Learning how to let go of resentment can be a real struggle.
Many people struggling come into alcohol or drug addiction treatment with some apprehension:
What will it be like to live without the drug of choice?
What will it be like to attend meetings, participate in therapy sessions, live with other recovering addicts?
What about all the baffling recovery jargon and challenging new ideas to embrace?
It’s a good thing most newcomers aren’t confronted with Step 4 right away, or they just might run!
Of course, by the time they reach Step 4 in the 12-step program, most recovering addicts no longer feel that way.
Often there is a feeling of excitement at doing the ‘fearless moral inventory’ and finally getting our life story off our chests.
There is the desire for absolute honesty as we enumerate the people, places and things that have made us angry, afraid and hurt throughout our lives.
Then we are told that we can’t afford to hold resentment against any of them.
What is Resentment?
Recovery may be the first time we really considered the word ‘resentment’.
After years of numbing out with various substances, we seemed capable of only the most basic emotions: pain, anger, fear.
Yet resentment is distinct from anger: it refers to re-sensing something, repetitively replaying negative events and feelings in our mind such that they consume us.
Although resentment allows us to recall something as freshly as though it happened yesterday, resentment often involves more than a single incident; years of frustration and unresolved issues could be behind it, both with the person involved and with others.
When reliving painful events and feelings, we often feel powerful, as justified anger surges through us; but underneath we know we are helpless, because the offenses lie in the past, where nothing can be changed or undone.
Resentment is More Than Just a Choice Not to Forgive
How many times have we heard the words ‘let it go’, even before we came into recovery?
As if it were that easy!
Many, if not most, recovering addicts and alcoholics have experienced trauma at one point or another in their lives, often in childhood where the wounds are the deepest.
It’s a little trite to urge someone who survived severe childhood abuse to simply ‘let bygones be bygones’; we wouldn’t tell someone bleeding from a head wound to just ‘stop letting that rent space in your head’.
Yet, resentments are dangerous to the recovering addict’s sobriety and peace of mind, and must be dealt with somehow.
Steps to Letting Go of Resentment
While letting go of resentment is an ongoing process, as new resentments will naturally develop throughout our lifetime, much of the excavation can be begun in the Step 4 process.
Here are some steps to letting go:
- Honour the resentment. Don’t let anybody tell you it didn’t happen or it wasn’t important; while we can’t fully trust our addicted thinking, nor are we completely delusional. People have hurt us, it is the human condition. Acknowledge that you were hurt and take the time to journal, without mincing words, how it felt to be hurt, and how it still feels.
- Understand that justice will not come from holding the resentment. As much as we might feel an apology or restitution is owed, can we accept that it will never come…and that even so, we will be loved and happy?
- Believe that with releasing resentment, comes freedom. As the metaphorical ‘jailor’ of the people you resent, you are with them at all times, even in your sleep. Believe it is possible to stop letting them control you and re-injure you over and over: the power lies with you to throw away the key and walk away.
- Commit to stop ruminating about the resentment. This may involve other steps, such as a ceremonial burning of your 4th step inventory sheets, prayers, or cognitive behavioural techniques to break resentment’s addictive hold on you.
If all else fails, make amends. Admitting your own wrongs and trying to set matters straight will give you more compassion for yourself and all mankind…and let you give yourself a break from resentment.