“I say ‘I’m sorry’ a LOT, usually when it’s not necessary. I apologize for existing.”
“I’m so tired of fighting myself … For the last 17 years I spend my days in service to precious elders and give all that I can, yet inside me I feel like I am never, ever enough. The perfectionist in me doesn’t seem to be silenced.”
“I’m so very, very, very tired Caroline! …. I’m at war with myself and know deep down I don’t have to be.”*
I was thirteen when I started going to summer camp in Scotland with my closest friends.
It might seem strange for teenagers from New Jersey to travel across the Atlantic, but it was a church camp run by our denomination, the Worldwide Church of God.
My friends and I loved camp enough to beg, plead, and save our babysitting money all year. So our parents kept driving us to the airport, to their eternal credit.
The Scottish scenery was stunning, but the best part was the people.
At camp we made friends from the UK, Spain, the Netherlands, France, and Australia. Even the Brits seemed exotic, with their delightful accents and phrasing: “Brilliant!” “Well done!”
Yet we also had a lot in common. Most of us had grown up in strict religious environments, so we spoke the spiritual language of “dying to self”.
It’s Not About Me
One afternoon when my camp friends and I were listening to the radio, the classic Beatles song “Come Together” came on.
One British friend Oliver (not his real name) sang along, but he purposefully changed the lyrics to, “Come together, right now / Over you!”
When I asked him why, he explained that he felt that singing “Over me,” was too self-aggrandizing.
“It’s not about me, you know?” he said, wholeheartedly in earnest. “It’s all about God.”
When he said that, a kind of internal alarm went off inside my body. It rang through me, insistent as a siren, and at the time I didn’t understand why.
On the surface, I agreed with Oliver’s comment. Yes, of course, it was all about God. Both Oliver and I were devoted believers. Yet something about my dear friend’s words troubled me, reverberating hours later.
I lay awake in my bunk bed that night worrying about Oliver’s tendency to rub himself out of the picture … which was, of course, my tendency too.
I (Don’t) Apologize for Existing
I think you understand where I’m going with this. At some point, you and I both learned to equate being “good” (or “spiritual”) with a sort of psychological death wish.
We’ve learned to apologize for existing.
We’ve weighed other people’s thoughts and feelings so heavily as to erase ourselves from the equation.
I was never good at math, but I remember this much from algebra: equations must be balanced. If you try to take yourself out of the equation of your own life, imbalance will result.
“I’m at war with myself and know deep down I don’t have to be.” Yes, exactly.
You and I have both spent a lot of time and energy fighting for something that’s already ours: the right to exist, to be a part of this universe.
Yes, it’s true that some people need to practice greater consideration for others … but I’m guessing you’re not one of them. You put others first by default.
Your challenge is to stop martyring yourself, to take up space, to live.
With Love and Gratitude
Today I’m thankful for my formative church experience. I’m thankful for the obviously positive aspects, like friendships and summer camps, but I’m also thankful for the seemingly negative ones, like warped teachings and controlling environments.
Why? Because the whole thing gave me a priceless gift: awareness of the part of me that cannot and will not be rubbed out. This is the part of me that absolutely refuses to stop walking homeward.
That trustworthy part of me sounded an alarm all those years ago. And based on your comments, this part of you has been sounding an alarm as well.
Some people call God within the Holy Spirit, and others call it the essential self. In the Hebrew scriptures God is the great I Am, a pure affirmation of being.
Regardless of what you call this trustworthy part, it is always guiding you toward what is most true and loving and good for you and by extension for the world.
The Party Wouldn’t Be Complete Without You
You are part of the world, honey. It’s okay for you to be here because you are here.
Frederick Buechner describes the grace of God this way:
“You might never have been, but you are because the party wouldn’t be complete without you.”
When you take yourself out of the equation, you leave the world incomplete.
So please, as an act of service, put yourself back in the game. Put your thoughts and feelings and needs and preferences and ideas and hopes and dreams out there.
Even if it’s just for yourself, for now. Even if it’s just on a piece of paper in a private notebook that no one else will see. That’s plenty for today.
Just being honest with yourself is revolutionary. Just moving the pen across the page is an act of power.
If you’re scared to write, that’s okay. Or maybe just blast “Come Together” and sing the lyrics as written. This one goes straight from my heart to yours …
“One thing I can tell you is you got to be free.”
Do you apologize for existing? Join the conversation in the comments below!
*Special thanks to Peta and Lovie; their comments on this post helped inspire today’s essay.
There will be no new post next week for the July 4th holiday; we’ll return with a new You Need to Read Video Interview featuring Anna Kunnecke on Tuesday, July 11th.
Thanks to everyone who joined me and Brooke Adams Law for Monday’s free webinar, How to Be Less Busy Without Quitting Anything; it was a blast!
Missed the fun? No worries; you can still join us for our four-week course Protect Your Energy: Stop Draining and Start Living, which begins Monday, July 10.
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