I make excuses all the time without even realizing that they are excuses. Like most people, I make excuses to get out of doing things I do not want to do, but unlike most people, I also make excuses to get out of doing things I want to do.
That's because we who struggle with self-loathing have trouble with having fun. For us, fun feels like trouble. When you think you deserve no happiness (not naming names, just speculating here), the first glimmer of joy spurs panic. As the fun begins—that joy spreading throughout you like warm honey, as it does—you're thinking OMG, what am I doing here, they'll find out who I really am, do I look fat in this?
And then, not fun.
So sometimes it feels easier to skip this sequence of events by swerving around opportunities and shucking invitations which, truth be told, we want to seize.
So yeah: Asked out to breakfast or eyeing a perfect beach day, I say: I wish I could but I can't.
I say I can't because I have a deadline or I can't because it's cold outside but, being real, I "can't" —or, sans quotation marks, I really literally cannot bring myself to do this or that lovely easy pleasant thing—because I fear that it will flood me with anxiety in ways most people cannot even guess. I say I can't because fun is too dangerous, because fun asks me to accept that I deserve it, because fun suggests that I am not the awful pig who should instead be punished by wearing a bag over my head or skipping meals. Am I the only one who, at Thanksgiving dinner, thinks of neurosurgery?
So I say Sounds nice but I can't.
My excuses are excuses but backwards. For those who don't hate themselves, excuses are lies they tell others. My excuses are lies which I do not totally know are lies which I tell myself.
In real life, excuses are weapons by which those who do not hate themselves puncture unwanted obligations and responsibilities: often, the needs and wants of others. The excuses of those who hate (or have hated, thus acquired this habit) themselves are weapons that they use against themselves.
We make excuses to ourselves about ourselves to keep ourselves from having what we want. We plausibly talk ourselves out of everything.
And we believe it. We buy our own bull.
With each excuse, we tell ourselves what we have always told ourselves, that little curse which we learned somewhere long ago: Shut up.
Can you go to the ball and meet the prince, Cinderella?
Oh no, you can't.
[Accompanying images by Kristan Lawson.]