Written by Juliette Burton

Voices

Sorry-not-sorry

Sorry, but Juliette Burton’s just not sorry any more. So… er, sorry about that.

apology noteWe all have words we don’t much care for. My sister hates the word ‘chutney’. I personally can’t stand the words ‘balsam’ and ‘moist’.

But there is one word that I have launched a full-scale attack on this year, at least in my own vocabulary: ‘Sorry’.

This little word spills out of my mouth almost without me noticing. I apologise around 20 to 50 times a day, every day of the week. I used to apologise more than Nick Clegg did during his short-lived term as sidekick PM.

At times I have become almost competitively apologetic. You know when you bump into someone and you apologise? Then they apologise. Then you insist it was your fault. They insist harder. Then it gets a bit suspiciously fierce. “No, MY body shouldn’t have been in the way of YOUR body! It was totally unjust of me to take up the space you clearly defined as your own! I’m an awful, terrible, disgusting human being!”

I have regularly apologised for:
Taking up space
Getting in someone’s way
Not getting in someone’s way
Being late
Being early
Being angry
Saying swear words
Saying anything at all
Giggling
Laughing
Snorting
Being fat
Being thin
Acting in ways other people think is wrong
Being wrong
Being right
Being rude
Being sorry
Being

I used to think this was a very British issue. The British have a strange love of apologising and those two syllables. “We’re sorry may we just…?” “Sorry for our history of the empire and all that, old chap.” “Terribly sorry, old sport.”

I hear other people swilling it around their mouths compulsively too; in pubs, supermarkets, on the streets. Maybe it’s a bigger personal epidemic in Britain than our addiction to tea.

“Instead of just saying that simple little addictive word, I was actually considering what I was making amends for and saying clearly how I would act differently in the future.”

But more and more I think this epidemic has a branch reserved just for women. The S-word wraps around us like a corset and pulls us in, cinches our breath from us as we apologise for getting in the way. How I hold myself, walk, sit, act and speak; taking up less space, fewer inches, because I’m so sorry for being.

Even in positions of power or authority we’re sorry. How many times have we said at work, “I’m sorry, may I just…?” “I’m sorry, I have an idea…” “I have a suggestion, sorry…”. Why are we apologising for being interesting, useful, clever?

As a woman I have been taught guilt. Our mothers have felt the guilt of being a woman; taking space away from men, not being around for our children enough or giving up our jobs to be with our children. Prioritising love, not prioritising it enough. Our life choices, no matter what they are, are things we’re told we should apologise for.

And, I’m sorry, but it’s starting to seriously piss me right off.

At the beginning of the year I decided I would stop saying sorry and start saying thank you instead.

A friend had sent me a link to a cartoon about this idea of choosing gratitude instead of guilt and I was strangely drawn to it. Why? Firstly this friend knows their shizzle about improving a person’s mind. And secondly this friend knows their shizzle about me. They know me far too well for me to ignore a suggestion like this.

So I began to implement this possibly minor, probably major, change. Instead of saying “Sorry I’m late,” I’d say “Thank you for your patience,” and instead of saying “Sorry I missed your call,” I would say, “I’m not sorry, I have a life… or I’m ignoring your call… For reasons that are of my own choosing.”

Does that sound selfish? Try liberating.

SorryPixabaynoattributionThe only terms of this new experiment would be that I wouldn’t be a dick. If an apology is truly needed; if my behaviour has been regrettable and out of line then I would be the first to offer an attempt to make amends. But instead of just saying that simple little addictive word, I was actually considering what I was making amends for and saying clearly how I would act differently in the future. It was also a way of beginning to notice and change my compulsion to apologise simply for existing.

With this new experiment I began to tentatively shed my compulsive apologies. And then I began to ask myself a series of revealing questions; each one like peeling another layer off my plethora of apology.

What am I sorry for?
Who am I really apologising to?
What good is it serving me other than to keep me plagued with guilt?
Am I addicted to feeling guilty?

Bingo. I hadn’t been wasting time apologising. I’d been chasing a fix; repeating the same mistake, expecting different results. And that, to some, is the true definition of insanity.

Guilt keeps me trapped. Guilt keeps me scared. Guilt has kept me safe – I have at times felt too guilty to move forwards.

Once I started to notice how much guilty baggage I carry around I began to get seriously angry with myself when I found the five-letter S word compulsively leaving my lips. I rarely realise I am saying it until it’s already spilling out of my mouth, or until I press ‘send’ on that email. So I began to notice it. Then began to act on it. To break free I must first become aware, then change behaviour.

“Even in positions of power or authority we’re sorry. How many times have we said at work, ‘I’m sorry, may I just…?’ ‘I’m sorry, I have an idea…’ ‘I have a suggestion, sorry…’. Why are we apologising for being interesting, useful, clever?”

A real test came in late January. I was in the supermarket walking around the corner of the aisle when a very tall man turned around the corner coming towards me. We met at this narrow end of an aisle. Either I moved out of the way or he did.

I found myself not budging… and then having an awkward elongated moment where we were both in a literal stand-off. No one said sorry and no one moved out of the way.

It went on for a painfully long time, probably all of about 10 whole seconds. But for me it felt like the staff were cashing up, shutting the doors and closing the store by the time one of us budged. And of course, it was me. Because Tall Guy didn’t give any inclination he felt awkward or out of place and definitely did not seem sorry for being there. He certainly didn’t seem sorry to take up that space. Why shouldn’t he be there? But then again, why shouldn’t I be there?

In that moment, before I moved, I was literally standing my ground. And I felt roots begin to take shape and stretch from my feet beneath me. Is this a new, more confident, more grounded me? Can I stand my ground against my compulsive guilt as I move forwards?

I’m grateful you took the time to read this.
I’m thankful you joined me on this wordy journey.
I’m delighted to have been with you for the duration.

Now, go forth and try abstaining from saying sorry for just one day. Go on. Be unapologetically awesome.

@JulietteBurton

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Written by Juliette Burton

Juliette Burton is a docu-comedian, actor, writer, thinker, dreamer, doer and person. She has a history of mental health problems and loves The Muppets. These two things are in no way linked.

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