Resentment & Forgiveness

I have been in 12 step programs since 1985. I have over 20 years sober from alcohol, 14.5 years back to back abstinence from compulsive eating, and 3.5 years back to back abstinence from compulsive debting and spending.

Over these years, I have worked the steps more times than I can remember, formally and informally. Since coming back into DA in 2009, I do daily writing on steps and other issues, and am currently on Step 4. I do a formal Step 10 analysis daily that I read to my sponsor, and try to attend to any building anger as it happens, so that it doesn’t grow into a screaming resentment, and do my best to take responsibility for my actions as they occur to prevent the need for apology later or to apologize for my part quickly.

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So why, why, why am I finding myself so filled with resentment over my ex-husband (and his other ex-wife)? Worse, why do I insist on dumping this information on my son, who makes it clear to me time and again that he doesn’t care, but instead prefers a relationship with his father than to harbor resentment.

I am deliberately NOT going to tell you the details of why I feel this way, as that is simply more self-justification and righteous indignation to do so, a way to stir the pot under the guise of getting the facts out. That is not what recovery teaches me (though, of course, I know you would take my side if you know the truth! ha ha ha).

My family is filled with grudge-holders (my father died refusing to make peace with his son after a ridiculous 25 year war over money, among other decades-long grudges with relatives and friends over perceived slights, etc., by my late mother as well) and I insisted I would never be like them. Yet, here I am. Carrying on the nonsense of the previous generation.

I chose to make peace with my father, a bitter, critical, man, who really didn’t much like me. However, through recovery, I was able to do a 9th step, taking responsibility for my part and making amends to him, and by doing so, we had a far better relationship for the last 10 years of his life than at any previous time.

But the feelings I still have about my ex and his other ex continue to adversely impact me when they bubble up into my consciousness. Trust me, I have prayed for them, done steps 4-9 on them multiple times, everything that is suggested. Yet, when memories get stirred up, they are as alive and kicking as if they were in front of me skewering me with a switchblade.

Feelings are not facts. If I feel pain today about what either of them did 10 years ago, five years ago, or five days ago, it is just me choosing to live in misery, since neither of them has been in my life for years.

I thought I was ok with all this. But it came roiling up because my son is about to graduate college … in six months. Yet, I already started worrying about how to handle the post-graduation dinner with his father. Talk about not living in today.

My husband suggested asking my son what he wanted to do. And in doing so, the pain my son feels about this cold war was apparent. He really wants me to make peace. But the moment I blurted out information that he didn’t need to know about the situation was the moment when I realized I still have a huge problem with this … and it’s not only impacting me but causing me to hurt the person I love most in the world.

My son continues to insist he doesn’t care and that his relationship with his father is more important than anything he might have done (just as I said about my father). And he told me that it is up to me to open my heart to forgive him.

Does forgiveness mean I have to let this man into my life, knowing that he deliberately pushes my buttons when I don’t push them myself? Where do boundaries end and co-dependency begin?

It feels dysfunctional for today to make the call to my ex. The sick part of me would love to engage, but it would be a war between us.

I think that when I truly have forgiveness in my soul, I will be able to speak to my son’s father with genuine kindness and without reacting to any button-pushing at all. As the Big Book says on page 101, we can go into a bar if we have good reason to be there. So, I can interact with this man in a loving way for the sake of our son, but only when I am spiritually fit.

It seems a tall order to me. Yet, if I want to walk the walk and not just talk the talk, it is not an optional effort. As the Big Book says about resentment on page 66:

It is plain that a life which includes deep resentment leads only to futility and unhappiness. To the precise extent that we permit these, do we squander the hours that might have been worth while. But with the alcoholic, whose hope is the maintenance and growth of a spiritual experience, this business of resentment is infinitely grave. We found that it is fatal. For when harboring such feelings we shut ourselves off from the sunlight of the Spirit. The insanity of alcohol returns and we drink again. And with us, to drink is to die.

If we were to live, we had to be free of anger. The grouch and the brainstorm were not for us. They may be the dubious luxury of normal men, but for alcoholics these things are poison.

It does seem so simple in theory. Yet, in practice, how to remove these destructive feelings? I guess it’s like the layers of the onion. Maybe this time through the Steps these resentments will finally be peeled off for good.

I don’t have a choice about whether or not to keep working on this issue and turning it over. The fact is, we can’t ignore resentments away. They just burrow deeper. What I know for sure is that:

    • Resentment feels dark and corrosive and painful, destroying everything in its path … and forgiveness feels light and joyous and freeing.
    • Resentment kills other relationships as collateral damage … and forgiveness heals.
    • Resentment causes me to feel insane and to take actions that are counter to my recovery … and forgiveness brings me closer to my Higher Power and a spiritual peace.
    • Resentment causes addicts to pick up to try and shut out the pain … and forgiveness grows a grateful heart that stays sober.

There is a road to recovery and a road to relapse. Each time we come to a fork in that road, we can make a choice. So, for today, if you find yourself overwhelmed with resentment, stop a moment and think about which path you’re going to follow. And remember that taking “Relapse Road” has few u-turns.

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