There is a quote about resentments which gets bandied around in recovery circles from time to time. You’ve probably heard it before, at one point or another.
“Resentment is like taking poison and waiting for the other person to die.”
There are several variations of this quote. The above is attributed to Malachy McCourt, while at least one other is attributed to Nelson Mandela. But at the end of the day, it does not matter who said it first, or even who said it best. The fact of the matter is that our resentments are poison to us, and they will never fail to do us far more harm than they will ever do to the objects of our rage. When we harbor resentments, we do ourselves a major disservice. Especially if we are among those who suffer from addiction or alcoholism.
As addicts and alcoholics, we are quite skilled at finding reasons to use. Our resentments do not need to be chief among these excuses, but they will often rank somewhere near the top of the list. When left unchecked, our resentments can consume our entire being. This is why we must learn to recognize the harm they have caused us. If we are ever to let go of our resentments before they cause us irreparable harm, then we must also learn to assess their roots and discover new ways of letting go so that we may move on and discover a new sense of freedom in recovery.
Resentments Are Self-Prescribed Poison
An article on Psychology Today contains an anonymous bit of writing which expands upon the above maxim regarding resentments. This one is a little less common, but its truth is no less tangible.
“The moment you start to resent a person, you become his slave. He controls your dreams, absorbs your digestion, robs you of your peace of mind and goodwill, and takes away the pleasure of your work. He ruins your religion and nullifies your prayers. You cannot take a vacation without his going along. He destroys your freedom of mind and hounds you wherever you go. There is no way to escape the person you resent. He is with you when you are awake. He invades your privacy when you sleep. He is close beside you when you drive your car and when you are on the job. You can never have efficiency or happiness. He influences even the tone of your voice. He requires you to take medicine for indigestion, headaches, and loss of energy. He even steals your last moment of consciousness before you go to sleep. So, if you want to be a slave, harbor your resentments!”
The message behind this writing is quite clear. Resentments are, in many ways, addictions unto themselves. When we are resentful, we are obsessive. Our hatred toward others consumes us wholly, and we are unable to think of very much else whenever thoughts of others enter our minds. Resentments are not easily let go, especially when they have been harbored for years on end. Some of us may resent members of our families, while others of us will harbor our greatest resentments toward ex-lovers—or even current ones. In some cases, we may even resent people with whom we have had little contact. Sometimes we feel they are in competition with us at work, or perhaps they simply have something we want. Whatever the cause of our resentment, we will know the harm it has caused us by its unfailing ability to grip us at any given moment.
Make no mistake, our resentments will destroy us if we allow them to do so. They will consume our being, and leave nothing behind but a mere husk of the human who once stood in our place. This is why we must learn to deal with them properly, or else risk leading lives of unhappiness, lives of anger and hatred in which we are obsessed with seeking vengeance against those we perceive to have harmed us. Resentment is among the greatest character defects of the addict and the alcoholic, and it is a defect with which each of us will struggle in our time.
The first step to letting go of resentments is to discover their root cause. The second step is to simply let them go. This may sound simple in theory, but in practice it can be quite complicated. Hopefully, the following advice will help you to manage this task so that you may move on and enjoy a happier life under the banner of recovery. If you are unable to accomplish this task, then the future may hold great pain as you continue to let yourself fester in anger and hatred.
Discovering the Roots of Our Resentments
When attempting to discover the roots of our resentments, we will almost always encounter one fact which will shake us to our core if we are not ready for it. One deeply incontrovertible reality with which we have not prepared ourselves to grapple, let alone to deal with in any major sense. That fact is this:
The cause of our resentments is, almost 100% of the time, rooted within our own actions.
Over the course of time, we have committed many great infractions against others (and against ourselves), and more often than not we have lived to see our chickens come home to roost. It can take work and sincere effort to see our own parts in our resentments, but they are almost always there. Through our efforts to control our lives, we have set in motion much harm that has been done to us. We have quoted the following passage from Alcoholics Anonymous before, in our article on the origins of willingness, but it bears repeating here:
“Each person is like an actor who wants to run the whole show; is forever trying to arrange the lights, the ballet, the scenery and the rest of the players in his own way. If his arrangements would only stay put, if only people would do as he wished, the show would be great. Everybody, including himself, would be pleased. Life would be wonderful. In trying to make these arrangements our actor may sometimes be quite virtuous. He may be kind, considerate, patient, generous; even modest and self-sacrificing. On the other hand, he may be mean, egotistical, selfish and dishonest. But, as with most humans, he is more likely to have varied traits.
