m sorry you have had to adjust to this new me.”
“I truly wish I could be there for you. I’m sorry you have to deal with this on your own.”
The difference is subtle, but I believe it is significant. Somehow we have to move past this need to take the blame for being sick. Somehow we need to stop suggesting to those around us that we are somehow, even in small ways, at fault for the things we can and can’t do.
Perhaps this begins with the subtle ways we talk about our pain and illness.
Do you find yourself apologizing for your pain or illness? Have you seen this as a good or a bad thing?
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