“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 also been spiritually ill. When our spiritual malady is overcome, we straighten out mentally and physically.” (Alcoholics Anonymous, 64)
As many alcoholics in recovery come to realize, it wasn’t really the drinking that was the issue. Without a doubt, drinking was a destructive force in our lives and often in the lives of those around us, but our abuse of alcohol was a symptom of a deeper life problem: we were people who could not cope with life or live comfortably in the world without a chemical crutch.
And resentment was often at the heart of that life problem. We could not control people or our circumstances. This feeling of impotence turned to fear and then to anger. Terrified that we wouldn’t get what we wanted, an internal storm kicked up. Not knowing how to manage it, we turned to the bottle for help. There we could escape, distract, avoid, or forget altogether.
So what is resentment exactly? Resentment is the umbrella term under which fall anger, ill will, grudge holding, un-forgiveness, spite, indignation, bitterness, grievance, and hostility. It can be harbored against others—alive or dead, groups, entities, self and God. No matter what the form, or how justified we may feel in maintaining our resentments, the result is always personally deleterious.
Few people have been more victimized by resentment than have we alcoholics. A burst of temper could spoil a day, and a well-nursed grudge could make us horribly ineffective. Nor were we ever skillful in separating justified from unjustified anger. As we saw it, our wrath was always justified. Anger, that occasional luxury of more balanced people, could keep us on an emotional jag indefinitely. These ‘dry benders’ often led straight to the bottle.” (A.A. Twelve and Twelve, 90)
If asked, most practicing alcoholics may not be able to acknowledge they have a problem with anger or resentment. How could they identify these negative feelings and emotions if they ran to the bottle at the first sight of conflict? But in recovery, there is no longer an alcohol-induced safe haven. We must see our conflicts, our disappointments and our frustrated expectations exactly as they are.
Many of us come into recovery with decades of emotional baggage. It must be cleaned up and cleared away if we are to move forward in recovery. Though alcohol provided a temporary escape from our issues, it certainly didn’t solve them. They’ve been backlogging for years, tearing us up emotionally and spiritually in ways we couldn’t even identify.
The work of the personal inventory in Step Four is our first foray into the dark closet of our anger life. Through this process we look at the people, entities and circumstances that have provoked our resentment. While we may not experience immediate freedom from our anger and bitterness, we are starting the process by honestly and openly admitting it and addressing it.
Addicts are inordinately affected by their anger, “victimized” by it, even. Thus the 12-step program is in many ways designed to help addicts deal with this caustic emotional condition. While Step Four starts the cleaning up of the addict’s emotional past, we know that recovery is not simply a matter of fixing the past and living perfectly now. Without alcohol as consolation, we will feel our resentments and anger more acutely. The remaining steps, namely step 10 and step 11, help to keep that impulse in check.
“When we harbored grudges and planned revenge for defeats, we were really beating ourselves with the club of anger we had intended to use on others. We learned that if we were seriously disturbed, our very first need was to quiet that disturbance, regardless of who or what we thought caused it.” (A.A. Twelve and Twelve, 47)
Moving forward in recovery we avoid resentment whenever we can. If we plan to interact with people, we can plan to experience resentment. But we take measures to manage it. Perhaps we decline to get into the middle of a debate. We may distance ourselves from individuals we know to be toxic. We may decline to hear the latest gossip. We aren’t avoiding anger because we have now become such good and moral people. We avoid it because we have seen and experienced its destruction. Avoiding anger and resentment becomes a matter of self-preservation and personal care. Our sobriety depends upon it.