We can see ourselves in the anger we feel toward others
RESENTMENTS are ruin. Backed-up anger can give us a bad depression; explosive anger can make us say or do things we will regret. Resentment that is allowed to fester can become an obsession and make us nervously unstable. Retaliation and revenge will harm us as much as they harm the other person, if not more, because engaging in private warfare will simply aggravate the situation and prolong it indefinitely.
Often, we resent something the other fellow never intended as an offense. But a button has been pushed. Something out of the past that hurt us when we were young has been stirred up again, and we react at a five-year-old level. When we were five, we were helpless and didn’t know how to assert ourselves, so we curled up or flew into rages. We feared punishment, and sometimes we were punished without knowing why. Continued scolding made us feel unworthy.
This sense of unworthiness can be very deep-seated, and it may take some of us who are working the program a long time to achieve a comfortable sense of well-being, self-acceptance, and self-confidence. During the years of my sobriety, I have worked very hard on this. Yet I can still vacillate between extremes: Prey to feelings of insecurity and self-debasement, I go around being false and sweet, muted and withdrawn; or, turning angry and indignant, I want to write letters to the local paper (I never have) or tell somebody off (alas, this I have done).
Now, AA has taught me that I can gradually diminish these nonsensical extremes. I don’t have to be either a passive swamp or an active volcano. The past does not have to condition me irrevocably. All right, my early environment may have given me quite a bunch of character defects, but they are somewhat remediable.
What is forgiveness? It is wishing the other person well. So self-forgiveness means wishing yourself well. When I think of people out of my past who hurt me, I pray that they will be happy, that they can have all the validly good things I want for myself. I want them to have insight, guidance, and serenity, wherever they are. As for the people I’ve hurt, when I am unable to make direct amends, I pray that whatever trouble I caused them has been dissolved.
At first, I didn’t mean it, and my prayers bounced back at me like rubber balls; but gradually, they have taken effect. I have come to see that when I was put down in my youth, it was because the people doing it didn’t like themselves. Hostility caused by anger at oneself is often projected onto the handiest target, and in praying for this person, one is getting rid of blame on both sides. Even if the other person is dead and gone, I think prayer still works.
As I slowly change these ancient attitudes, I find that contemporary resentments are easier to handle. I know that I can talk them over with a fellow AA and gain some valuable insights. In helping other people overcome their resentments, I can see myself in them, and this helps me. Recently, an AA gal came over to see me, absolutely boiling with rage. A certain person had done this and had said that. I let her go on for a while, because I thought she ought to get it all out. Then I told her that there had been a death in the other person’s family–someone who had been very close. Grief can make us resentful at life, and we strike out at the first opportunity. My friend immediately understood, and the whole thing was over.
A few years ago, I had a resentment against a man in my group. He would cross the room to give me a little dig. I responded with sarcasm, and he loved it. He kept it up. I did some reflecting and praying and came up with the idea that I reminded him of his dear old mother. Well, I wasn’t going to be a stand-in for anybody’s problem mother! As soon as my anger evaporated, he stopped attacking me, and now we are very friendly.
As for being slighted or ignored, I’ve made a little progress here, too. If I am reasonably comfortable with myself, it doesn’t matter that someone else is busy or preoccupied and is not, for the moment, paying any particular attention to me. If my equanimity is functioning, I don’t have to be reassured every hour on the hour. I don’t have to be included in every gathering. My self-esteem cannot be permanently fed from the outside. No amount of companionship, reassurance, or loving attention will make me like myself if I don’t. Self-acceptance is an inside job, and even orchids and proposals of marriage once a week, even a squab on a silver plate served by someone who will then read aloud to me, won’t do a bit of good. I have to know that I deserve to help others and do nice things for them, that I deserve to be mature and responsible, that I have an inalienable right to handle anger, fear, and depression. I have to know that I am entitled to grow in the program.
Every day, I try to enjoy what the day brings. There are almost always some good things if you stop to think about it. A bad day or a bad stretch of time usually has some compensations. Sometimes, I write out a list of the good things that have been happening. In this way, I find quite a few that I might have overlooked. It’s hard to be resentful and grateful at the same time.
When I am serene and functioning fairly well, instead of chewing on some resentment or self-resentment, my awareness expands and it is a joy to be alive in my world, living the day instead of living through it, working with satisfaction, sharing pleasant hours with others. I can assert myself without becoming angry. I can express myself good-naturedly without fear of retaliation.
If I had not found AA, I would be drinking, cursing, hating myself, and hating the world. The chances are, though, that I would have departed this world, and then perhaps I’d be drinking, cursing, fighting, and kicking on some other plane of existence.
Needless to say, I am grateful for my sobriety and for AA, which has given me the golden tool kit.