What usually happens? The show doesn’t come off very well. He begins to think life doesn’t treat him right. He decides to exert himself more. He becomes, on the next occasion, still more demanding or gracious, as the case may be. Still the play does not suit him. Admitting he may be somewhat at fault, he is sure that other people are more to blame. He becomes angry, indignant, self-pitying. What is his basic trouble? Is he not really a self-seeker even when trying to be kind? Is he not a victim of the delusion that he can wrest satisfaction and happiness out of this world if he only manages well? Is it not evident to all the rest of the players that these are the things he wants? And do not his actions make each of them wish to retaliate, snatching all they can get out of the show? Is he not, even in his best moments, a producer of confusion rather than harmony?”
In other words, we will often cause others to turn against us, even when we do not mean to do so. This is simply the fate for which we have been set up when we made the decision to turn our lives over to drugs and alcohol. We fell in with the wrong crowds, with people who put selfishness before the good of others. We often became such people ourselves, and made many enemies in the process.
Then, there are times in which we technically played no part in our resentments. Some harm was done to us which we did nothing to provoke. Even then, we allowed our resentments to fester. We allowed ourselves to dwell on them, rather than processing them and moving on in healthy fashion. While we are to be forgiven for this, we should not resign ourselves to this fate any longer. It is time to begin moving on. It is time to begin the healing process.
Letting Go of Them Before They Kill Us
If you are ever to let go of your resentments before they do your irreparable harm, you must remember what you are facing. You must remember that resentments are nothing other than another form of addiction, and that your compulsive desire to dwell on the past will do nothing to change it. You must also accept the part that you have played in these resentments, for this is a major step toward letting go of them for once and for all. Without these initial steps, any hope of letting go of our resentments is as good as lost.
We must also reach a point of acceptance when it comes to the realization that there are certain things in life we simply cannot change. Those you resent may not realize that you perceive them to have done you any harm. And if they do realize it, they may not regret it. While it may be easy to entertain ourselves with notions that we could change things through some sort of confrontation, this is not always the case. In fact, these confrontations are often better left avoided.
It is through admitting our vulnerability that we discover our real strength. If we are able to acknowledge the harm that our resentments have caused to us, we stand a much better chance at overcoming them in the future. If, however, we hold onto the illusory belief that we will one day avenge the wrongs that have been performed against us, we may remain mired in our resentments for good. This will continue to poison our minds and our spirits, sucking away our positive psychic energies and leaving us bereft of the very goodness within ourselves. This is no way to live.
Remember the Twelve Steps when undertaking this endeavor. Remember Step One, which notes that any addiction—including our addictions to our resentments—leaves us powerless and unmanageable. Also remember that the Twelve Steps require us to take a moral inventory of ourselves. Our resentments should be included in this moral inventory, and we should do our best to make amends when we have become able to see our part in the resentments that are causing us the most harm. It will take a bit of mindfulness to reach and complete this stage of our step work, but it will be worth the sense of liberty we experience once these steps have been undertaken.
Forgiveness is the key here. If we can forgive those who have wronged us, regardless of whether or not they are willing to forgive us in turn, then we can rise above the resentments that have poisoned us for so long and learn to embrace a better way of life. It is so often tempting not to be the bigger person. It is tempting to stoop to the level of those who have hurt us in the past. But this accomplishes very little. In addition to resenting others, we will often wind up resenting ourselves for our own failure to be the morally upstanding people we know ourselves to be.
If you can recognize the harm that resentments are causing in your life, recognize their roots in your own actions, and learn to let go of them accordingly, you will make great steps toward recovery. More importantly, you will make great steps toward attaining inner peace in general. Your resentments have been poisoning you for far too long. Do not allow them to get the best of you any longer. Begin letting go of them today.