The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) states, "Resentment is the number one offender. It destroys more alcoholics than anything else." Why? When you dwell on a resentment, you are gathering evidence to confirm and justify our feelings. You could even be thinking about ways to “get back” at the person who wronged you. You might even fool yourself into believing that feeding the resentment—keeping it alive and thriving—is somehow productive and useful.
You may have heard some version of the saying, “Holding onto resentments is like drinking poison and hoping the other person dies.” This is especially true for someone with addiction because, with much brain space dedicated to ruminating about the resentment, recovery suffers to varying degrees.
We recommend trying some of the suggestions below to help ensure you’re handling the resentment in a healthy way:
- Learn and practice the Serenity Prayer*: This is an intentional expression of your willingness to receive help from your higher power in accepting what you cannot change (i.e. the behavior of others).
- Write a letter. Get the resentment out of your head and onto paper. Share exactly why you’re bothered and how the resentment has impacted you. Then, shred it or burn it to symbolize your willingness to let the resentment go.
- Pray* for the “offender”: Incorporate a daily prayer for this person. By mentally shifting your perspective from one of bitterness and revenge to one of hope for the "offender's" wellbeing, you are intentionally reframing the situation/choosing to transmit positive energy.
- Allow time-limited anger. Set a timer for 10 minutes where you are allowed to stew and ruminate about the resentment. When the time is up, choose to shift your attention and energy to doing something that matters to you and adds value to your life.
- Work a 12-Step Program like AA or Narcotics Anonymous. Step Four can be especially helpful in sorting out the resentment’s cause/s and how you might have played a role.
- Talk to a trusted friend, sponsor or member of your support group. Briefly venting frustrations (and receiving validation) can be cathartic. (But be careful not to do this excessively because it will simply just add to the anger).
- Help someone else. There’s often no better way to “get outside” of yourself than to focus your energy on lessening another person’s problems. Take a quick look around and you’re bound to find many ways to be of service to others.
*Note that prayer is an intentional expression for help but does not require a belief in any specific God. Prayer can be directed toward a higher power of your own choosing.
It is what you choose to do about the resentment that will determine whether you’re adding fuel to its fire or extinguishing its flames. Choose wisely!