After visiting home in November, I brought my college computer (circa 1999) back to my apartment. My hope was to get it running and review my old emails, papers, and random diaries. I knew it would be painful because this particular computer accompanied me when my BPD erupted in school, later sending me to involuntary inpatient treatment.
Booted it up successfully with some elbow grease. The mother lode would have been my emails, however I think I erased them many years ago. Still, there were plenty of papers, a couple files containing written work I did for my psychiatrist and other random mementos.
Upon reflection, I felt extreme remorse and guilt for my behavior (more than 10 years later). These feelings started passing through my mind a couple years ago, but seeing that snapshot of my dysfunctional college years made them much stronger.
In effect, reading and reliving the rage and depression confirmed some progress: I knew what I did was wrong, and needed to make it right.
An Apology – Correctly Worded – Is Never Too Late
I decided to write letters to people I hurt and offended. This was difficult to do without venturing into cliche statements about “recovery”, “responsibility”, “one life to live”, etc. So I spent considerable time composing 2 page letters broken into three sections:
1. Re-introducing myself (these people have had thousands of students) and recounting my history with them. This was hard, because I buried some of these memories, but felt it would be better to include all of them. If I didn’t, the letters would NOT be authentic and sincere.
2. Expressing remorse for my actions, including any attempts to violate their personal integrity and discredit their better judgment. Then, I explained the treatment I began after college. I wanted them to know I’ve made a diligent attempt to improve myself.
3. Expressing gratitude for their decisions which ultimately led me to a better place, then wished them continued success and happiness.
Receiving letters a decade after-the-fact might strike some people as strange, so I made every attempt to minimize any concern that I was seeking attention or simply checking off steps in a recovery program.
Instead I wrote personally, honestly, and authentically. I revealed my BPD diagnosis and all that it entailed. This disclosure to people familiar with college students would – in part – explain why it took so long for me to apologize.
The facts don’t change, but the perception might have
Surprisingly, I received responses. They were thoughtful, thankful and glad I had engaged in treatment. These responses made the exercise even more worthwhile, though just sending the letters off in the mail felt like a load off my back.
I suppose a degree of guilt can move someone to a more positive place, as long as it is transformational. Obviously, living in a constant state of guilt would be unproductive. Stopping for a moment to acknowledge it and make amends to others, however, is productive.
I told my current therapist about my letters. He seemed encouraged, yet also said “some letters are better written than sent”. I understood his point: re-opening old wounds is disruptive to others, even if my apology is well intended.
With that, I believe arriving at a point where I can acknowledge my poor behavior, apologize for it and give others credit for their guidance represents a milestone in my BPD recovery.
Should I write letters to every single person I wronged many years ago? Not necessarily. There has to be a balance to this cathartic experience, and learning to measure how to communicate with others is another skill people with BPD must acquire.
As I write, I’m NOT patting myself on the back. Rather, I’m holding my head a little higher, knowing that I am taking responsibility for my actions and letting others know that I’m sorry for hurting them.
Writing apologies isn’t about padding one’s ego. Rather, it is about being brutally honest, expressing remorse and thanking others. As for me, I believe I have reclaimed an important part of my own dignity, one long ago lost to my initial BPD implosion.