What's in an apology? It's more than two words, more than expressing regret for being caught or causing someone pain. It's not an attempt to excuse behavior or justify wrongs. And a sincere apology is not like an asshole; not everybody has one.
Friday morning, after 45 days of in-patient therapy, Tiger Woods made a public apology to his wife, family, friends, sponsors and fans. Unlike the masses, I think his apology was sincere, honest and expressive of the guilt and remorse he has due to his actions. After my own rehab experience and participation in various 12-step programs, I also made apologies to men, women, friends and family, but unlike Tiger, I had the luxury of doing so in the privacy of coffee shops or restaurants, and away from the scrutinizing eye of the public. As a woman who had grown accustomed to hurting people, lying, cheating or disregarding others' feelings entirely, seeing my part was hard. Putting my tail between my legs and admitting "I was wrong" was even more difficult. And the courage required for Tiger to stand in front of an entire nation -- accepting responsibility for his actions and the pain he has caused the people he loves most as well as people he's never met -- implies a level of humility I can only hope to achieve.
While Tiger has never said he's a sex addict, there are qualities in his apology that ring similar to my own program. Even though I cannot say what his experience in rehab may have been, I am comfortable sharing my own and letting you draw your own conclusions.
In active addiction, the nature of my offending behavior is ego based. I cheated and lied because I thought the rules didn't apply to me, and when relationships turn intimate I self sabotage. I kept secrets because I didn't think anybody could handle the truth about me. I shared only my positive qualities because I felt a need to one-up myself, to be better than the rest of humanity (who suffered from character defects that made them imperfect). In recovery, I am required not only to look at my own defects but also to accept these flaws as my perfectly imperfect human nature. This has been my biggest struggle, accepting that I'm not perfect and that I never will be. It has also brought me the most relief, because it means that I can make mistakes as long as I'm willing to take responsibility for them and apologize when necessary.
After looking at these character defects -- a list of flaws that show how selfish I am; how I seek validation in the eyes of men, women and society as a whole; how my need to control life forbids people I love of their own free will -- I was able to look at the people I've hurt in my life, to see my part in their pain, what I could have done differently. Mostly, my part revolved around selfishness, around fear of not getting what I want or losing what I have, and an unhealthy desire to feel loved because I was incapable of loving myself. Telling a man "I'm sorry" is very different from telling him, "it was wrong of me to cheat on you. I was selfish and arrogant. You didn't deserve that and I never should have treated you that way. I understand if you can't forgive me, I just want you to know I know it was wrong and I'm willing to do whatever it takes to make it right." "I'm sorry" is a quick fix, a temporary solution, a Band-Aid for a cut that needs deep cleaning and stitches.
After looking in the eyes of people I've hurt and making this new kind of apology, the kind of apology where instead of begging for forgiveness I simply state my wrongs and willingness to make them right, I don't want to hurt people as I once did. I'm incapable of keeping the secrets I once kept. I've developed a deep sense of love and compassion for those around me because I've gained a deep sense of love and compassion for myself. Yet of all the apologies I've made, of all the wrongs I'm now trying to right, there remains one apology with which I struggle, and I have a feeling it will be the same for Tiger. It's the apology I have to make to myself for being the incredibly flawed individual I am. And the only way to make it right is to accept, on a minute by minute basis, my own humanity and perfectly imperfect nature.
I wish Tiger nothing but the best, and knowing how much work we both have left to do, I hope as those who love him most find room in their hearts for forgiveness, he can find the courage and self love he'll need to forgive himself.