Overcoming Resentments

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Vary angry woman clenching fistsDrunks who want to upgrade to recovered alcoholics tend to take a hard look at their resentments. This is a process that can benefit not only addicts, but anyone with a desire to free themselves of resentments as well.

A written moral inventory is the fourth step in Twelve-Step recovery and is the first step to require serious action. It only took me fourteen years after my first meeting to do it. Hence, fourteen years of building up false hope in those who cared about me only to dash those hopes with yet another relapse. But once my written-and I stress written-inventory was completed and shared with someone else (an ego-deflating and necessary step) I have not had the inclination to wet my lips with alcohol since.

To cover the entire fourth step will take several posts over the next few months, but for starters Id like to touch on the issue many have with resentment nothing pulls an alcoholic/addict down quicker.

Resentment, the continual mental rehashing of some wrong (real or imagined), is classed as the number one offender in Twelve Step literature. When my sponsor, or mentor if you will, asked me to create a written list of my resentments, I was stumped. Did I have resentments? Im not an angry person I lied to myself. Not coming up with much, my sponsor suggested that I pray for clarity of thought. So I prayed, only half believing in its efficacy.

As I got quiet and reflected the thought came to me that I had a certain pattern: I got resentful at people and then I acted out-usually in the form of screwing someone over. What initially took the form of resentment was masked with guilt and shame. And I had plenty of guilt and shame when I sobered up.

Viewed through the lens of this pattern, I took to the list again ... and the resentments came pouring out. I had a lifetime of acting out-stealing, lying, manipulating-that weighed me down considerably. As this first wave of resentments poured onto the page I was able to identify a second set-resentments with no guilt attached-that had long been buried in the bottom of a bottle.

I was then asked to look at the cause of these resentments. This came easily. I had been hanging on to these resentments for decades. The cause was well-rehearsed in my mind. Next I was asked to look at what part of me these resentments affected-my financial security, my self-esteem, my ambitions, my personal relationships or my fear level.

Listing out whom or what I resented, the cause, and what part of me was affected flowed onto the paper readily. For example, there was an old co-worker that topped the list. She had it in for me literally from day one. Come to find out she saw me as a threat. When I was hired word spread quickly that I was a slated to take a promotion she had been eying for some time. She decided to knock me out of the running and at every turn she went out of her way to find fault and bring those faults to the attention of our shared boss. At times she was petty and at times she stretched the truth to the breaking point.

So there it was on paper. I was resentful at ... well call her Lisa ... for trying to make me look bad in front of my boss. It affected my financial security, my selfesteem, my ambitions and it made me fearful. Now that was easy. Why do people make such a big deal about writing out a fourth step? Little did I realize that the magic in the fourth step hadnt been tapped.


It was at this point that my sponsor introduced me to a whole new way of looking at my resentments-he asked me to look at my part in them. Specifically, he asked to consider where I had been selfish or self-seeking, dishonest or fearful.


My part? Lisa was the one at fault here. I was an innocent victim. Or was I?


Digging deep, I saw that dishonesty made it onto the stage as I replayed my interactions with Lisa, as did fear. I combatted her attacks with a little subterfuge of my own. Fear, masquerading as pride, clouded my judgment in many of my dealings with her and behind her back. I was hardly an ideal co-worker.


My sponsor pointed out that I shouldn’t get hung up on who started what. My old ways of rationalizing and justifying everything had to stop. I was simply tasked with finding my part in the resentment. Realizing that I had a part in these resentments made it easier to get at the ultimate goal, which is to forgive.


For me, resentments have to be replaced with forgiveness. Otherwise I risk leading a life of futility and unhappiness. Forgiveness is key–where there are resentments, there is no bliss.


I began to see that if I don’t acknowledge that I am part of the problem there can be no solution–no forgiveness.


But what of those resentments where I had no part? Cruel acts against children, for example, typically don’t involve the child beingselfish or dishonest. Fear was only natural given the circumstances. Did innocent children who have been wronged have a part?

Here we need to go deeper. Sometime the part a person plays is just the act of holding on to the resentment–replaying the event repeatedly. Does it lead to a negative view of life or others. Do we judge whole classes of people unfairly because of the injustice?In cases like this there is an important lesson in recovery that perhaps we should view those who have wronged us as spiritually sick.

Would I resent a brother or sister who was physically ill? Then why can I not forgive a spiritual brother or sister who is indeed spiritually sick?

Forgiveness does not imply condoning or excusing a particular behavior. You can forgive, you can let go of the hatred, without excusing the other party or reconciling a relationship. Sometimes the healthiest thing to do is to cut off all contact. Forgiveness doesnt even imply that a wrong goes unpunished. Sometimes the most loving thing that can be done is holding a person responsible for their actions.

So there it was, a written inventory of my resentments (we’ll address the inventory of fears and sexual relationships latter). Facing it in black and white, sharing it with my sponsor (or, for some, a clerical figure, psychologist or psychiatrist) opened the door to addressing my defects of character and firmly planting my feet on a pathway of sobriety and sanity. My resentments kept me sick, bringing them into the light and finding my part in them was vital to forgiveness and my recovery.

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