In Smashed, a 2012 film about an elementary school teacher dealing with alcoholism, the consequences of alcoholism and the power of apology are depicted in sharp relief.
Alcoholics lie—all addicts lie. That’s one reality the movie depicts. Also true: it’s often the deception that creates the most immediate difficulties for the alcoholic. The movie dramatizes how effective apology is the alcoholic’s most powerful took for recovery, redemption, and healing. It’s no accident that thougthful apology is one of the twelve steps of recovery.
Candor and Apology
But candor and apology are difficult and unpredictable in their consequences. Apology never offers a free ride.
In Smashed, Kate Hannah, played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead, is hung over and doing her best with class of the most precocious and outspoken first graders in history. When she vomits in front of the class, she is intensely embarrassed. When one of the students asks if she’s pregnant, Kate replies that yes, she is.
Soon the entire school knows and the lie spins out of control. Kate repeats the lie to the school principal and allows her fellow teachers to throw her a baby shower. We see how alcoholism is destroying her life and, when she hits rock bottom and decides, with the help of a fellow teacher, how AA offers a shot at recovery.
But Kate is not yet ready to embrace the truth. As the term progresses, her students question why her belly is not swelling. In response, Kate says she’s no longer pregnant. But she learns that lies can’t be ignored. “Did you kill your baby?” a student improbably asks? Kate doubles down on the lie and feigns a miscarriage.
It’s not a pretty conversation to have with first-graders and a parent predictably complains to the principal. At this point Kate is ready to finally let go of the lie. Her apology is not perfect. She is a little too defensive. But she says it straight:Principal Barnes, I wasn’t ever pregnant. I lied—to the class and to you—because I was scared. . . I’m really sorry. I am.
It gets worse as she tries to explain herself. And then Kate learns an indispensable truth about apology: mistakes and lies have consequences.
Trust has been broken. The principal forces Kate to take a leave of absence and find another job.
I can’t have you here anymore.
And thus demonstrates the flinty truth about apology.
Not Necessarily Together
Apology is healing and it’s redemptive. It allows both parties to move forward but not necessarily together. Kate is through with the lie but still has some demons to defeat before she finally makes the changes in her life.
Kate is now free of her job and shortly free of her alcoholic husband. Only now does she have the scope to make the changes she needs to recover. Depending on the offense, apology often requires us to strip ourselves of all that we once valued, the lighter to make our way on the difficult journey of redemption.