Resentments are built from feelings about stuff that’s past—water over the dam. But we choose to feel the feelings over and over again.

Nurturing a real resentment makes me know how much energy it takes to remain angry and hurt about something.

Since I started taking the 12 steps for my addiction in 2008 I’ve worked hard to root out resentment from my life. I’ve taken seriously the direction to pray to be divorced from self-pity or self-seeking motives. I can see now that this prayer has largely been effective. I’ve lived much of the last year, especially, free of resentment. (Fear is another matter. Still praying to be released from fear)

But something happened about 10 days ago that really made me angry. Somebody stepped on me and made accusations that were entirely false, but whose import and assumptions hurt me a great deal. They hurt because my conduct bears strong witness to the contrary.

Actually they hurt because in order to be OK I need people to recognize that G Is Above Reproach. I know this from having done inventories for the last two-and-a-half years. Bullshit pride. If I were really OK within myself, I wouldn’t need other people to recognize it.

My process is this: I get through the initial crisis real well, I’m calm and centered and even cheerful, I encourage THE OTHER PERSON through their feelings, and they get to a place where they find peace, and they’re soooo grateful to me for helping them! (another part of the pride: I can Fix People) Then after everyone settles down, the hatches are all battened, I start feeling really angry. Because I’ve stuffed my own feelings belowdecks and spent a lot of time taking care of someone else, policing the grounds, and making sure the territory is weapon-free.

When everything calms down, I fall apart.

A very old M.O., learned in a chaotic alcoholic family.

I also come down with actual physical pain, headaches, and terrible exhaustion. I’m insomniac. Which is why I started taking the drugs in the first place. Pain, insomnia, and overwhelming exhaustion. The drugs, I remembered clearly this week (with a kind of clarity that made my mouth water)—they took care of all that. I could plow through the pain and exhaustion and take care of bidness, and Not-Care that I was so angry.

I can see clearly, from my vantage point inside my resentment, the difference between resentment and anger. Anger can be OK, it can tell us when something dangerous or threatening has happened, it can motivate us to positive action, it can be energizing and productive and protective. Resentment is just sickness. It’s just picking a scab. It’s putrefying.

It’s also exhausting to stay angry about something that’s over. It takes a lot of energy.

A psychologist told me recently (I may have mentioned this before; forgive me if I have; it’s something I’ve been thinking about) that children are sort of genetically programmed to keep the family together. I can remember now how many times I did this for my mother. She’d have a fight with my father (clarification: she’d fight with my father; my father would just drink and listen to her fighting) and come back to me crying, complaining about what an insensitive bastard he was, etc. ad nauseam, and I’d listen and calm her down and commiserate and encourage her that things would be OK. Then I’d go to my room and absolutely fall apart. I didn’t know what was happening to me, of course. (I also wasn’t fully cognizant that she talked about me behind my back, too, in the same way she talked about my father) What I thought I knew was that I hated my father and loved my mother. After she died and all her crazy behavior stopped, I came to learn that my father was a very gentle man who hardly ever roused himself to anger—it was my mother who incited him to hit us.

Anyhow. All that is water that’s now downstream. It’s OVER.

Except it has carved paths across my terrain that remain very deeply grooved. Every day is a choice to behave in a different way, to FIND a different path, to take steps down this path, to be guided by something more powerful and healing than this sickness.

I had trouble writing my gratitude list last night. Another consequence of resentment: the withering of gratitude. Today I am grateful for:

  • the cloudy sky
  • good friends
  • the hug my son gave me when he first got up this morning
  • watching a movie with my family last night
  • my flower garden
  • my daily bread
  • hot tea
  • my comfortable bed
  • my sobriety
  • this blog, which helps me let things go—and for your willingness to read

What are you grateful for?