– January 25, 2016 – Los Angeles CA
“You are the man that literally crushed my heart. You crushed me,” she said.
I kept breathing and not for one second did I break eye contact. I wouldn’t allow myself to cross my arms, hold my breath, contract, or dissociate from what had come across the table right then. There was a part of me that instinctively tried to shrink away; to dismiss, dissociate, and justify, but it was overridden by a stronger part that actually wanted to feel it. To let it sink all the way in.
New York Times bestselling author Caroline Myss says, “Remember, there are as many people screaming and punching pillows in therapy wishing you were never born as you have in your life. You’re not innocent by any means.”
I’d heard Caroline say that in a workshop over ten years ago. Ten years prior to sitting down and having lunch with a woman I had previously shared my life with – for the sole purpose of making amends for my own past mistakes, and the subsequent pillow punching she endured.
You Cannot Selectively Close Your Heart
Before my ex-wife fully came into the picture, I had another woman who was very close to me. Her name is Alyssa. Alyssa and I would spend our days together, our nights together, and most weekends relatively joined at the hip. Unfortunately for us both, Alyssa had come into my life after two back-to-back break ups, one five years in the making with an engagement ring in my back pocket at the time of implosion.
Exactly nine days prior to going out for that first “Sure, let’s go grab a beer” with Alyssa, I’d looked myself dead in the mirror and said out loud with conviction, “Don’t worry, I promise you I won’t let another woman get close enough to hurt you. Ever.” At the time it felt like a fool proof, well crafted survival strategy, maybe not the wisest of decisions in hindsight.
Alyssa had also fallen in love with me at the time and I knew it. It scared the shit out of me. The more I felt her warmth, the colder the steel around my heart became. My thoughts, jokes, body, and companionship were widely available. My heart was violently off limits – after all, I’d made myself a promise.
Back then, my now ex-wife was also dancing in and out of my life. When she came close, I pushed Alyssa away. When my ex inevitably distanced herself, I pulled Alyssa back in. Rinse and repeat. It was messy. I was messy. Our “relationship” was dysfunctional at best, despite the relative ease with which we got along and the laughter that seemed to follow us from activity to activity. I told myself that my standard line — “Look we’re not dating. Take this for what it is.” — was enough to justify my dishonest actions. It’s one thing to say you’re not dating, it’s another to do all that dating entails while refusing to acknowledge it for the sake of semantics. Her feelings weren’t predicated on semantics.
This three-person dance ended about seven years ago when she told me she couldn’t be around me anymore since I started dating my ex-wife again. Alyssa was working for me at the time, making the entire situation a quagmire of expectations, hurt feelings, and dishonesty across the board.
Alyssa and I hadn’t spoken a word since that final conversation. Not a single check-in, Christmas note, or “Hey, hope you’re well.” But as soon as I cracked open “A Year to Live,” the book I’m using as a guide for my Year to Live Project and read about what it takes to have real peace in my life, I knew I needed to reach out to Alyssa. It doesn’t take a year of therapy to know who in your life you have unfinished business with. Or the damage that unfinished business is causing in both your psyche and physical world – and in theirs.
An Apology Is Powerful Medicine
I sent Alyssa an email filling her in quickly on what had happened in my life, outlining my Year to Live Project, and adding:
“Another part of the year for me is personal. It’s about making amends to people I have hurt, telling people that have helped me “thank you,” and giving a lot of I-love-yous.
I believe I owe you a long overdue apology and some explanation, and I would like to do so in person, with eyes that aren’t bloodshot, and the honesty that wasn’t present when we were together.”
That was it.
Her reply to my email was generous and included the similar desire to connect and close the loop left open so many years before. She even joked about being at a self-development seminar and having to make a list of people in her life with whom she had unfinished business. Then having to call all of them, but refusing the name that was at the top of the list and underlined – mine.
We met at a quiet cafe and sat across from each other for the first time in what was a lifetime for each of us. She was less muscular, but her hair was still as explosive as ever. I was more muscular but had significantly less hair. We laughed at the joys of getting older and dove into our respective life stories.
It was heartwarming to hear of her success since I had last seen her, to feel the confidence emanating from the other side of the table, to feel the maturity, self-assuredness, and wholeness that was not present when we had last known each other. I felt as if I was in the presence of a woman who had not only grown into power, but now had power to burn.
Few Sentences Are More Powerful Than “I’m Sorry”
I was not there simply to admire her though, that offering was years past. I was there to make amends. So I took a deep breath, reached for her hand across the table, looked her right in the eye and began.
“I’m sorry. I say this with no expectation of anything in return. Please forgive me for how I treated you when we were together. I’m not justifying my behavior, but I was careless with your heart. I knew better, but I didn’t do better and for that, I truly apologize.”
That was it. Twenty-six seconds of my life. Seven years in the making. A life-changing statement for us both.
She put her hand on her heart, took her own deep breath, and graciously accepted my apology.
The next two hours were spent sharing what had happened in our lives since our time together. She went on to share all of the growth and development she has embarked on since the day we last saw each other. It was oddly similar to the work I’ve spent the last year doing and am continuing to do.
Honesty Begets Honesty, Vulnerability The Same
We all have that someone who crushed our hearts. I clearly now have mine, I’m sure you have yours, and we can all agree we’ve been the crusher at some point, too. I was to Alyssa exactly what my ex-wife now is to me – the one person we both wanted to be with more than we wanted to be in a great relationship.
But in the bigger picture, my role in Alyssa’s life was that of a catalyst. In part she had to grow into the woman she is today in response to knowing me at a time in my life when I was at my least skillful. Great. I’m like the dickhead cop that dragged Rosa Parks off the bus and started a revolution. I’m like the coach that cut Michael Jordan from his high school basketball team creating a juggernaut. I’m the final ball rash that inspired the founder of Gold Bond Medicated Powder to say enough’s enough and take action. I’ll own it – I am forever Alyssa’s last rash.
We ended our lunch with long overdue hugs and blessedly continue to assist each other on our current paths with frequent, honest conversations. She trusts me, and I trust her. I am still in awe of the life Alyssa leads, and the manner in which she lives it. Our friendship is healed and our love for each other more authentic than it ever was before. She’s now not only constantly reminding me of the power of my words, but providing an inspiration for my own healing journey.
Alyssa gave me her blessing to write this post and share it to the world without hesitation or censorship of her identity, instinctively knowing that honesty begets honesty, vulnerability begets vulnerability, and raw truth is the greatest catalyst for inspiring others to take action. We both hope those of you reading this use it as such.
I may have crushed my friend. I’m responsible for that. I own that. As you can see by the photo, she’s now strong enough to not only stand on her own two feet but carry me as well.
We All Owe & Are Owed Forgiveness
I’ve shared this story with a number of people and asked them all the same questions I will now ask you, “Who in your life could benefit from you them calling right now and asking for forgiveness? What relationship in your life needs healing?” Every single person I’ve asked has looked off into the distance for, oh, about a millisecond, and then come back with a name.
Being a jerk, I’ve then asked the uncomfortable follow-up, “Would you like to borrow my phone? Or would you like to use your own? I’m happy to wait while you make the call.”
Wide eyed stuttering commenced, but not a lot of phone calling.
Asking for forgiveness is one of the most powerful tools available to heal your life. Even if your request is not honored as graciously as mine was, you can sleep knowing you made the effort, knowing you’ve opened the door to healing even if you weren’t able to walk all the way through. Open doors are infinitely better than closed ones for all parties involved.
Who are you going to call? I’m happy to wait while you do.