Resentment: Number One Offender – Grapevine Article March 1978 By J.H.

She found out to her surprise that she could learn to cope with

WHEN I FIRST started going to AA, I was convinced that I really didn’t have as much of a drinking problem as I had parent, children, job, and no-husband problems. If all those areas were to get straightened out, then I was sure all would be well in my life. This is so familiar to me now, as I hear alcoholics saying the same thing over and over. So easy to see now, but impossible then.

I was sure of one thing: that I was probably the most charming, delightful person I had ever known. At the meetings, I heard AA members talk about things like resentment, bad attitudes, and acceptance; but, since I was perfect and didn’t have a problem, they certainly weren’t talking about anything even remotely concerning me.

I had gone to AA meetings off and on for about ten years, and never stayed sober (dry) for more than eight or nine months at a time. Not drinking was easy when it was convenient for me, but when the “new girl in the club” status wore off, or boredom set in, I was off and running again. What I didn’t realize until much later was that each time I slipped, the circumstances in my life became more depressing and I sank further into the pit of hopelessness.

At last, the day came when my pain was sufficient, my anger great enough, and my humility strong enough for me to say, “I quit” (and mean it). I came straggling back to AA, with wounds, literal and figurative (it took a stabbing to get my attention), and humiliation. I had been there so many times before. I was worried that I was going to be one of those for whom it was not going to work.

There was a new girl in the club; she had one month of sobriety. Her name was Mary. She was tall and brunette and had a college education–all the wrong attributes, as far as I was concerned. Mary would hit the front door of our club spouting the Big Book by chapter and verse. She was quoting things I had never heard of. But she quoted them with an air of conviction. She came across as a know-it-all. My resentment level grew and grew. Finally, my good sense came to my rescue. The way to catch Mary in her mistakes and lies, the way to show her up, was for me to read the Big Book.

So read it I did. This time, I started at the front. I had read many of the stories in the back while at home drinking, congratulating those poor folks for having found such a wonderful way of life. What a shame that they weren’t like me–perfect.

I am still amazed at the manner in which I finally learned my lesson about resentment. The first sentences in the Big Book that caught my imagination, and the first I identified with, were “Resentment is the ‘number one’ offender. It destroys more alcoholics than anything else.” As I read this, I suddenly realized what my stumbling block had been: I resented everybody and everything.

The next part of the lesson occurred as a result of listening to my sponsor. At the close of the meetings, while saying the Lord’s Prayer, I became conscious of the fact that she would remain silent while the words “as we forgive those who trespass against us” were spoken. One day I asked her about this, and she replied, “I’m not going to forgive the s.o.b.’s.” Intuitively, I knew I needed another sponsor. I had to learn how to forgive. The sad part of this story is that my old sponsor went back to pills and then booze. The last I heard, she was going from halfway house to alcohol center still trying to get help.

The next link in the chain of events was when I decided to take over the management of our meeting, a self-appointed assignment. Someone had asked a minister to come speak at an open meeting. A person whom I didn’t even like had remarked that ministers should not be allowed to talk at AA meetings. Since it was an issue, and there was a standard to bear, I started contributing to the angry feelings and yelling about ministers talking at our club.

Came the night of the meeting, and I sat as close to the door of the meeting room as I could, so I could leave easily enough, in case the minister became too much to bear. I had pretty well shut him out by doing some creative (?) daydreaming. Suddenly, I was brought back to the present by noticing that he was shaking his finger. My first thought was “See, I could have told you so. All you preachers know to do is to shake your fingers in people’s faces.” Then I heard what he was saying: “If any of you are harboring resentment and pointing your fingers at others, remember there are three fingers pointing back at you.”

I’m positive I had heard that saying before. However, when it was coupled with the other things that had been happening in my life, for the first time I took it to heart and applied it to myself.

Next, I started a campaign to impress all the old-timers with how well I was doing in the program. However, when I started getting some good information, I became serious. I would canvass people in the club asking, “What did you do to get rid of your resentments?” Several suggested, “Go to the person you resented the most and ask them that question.”

John H. was the man I resented the most. He was also the person who made the last (I hope) Twelfth Step call on me. I went up to John and said, “John, what did you do about your resentments?”

He replied, “If I were you, Jo Ann, I would go to the person I resented the most” (surprise!–I was already there), “stick out my hand, put a smile on my face, and say, ‘Hi, my name’s Jo Ann, and I’m glad to see you.'”

Was I overwhelmed! John hadn’t read my script. I was positive he had never done anything about his resentments, and I had planned, after he had admitted to doing nothing, to give him some friendly advice. But here he was, offering me a suggestion that many others had given me–and furthermore, one that seemed to work.

I had made a decision to go to any length to get what AA had. So I stuck out my hand, smiled, and said, “Hi, my name’s Jo Ann, and I’m glad to see you.”

Well, surprise of surprises. John grabbed me in a bear hug and said, “Jo Ann, it is such a joy to have you as a member of this club.”

For probably the first time in my life, I was aware of receiving love for fun and for free. John knew of my resentment and my many verbal attacks upon his family and his integrity. But here he was giving me a hug and meaning it. Wow, a real turnaround day in my life!

I would like to say that in the past ten sober years I have not had a resentment, but that’s not true. What I do have, however, is an ability to get over them–a plan that works. Honesty, open-mindedness, and willingness–the HOW of how my program works.

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