The Connection Between Resentment and Relapse
When I first entered the rooms of twelve-step recovery it was an almost overwhelming experience for me. It was not simply because I felt overly conspicuous in my self-absorbed shame, nor was it because I felt those of us who suffered with powerlessness over a substance had been relegated to the dungeons of church basements to do our penance. My shock and surprise was realizing how openly people would talk about some of their most personal character defects with seemingly little self-protection or inhibition.
What I expected to hear in these meetings were stories about someone’s most embarrassing drinking binges or what I later heard referred to as “drunk-a-logues.” Surprisingly there was very little recounting of their worst drinking days or reminiscing about the nights we would all rather pretend never happened. Instead, there was great candor when sharing about things like harbored resentments, the emotional hostages we had taken in our addiction, or the entitlement we felt in our anger and grudges that were never resolved. Blame shifting was admitted and owned openly and progress was more celebrated than perfection. It was as if we were more in touch with our Higher Power because we had gotten it wrong than because we had gotten it right, as Catholic mystic Richard Rohr says.
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For many like myself these were astonishing admissions to witness. I had been in the business of brand management where my persona was concerned, and I had little interest in admitting my harbored hatred or my fiercely defended entitlement to anyone, let alone a group of strangers. I still believed somewhere in the core of my being that if I could remain a victim for a while longer I could keep the sting of my own responsibility at bay. Listening to these folks acknowledge that their intentionally withheld forgiveness might be what was standing in the way of them freeing themselves from the power of resentment made little sense to me at the time. Some called it confession while others simply called it owning up. After all, I thought I was here to stop drinking, not to wear a neon sign that said, “I’m a completely resentful human being that keeps looking for a reason to justify my behavior and stay in the safety of my illness.”
When I finally untangled my perplexing experiences enough to address this subject with my sponsor he was very patient but direct with me about what was happening here.
“Resentments are dangerous because they fuel our entitlement which allows us to justify our behavior to ourselves as we continue in our sickness.” In other words, as long as I can convince myself to hold on to a resentment I can fuel my entitled mindset and continue to find a way to use at someone or some situation.
My concepts of resentment prior to recovery had been more associated with moral issues or even a “sin” construct from old religious circles. Realizing that these resentments were a tangible trail of toxic breadcrumbs, which I could trace back to my very frequent relapses was a breakthrough in my approach to staying sober.