I hate my ex. We had a great relationship – almost perfect, in fact. I was a caring, loving, supportive partner who never did anything wrong. She wasn’t perfect, but I was ok with that because unlike her, I’m a patient, tolerant, and understanding person. For years I put up with her weird quirks and annoying habits, of which I have absolutely none. I was the perfect boyfriend, and then suddenly, for no good reason at all, she dumped me. Now she won’t stop throwing her amazing life in my face. Her career is taking off, she started dating a really great guy, traveling the world, having fun with her friends and family, and living her best life. All just to spite me.
Of course none of this is true, but it is how I feel when I let anger and resentment into my life. Resentment allows negative thoughts and feelings take over and hijack my emotions. When I’m feeling resentful, I’m full of righteous indignation, self-pity, and anger. I see the past through a distorted lens that removes personal accountability, allowing me to believe that I’m merely a helpless victim of my own choices. Life itself seems unfair, like everyone else is winning while I sit here feeling like a loser. The longer I bathe in my resentment, the stronger the feelings become, until eventually my resentments eat me alive, leading me back to alcohol, drugs, and addiction.
Alone with my anger
Anger and resentment are common amongst people suffering from addiction, but not all resentments look the same. Resentment can take many forms: jealousy, anger, self-pity, hopelessness, and paranoia, to name a few. For me, resentment bred a distrust of the outside world, and a misplaced self-reliance that only served to make me feel more alone. I believed that everything good that happened in my life was a result of my own hard work and talent, and everything bad that happened was because of someone or something else. My resentments were simultaneously feeding my ego and destroying my self esteem, and in turn, my relationships. I stopped trusting others, and I pushed away the people who loved and cared about me, leaving me isolated and alone, with only my anger and my addiction to keep me company.
Playing the blame game
Resentment starts with a lack of personal accountability and placing blame where it doesn’t belong. In active addiction, I blamed others for my own problems and constantly felt like other people were standing in the way of my success. If I failed at something, it was because someone or something else got in my way. I believed that every unfavorable outcome in my life was due to some outside force, beyond my ability to reconcile or control. Any time things didn’t go my way, I’d cast about for someone to blame and add them to my list. But my resentments weren’t limited to just people.
If I was late to work, it was because the train was late. If I didn’t have any money, it was because my job doesn’t pay me what I deserve. Flunked out of school? That grading system is unfair. Lost a job? They fired me for no reason. Kicked out of my house? The bank screwed up my rent check. When things didn’t go my way, I blamed anyone and everyone I could think of. Ruled by fear and low self-esteem, I buried my head in the sand and ignored the real culprits: my ego and my addiction.
Identifying the root of my resentments
I started my journey of sobriety in the rooms of 12-step fellowships. It was in those meetings that I was first introduced to the concept of resentment and its role in addiction. I worked with a 12-step sponsor, and when I reached the 4th and 5th step, I was instructed to make a list of all my resentments, and why I harbored anger at each person, place, or thing on the list. I didn’t need to look very hard to see who or what I was angry at, but figuring out why I was angry – the real reason I was angry, that is – was much harder. I took a deep and introspective look at my anger and resentment, and realized that although I’d been blaming other people for my problems, the real culprit was me, my ego, and my low self esteem.
For years, I’d let resentment and anger rule my life. I’d been sure that my righteous indignation and rage was completely justified, when in reality I’d been behaving like a petulant spoiled brat. By looking at the root cause for each individual resentment in my life, I started seeing a pattern. In almost every instance, my negative feelings were rooted in selfishness, frustration, jealousy, and ego. In short, I was angry because I hadn’t gotten my way.
Foolishly, I’d expected people to prioritize my needs above their own, and when they failed to do so, I felt slighted. Fueled by alcohol and drugs, that slighted feeling turned to conceit, which turned to anger, and that anger then turned to resentment. By letting my ego take over, I’d managed to alienate myself from almost everyone I’d ever cared about. I was miserable, lonely, angry, and hurt, all because I’d expected people to place my needs above their own. I realized then that my resentments weren’t anyone else’s fault, they were of my own making.
Letting go of the anger: what was my part?
Once I’d identified the root cause of my resentments, I thought the hard part was over, but I still had a long way to go before I would be free from anger. I’d made a list of all my resentments, then made a column for what I thought was the reason for my anger, and then a column for the actual reason for my anger. What came next was one of the biggest revelations in my recovery. I was told to look at each resentment on that list, and figure out what part I had played in it.
The idea that I played a part in my own resentments was a bitter pill to swallow. Once again, by looking at my resentments with a clear and objective mind, I realized that most of my resentments were the result of my own inflated ego, low self esteem, and unreasonable expectations of others. I had been angry at an ex-girlfriend because she had broken up with me, but I hadn’t been a dependable, loving partner. I was mad that a former boss had fired me, but I hadn’t been a responsible employee. I was resentful that my friends and family didn’t trust me, but I had begged, borrowed, or stolen money from almost everyone I knew. As I made my way down that list, it became more and more clear that I had created these resentments, and it was up to me to let go of them for my own mental health and wellbeing.
Forgiving others to set myself free
While all resentments are harmful to people in recovery, not all resentments are groundless. During the process of identifying and finding my part in my own resentments, I discovered that some of my resentments were well deserved. Some of the events precipitating these resentments had happened during my childhood at the hands of my parents or other adults, some of them had happened in my own adult life, but were true betrayals of trust that I played no part in. So what does one do with a justifiable resentment? As counterintuitive as it might sound, the only cure for such a resentment is to forgive the offender.
Forgiving someone who wronged me doesn’t justify that person’s actions or excuse their behavior. In fact, the people whom I’ve forgiven don’t even know that I’ve forgiven them, because I made no attempt to contact them or tell them I’d decided to let bygones be bygones. I didn’t find forgiveness in my heart for their benefit, I found forgiveness for my own sake. My resentments were eating me alive. The anger and grief I felt over these resentments was standing in the way of my recovery, so I had to make a choice. Either let go of my anger, or let go of my sobriety. I chose to let go of my anger.
Instead of holding a grudge against the people who’d betrayed me, I allowed myself to learn from those experiences and forgive those transgressors, who in their own way were sick and suffering as well. Instead of holding anger in my heart, I made a choice to practice empathy and understanding. By forgiving the people who harmed me, I freed myself from the anger of my resentment. It’s not a sign of weakness to forgive, it is a sign of strength.
Moving forward one day at a time
Today, I try my best to live a life without resentment and anger. I’ve learned how to recognize my own negative thought patterns that lead to resentments. I’ve learned that no one can make me feel bad without my permission. I’ve learned that while I don’t have a choice about whether or not someone treats me poorly, I do have control over my expectations and the way I react to situations. I’ve learned that my trust is a gift that I can choose to give to whomever I choose. I’ve learned that if I expect forgiveness and compassion, I have to show forgiveness and compassion to others. I learned that anger and resentment are poison to a sober life. Most importantly, I’ve learned to not sweat the small stuff.
— Anonymous for Avenues, 2019