Wednesday, March 3, 2010
Letting Go of Resentments
"Expectations are premeditated resentments." This saying brought laughter to quite a number of us in rehab. We have this idea that rehabs are full of a lot of skid-row losers, but my experience was the opposite. We had managers, a couple of lawyers, professors, coaches, a doctor, a realtor, and just about every profession you can name in there, all working (except for a few students and a retired millionaire). As working adults with quite a bit of living under our belts, you can imagine how many of us harbored resentments--and one thing to know about an alcoholic is, resentment is one of our biggest triggers.
So we learn to not have expectations (or to at least base them in reality) and we learn to be at peace with the fact that we can't control any outcome. Sure, go ahead and have high hopes, but don't hang your happiness on them. Otherwise, your life will always come crashing down like a house of cards. And you'll pick up again with the false expectation that this will make you feel better.
The Fourth Step asks us to do a searching moral inventory, and this includes looking at all those resentments we hold, the purpose being to let them go. How do you do that? I haven't sat down with my sponsor yet to go through mine, but I've been starting at the beginning and looking at my childhood, and I've been finding it helpful to acknowledge my part in things that happened to me, and to realize that a great many of those childhood injuries were nothing more than blows to my ego.
Here is, perhaps, a silly example, but I still remember it, clear as day, so it must have made some kind of impact on me. It was maybe seventh grade? My best friend at the time, someone who knew my situation at home (another story), actually laughed along with the crowd once when my stepmother made me wear these horrendous bright yellow polyester pants to school three days in a row. The betrayal! God, that hurt.
But, considering it now, what did I expect her to do? Take up for me? She was faced with the same thing I was facing: getting along with everyone else and not being ostracized. Had she taken up for me, they would've made fun of her, too. She chose to protect her own "standing" in the crowd. So what? Is it really reasonable to expect selfless loyalty from an eleven year-old?
Besides, if I hadn't gotten so upset about being picked on, the situation would've ended there--it's no fun to pick on somebody if it rolls off them, right?--but no, I had to get all bent out of shape, which made them hoot and holler at me all the more.
I felt betrayed and humiliated and never quite trusted my friend any more after that because I held on to that resentment as if my life depended on it. Being accepted in the world is the sum total of a child's existence. Back then, it seemed like such an enormously unfair thing to have happened to me. Wearing those pants wasn't MY fault. My friend knew that. How could she join in on the assault?
Yet when all was said and done, it was really only my ego that was wounded. And actually they weren't making fun of ME; they were making fun of the pants. But I didn't want to see that, so I let it stay personal, and so I stayed wounded, and I stayed resentful.
When enough resentments like that pile up and you wind up feeling shitty and scared of life and people and then you discover alcohol....which suddenly makes you feel good! And clever! And cool! And like you fit in with the crowd!....watch out. Already underway were the makings of an alcoholic.
Of course, this is a trivial childhood example, but you get the point. The same holds true for any old thing you get resentful about. Nine times out of ten, there's some kind of expectation you held that got shattered. And the type of injury is almost always related to (1) your self-esteem; (2) your sense of security; (3) a threatened personal relationship; or (4) your own ambitions. And nine times out of ten, there was something you could've done in the situation to also make it better. Once you tease everything out of the situation, take whatever lesson from it that you can, and then you're able to put it down and let it go.
I think my Fourth Step is going to be hundreds of pages long.