Nobody walks into the rooms of recovery with an un-checkered past. Everyone, even those not working a program of addiction recovery, has done things to others that they regret; and conversely been affected by other people's actions to the point of anger and resentment. How one is affected by the efforts of others can dramatically shape your future, impacting how one interacts with others. Sometimes anger can lead to lessons learned and moving forward, a vow to never put oneself in a position to be treated in that way again. Other times, feelings about perceived treatment can linger in toxic ways, forcing one to close oneself off from others or lashing out in irrational ways for extended periods of time.
There isn’t just one way to process anger and resentment, but some ways are healthier than others—to be sure. Whether you are new to addiction recovery, or have been in the rooms for decades, it is absolutely vital that you keep those feelings in check. When compared to said “normal” people, there is a big difference between what happens to people in recovery who hold on to resentments. Even a strong program can be eroded from underneath by the corrosive effects of anger and resentment, failing to keep such feelings in check can have disastrous consequences. There is a good reason for 12-Step meeting houses hanging banners that say, ‘Resentment is the "number one" offender’ from chapter 5 in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous. Ever reminding members that holding on to such things is a slippery slope to relapse.
Letting Go of Resentment
Most addicts and alcoholics have a Ph.D. in holding on to stuff. It is so easy to convince oneself that our problems are not of our own. That somebody else made the bed and now you have to sleep in it. One tries to stuff the perceived wrongdoing deep down into the cavities of one’s mind, but inevitably the feelings will bubble to the surface to be re-lived again. Someone in active addiction will dull such feelings, or attempt to, with drugs or alcohol—and thus perpetuating the cycle of the disease. It is for such reasons that much emphasis in early recovery is placed on addressing one’s anger towards those of one’s past. The Fourth Step is dedicated to first establishing just what we are upset about, so that we can then do something about freeing yourself from it down the road.
In dealing with resentments, we set them on paper. We listed people, institutions or principles with whom we were angry. We asked ourselves why we were angry. In most cases, it was found that our self-esteem, our pocketbooks, our ambitions, our relationships (including sex) were hurt or threatened. So, we were sore. We were ‘burned up.’
Therein lies the crux of anger, and addressing it in recovery. What was my role? Certainly, there are times when people hurt us without cause, and one has a legitimate right to be bothered. But if you fail to let it go, the feeling only hurts you. It’s is often said that resentment is like drinking poison, hoping someone else dies. But they don’t, the alcoholic and addict is the one that pays the price.
Recovery Is A Process
With a clear mind, looking back on where you believed you were wronged almost always reveals that you had a part in the pain felt. Where you once believed that somebody did you wrong, it was actually you that owes an amends. But that comes a little later on in working the steps, to be made at a time that is decided when working with a sponsor.
There will be times that you will struggle to see the value in establishing what you are resentful about and why, especially early on in recovery. Most newcomers avoid the Fourth Step like the plague, and typically not for the reason one would think. It is usually the re-feeling (resent comes from the French word sentir which means to feel) of pain that makes people eschew this most important step, it is that deep down and if one is honest with themselves they come to realize that they are not usually the actual victim in the narrative of reality at the end of the day. But if one fails to act on such realizations, and chooses to ignore it, relapse is usually inevitable.
It may take some time for you to see the value of letting go of anger, but if you are willing to follow direction and take certain steps as people have for almost a century, recovery is possible and with it limitless possibilities. Below is part of a quote relevant to this topic, from the end of a movie, The Upside of Anger:
Anger and resentment can stop you in your tracks. That's what I know now. It needs nothing to burn but the air and the life that it swallows and smothers. It's real, though - the fury, even when it isn't. It can change you... turn you... mold you and shape you into something you're not. The only upside to anger, then... is the person you become. Hopefully someone that wakes up one day and realizes they're not afraid to take the journey, someone that knows that the truth is, at best, a partially told story. That anger, like growth, comes in spurts and fits, and in its wake, leaves a new chance at acceptance, and the promise of calm.