“Unforgiveness is like drinking poison yourself and waiting for the other person to die.”
You may have heard variations of this quote from Marianne Williamson in recovery circles, and for a good reason. Poison is the best way to describe unforgiveness, which leads to resentment.
Resentment, defined, means “a feeling of indignant displeasure or persistent ill will at something regarded as a wrong, insult, or injury.” Resentment encompasses other emotions such as anger, fear, distrust, and anxiety and these emotions consume the entire being.
While holding onto resentments is unhealthy for anyone, they especially put a recovering addict at risk for relapse. In fact, Alcoholics Anonymous’ Big Book states that “Resentment is the ‘number one’ offender. It destroys more alcoholics than anything else.”
Not only do resentment and anger go hand-in-hand, but they are also addictions. Letting go of resentments is vital to a successful recovery, tackling resentments means you must first discover the origins, and this takes some honest, objective, and strategic reflection.
Discovering the Root of Resentments
Letting go of resentments means first taking time to dissect each one to see where the root lies. This process can be time-consuming, but the realizations that come are well worth the work.
It is helpful to sit down and make a list of all the resentments you hold, no matter how trivial they may seem. If it takes up space in your mind and zaps your energy, write it down. However, write down what happened—the facts only.
After you have your list, take each incident and carefully identify how you may have contributed to the situation you are resentful about. The goal is to ask, what was my part in this? How did my actions contribute to what happened?
Sometimes you will see that you played no part in your resentments. You did nothing wrong in the situation, and you were truly wronged by another.
However, as you dig deep, you will notice that you may have had a part in the cause of some of your resentments, and once you realize the part you played, you may see your perspective change.
Share Your Resentments with Someone You Trust
Sharing your resentments with someone else and talking them through can be a game-changer in the process of letting them go. In support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous, it is common to form a trusted relationship with a sponsor, a safe person to talk with and work through the 12 steps.
Many people prefer talking to a friend, family member, or a pastor. The bottom line is to share your feelings about your resentments with someone else and talk through each one. Often, the other person can be objective and help you see the situations clearly.
Change Your Perspective
Henry David Thoreau once said, “It’s not what you look at that matters; it’s what you see.”
Changing your perspective towards your resentments will not happen overnight, but you can get there. After you have let your feelings surrounding the resentments out in the open and processed what happened, make a commitment to change how you feel about them.
Changing your thoughts is the first step. When the negative feelings arise (and they will), combat them immediately with your new perspective. For example, if anger starts to rise when you think about someone in your life, remind yourself that you have dealt with that issue and you are choosing not to let it take up space in your mind.
Forgive yet Remember
We often hear the phrase “forgive and forget,” and while it seems so simple, the truth is, it’s impossible to actually forget past harms. Even further, by simply trying to forget, you are not processing the pain, which is essential in order to heal from it.
Forgiveness does not mean forgetting what took place. It is also not excusing the offence, and it does not mean that you should not feel hurt and angry. Forgiveness also does not require the offender to ask for forgiveness; in fact, it has nothing to do with the offender at all.
Instead, forgiveness is a conscious act to let go of past hurts to free yourself. It starts with acknowledging that someone has done something wrong to you and process the painful emotions. Feel them but then make a decision to let them go. This is hardly ever a one-time process, and it usually takes time to actually feel the freedom of forgiveness.
What some in recovery don’t realize until they go through this process is that they hold resentments against themselves. Often, they will spend time forgiving and freeing themselves from resentments in regards to others, but then they still feel they are not free.
Don’t forget to release any resentments you may have against yourself. This may be harder than forgiving other people, so be kind to yourself and realize it’s a process, but once you do it, you will feel peace and freedom.
The point is not to forgive and forget, but to forgive and remember without pain.
The poison of resentments will hold you captive, and it is impossible to find peace and happiness while ruminating over past wrongs. Forgiveness and releasing resentments is never easy, but it will transform your life and solidify your sobriety. You will feel a sense of unexplainable freedom and never want to lose it again.