In recovery, we aim to free our minds and hearts from undue burden, things that are outside our control. Our goal is to focus on our personal healing (within ourselves) and release attachment to circumstances (outside of us).
I’ve noticed that women in recovery do a great job with this overall, but they leave out one key area: resentment.
Can you relate to any of these statements?
There is something that happened in my past. I resent that it happened. If it didn’t happen, I’d be happy now.
There is something happening in my life now. I resent that it’s happening. This is causing me to be unhappy.
There is something that needs to happen in my life. I resent that it hasn’t happened. Until this happens, I won’t be happy.
These are common belief patterns, which Eckhart Tolle calls universal patterns of resentment. Resentment is a feeling of anger combined with injustice. We tend to stay stuck in it, feeling it over and over, often inadvertently, but sometimes even on purpose, and often for long periods of time, even decades.
Resentments put our recovery at risk.
Resentments hurt us more than anyone else. It does this in several ways:
- Resentment puts us in a victim role.
- Resentment gives our power away (similar to how we gave our power away to alcohol).
- Resentment uses our energy; therefore, it depletes us. We are often unaware that resentment is sucking away our energy.
- Resentment places our locus of power on the (unreliable, ever-changing!) outer world, placing blame for our miserable feelings on external circumstances. In other words, when we are resentful, we are making our happiness contingent on external conditions. The problem is that whenever our emotional state is conditional on circumstances, we put ourselves in a compromised and fragile position.
Happiness in an inside job. Rather than having our happiness depend on ever-changing conditions, we need to focus on our internal locus of control. This is where true healing and peace begin—in our hearts and minds.
Resentment is one of the primary reasons people find their way to addiction and also relapse, according to the Big Book (of Alcoholics Anonymous) and many other recovery sources.
Resentment is drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die.
My personal story about my relapse
I’d like to give you an example of how resentment lingered in my life, got amplified over time, and eventually sabotaged my sobriety.
I was fired from a sales job in 1985 for a technicality, despite having been guided by a superior to do the very act that got me fired. Even though several male coworkers knew what had happened, none of them came to my rescue for fear of their own job or reputation. Despite the blessing it actually was, propelling me into better career paths, whenever I thought about it (for decades!) or would even just hear about other women (even in the media) getting screwed or mistreated at their jobs, it would refresh my wound all over again, amping up my resentment.
Eventually I became resentful and highly triggered whenever I saw injustices towards not only women, but also poor people or any minority. And as a result, I drank.
And worse, not only did my resentment fuel my active addiction, but my resentment caused me to relapse when I got triggered by related issues. That’s right, at three months sober, I surrendered my hard-won sobriety to resentment, and went back to Day #1. Lesson learned.
I was fortunate (and courageous enough) to re-establish my sobriety shortly after I relapsed, but it was a painful lesson at the time. This is why I (lovingly!) urge you to heal this piece of your life, and learn from me rather than firsthand.
Identify lingering and even hidden resentments.
Healing resentments begins with identifying them. I invite you to ask yourself, calmly and with great thought (imagine being a witness to your thoughts), “Am I possibly stuck in my resentments?” You might be thinking, “Oh, yeah, I agree with what Jill is saying, but I don’t really have any resentments.” But I urge you to really challenge yourself here.
So to help you search for any lingering resentments, I’m going to give you some scenarios, and invite you to see if anything comes up for you.
- If my husband hadn’t traveled so much, I wouldn’t have been in the position of being home alone with the kids.
- If we had more money, I wouldn’t have to work hard, unlike my girlfriends whose husbands make great livings.
- If we lived in a bigger house like my sister’s, I’d have a more comfortable life and be much happier.
- If my step-father hadn’t been so hateful, physically abusive, and unfair to me, I would’ve had a more normal childhood like all my other friends had, and I wouldn’t have gotten into so many destructive relationships as an adult.
- If my father hadn’t lost his job, I would have been able to go to a better college and have a better career.
Feeling frustrated with all these scenarios is totally understandable, but drinking to cope with resentments surrounding them always leads to unhappiness, dysfunction, and disease. Even in sobriety, holding onto resentment for years, even decades, is destructive and, sadly, all too common.
In recovery, we have the opportunity to work through our resentments. But, first, I invite you to ask yourself, “Am I still holding onto my resentments?” Be honest with yourself. Are you still holding your happiness hostage because of something or someone else? If you are, really examine this. And, next, ask yourself if you’re willing to release them.
Our job in recovery is to grow and learn new coping strategies for our challenges. While it’s wonderful we’ve been able to put down the drink, holding onto resentments is, at best, going to keep us from true happiness and, at worst, is a one-way ticket back to relapse.
We women in recovery cannot afford to be resentful. Remember, we cannot be resentful and truly happy at the same time. They simply don’t co-exist.
So how do we release resentment? Through forgiveness. Forgiveness is the antidote. I will explore this topic in depth in next week’s blog.
For now, please ask yourself if you are holding onto resentments, even unintentionally, that you can now release.
Being able to tune into any lingering resentments and then truly forgive is a powerful tool for moving forward with your life and definitely for strengthening your sobriety.
I look forward to continuing this discussion next week.
Stay strong, Humble Warrior Women! Namaste.