You don’t have to be an addict to have resentments, of course. Most typical families, work environments and fellowships come packed with people you’re inevitably going to clash with. The more you disagree with someone, the more you’ll resent them.
Then, whenever you face situations where the one or more people you resent are present, you’ll be filled with fear: Fear about potential arguments, fear over whether you’ll look “normal” enough to avoid their ridicule, fear over how you’ll perform in public.
I have plenty of my own examples.
–Fear of arguments when dealing with my mother got so bad I had to put the relationship on ice for the sake of my sanity.
–Fear of Erin leaving me kept me from saying what I needed to say when we’d have the arguments that are part of every marriage.
–Fear of getting jumped and kicked around kept me from continuing my walks along Revere Beach in my early 20s, after the October 1991 incident.
–Though I’ve gotten very close to my stepmom in recent years, we used to clash all the time, which gave me a fear of any family event that required me to be in her presence.
Those fears filled me with all kinds of resentment toward those people and situations. In response, I plunged into addictive behavior with ultra-reckless abandon.
Fear and resentment are what keeps the hole in your soul from closing up. Until you deal with it at the roots, you will never truly be free or sane. That’s why as part of working the 12 steps, we’re supposed to write down all our resentments and work to make amends whenever and wherever possible.
Chapter 5 of the AA big book covers this extensively. Here’s an excerpt, along with an illustration about resentments:
Resentment is the “number one” offender. It destroys more alcoholics than anything else. From it stem all forms of spiritual disease, for we have been not only mentally and physically ill, we have been spiritually sick. When the spiritual malady is overcome, we straighten out mentally and physically. In dealing with resentments, we set them on paper. We listed people, institutions or principle with who we were angry. We asked ourselves why we were angry. In most cases it was found that our self- esteem, our pocketbooks, our ambitions, our personal relationships, (including sex) were hurt or threatened. So we were sore. We were “burned up.” On our grudge list we set opposite each name our injuries. Was it our self-esteem, our security, our ambi tions, our personal, or sex relations, which had been interfered with? We were usually as definite as this example:
|I’m resentful at:||The Cause||Affects my:|
|Mr. Brown||His attention to my wife.Told my wife of my mistress.Brown may get my job at the office.||Sex relations
|Mrs Jones||She’s a nut – she snubbed me.
She committed her husband for drinking.
He’s my friend.
She’s a gossip.
|My employer||Unreasonable – Unjust – Overbearing –
Threatens to fire me for drinking and padding my expense account.
|My wife||Misunderstands and nags.
Wants house put in her name.
|Pride – personal sex relations – Security (fear)|
We went back through our lives. Nothing counted but thoroughness and honesty. When we were finished we considered it carefully. The first thing apparent was that this world and its people were often quite wrong. To conclude that others were wrong w as as far as most of us ever got. The usual outcome was that people continued to wrong us and we stayed sore. Sometimes it was remorse and then we were sore at ourselves. But the more we fought and tried to have our own way, the worse matters got. As i n war, the victor only seemed to win. Our moments of triumph were short-lived.
It is plain that a life which includes deep resentment leads only to futility and unhappiness. To the precise extent that we permit these, do we squander the hours that might have been worth while. But with the alcoholic, whose hope is the maintenanc e and growth of a spiritual experience, this business of resentment is infinitely grave. We found that it is fatal. For when harboring such feeling we shut ourselves off from the sunlight of the Spirit. The insanity of alcohol returns and we drink again. And with us, to drink is to die.
If we were to live, we had to be free of anger. The grouch and the brainstorm were not for us. They may be the dubious luxury of normal men, but for alcoholics these things are poison.
We turned back to the list, for it held the key to the future. We were prepared to look for it from an entirely different angle. We began to see that the world and its people really dominated us. In that state, the wrong-doing of others, fancied or real, had power to actually kill. How could we escape? We saw that these resentments must be mastered, but how? We could not wish them away any more than alcohol.
This was our course: We realized that the people who wronged us were perhaps spiritually sick. Though we did not like their symptoms and the way these disturbed us, they, like ourselves, were sick too. We asked God to help us show them the same tole rance, pity, and patience that we would cheerfully grant a sick friend. When a person offended we said to ourselves, “This is a sick man. How can I be helpful to him? God save me from being angry. Thy will be done.”
We avoid retaliation or argument. We wouldn’t treat sick people that way. If we do, we destroy our chance of being helpful. We cannot be helpful to all people, but at least God will show us how to take a kindly and tolerant view of each and every one.
Referring to our list again. Putting out of our minds the wrongs others had done, we resolutely looked for our own mistakes. Where had we been selfish, dishonest, self-seeking and frightened? Though a situation had not been entirely our fault, we tr ied to disregard the other person involved entirely. Where were we to blame? The inventory was ours, not the other man’s. When we saw our faults we listed them. We placed them before us in black and white. We admitted our wrongs honestly and were willing to set these matters straight.
I’ve done a lot of work to overcome my resentments and, at the very least, keeping those resentments from destroying me.
I’ve been able to path up a lot of relationships with old friends I had lost touch with after one petty falling out or another. I’ve worked at being a better arguer with my wife, though she’ll tell you — and I know — that i still have a lot of work to do. And I’ve done specific things to overcome fear: Getting on planes, walking alone in areas I had feared.
You know the saying: Face your fears.
The issue with my mother is one of the few left unresolved at this point.
Fear hasn’t left me. But it no longer controls me.
I owe much of that to strong support from my wife and children, friends and that 12 step program.