Another journey through Step Four helped him let go of old resentments—and the first one began with Mom
Resentment is a bitch. But it can also turn out to be a gift in disguise. That’s what has happened to me a couple of times, in powerful ways, and I’m just now beginning to understand and appreciate.
I recently started my Steps again with a new sponsor on the other side of the country, where I live part of the time. My longtime sponsor here in the east suggested I think about going through them again with someone else. He wasn’t firing me. We get to have as many sponsors as we need or want.
So my new Step sponsor got me through the first three Steps in a series of long, heart-changing and, frankly, amazing conversations. We took about two hours per Step. It was all very old school, one drunk helping another. It seemed so much simpler than I’d experienced before. Not necessarily easier, but simpler.
I asked about moving on to Step Four. I was expecting a worksheet, instructions, directions and assignments. She said, “Do the Fourth Step just like it says in the Big Book.” And there it all was in the Big Book. “Oh,” she added, “and when you do your resentments list start with your parents. For most of us they’re kind of always there.”
My mother is always first—in all things, quite frankly. She was beautiful and talented and frustrated and angry and creative and productive—and often sedated. When a woman in 50s and 60s America had a lot of strong opinions and dreams, what she often got was a bottle of sedatives, also known as “mother’s little helper.” And she drank.
We didn’t have booze in the house generally, except for that old bottle of scotch my father kept for emergencies. It was awful and probably the only liquor I never learned to like. So Mom snuck sherry and port into the kitchen cupboards, ostensibly for cooking.
In our family there was usually a little wine at the larger gatherings, but Mom was sure to be unsatisfied with that, so she loaded up before the party started, planning to have a public “glass or two” at the event. We discovered this ploy when one time she miscalculated and passed out face first on the lawn on her way into the party.
I spent many long nights soothing her weeping heart, listening to her tales of frustration and regret, being her best friend. Later I found out in various ways that she was not my best friend. That’s when my first major resentment was born, and it blossomed in the bottom of a glass of (better) scotch for years.
Recently, I realized that the skills that go into being the best friend of someone who isn’t my best friend were the foundation of my first real and significant professional successes. As a consultant, I started working with high-strung, talented people. I helped them by being their best friend, advisor and confidant while all they gave me was money. Sometimes I found it hurtful, but it worked really well and propelled me professionally. And now I get to choose not to do those things. And I’m much more at peace with my mother because of those experiences. She’s been gone a decade and it’s amazing how much better we’re getting along now.
When I got sober I had a huge fear of having to give up my entire career. There’s a lot of alcohol in my business world and I just couldn’t see how I might navigate, stay sober and still do my job. I started to resent my sobriety big time, and at the same time I became willing to do anything not to die. I was humiliated. Sure I’d have to be willing to go all the way back to do what I did in my 20s and work behind a counter for an hourly wage. That was not what I wanted, but I’d worked so hard at that age and learned so much. It was not what I wanted, but I was ready to go to those lengths. I was resentful as all get out, but ready.
Not long ago, I gave training and education seminars to 400 people for a huge company. I spoke about the very basic principles of that work I did behind the counter so many years before. At a nice, high hourly fee I was indeed back to my business beginnings, but in a significantly new and better way. It was my sobriety that made it possible and helped me to enjoy the experience. In that way, another resentment bit the dust.
As I was being introduced at the seminar where I spoke, the woman who brought me in to the client said that while he was very practiced and knowledgeable in many other parts of the business, she’d been frustrated by how difficult it was to teach herself what I’d been able to impart in our first 10 minutes together. As I was relating this story during a qualification at a favorite AA group in a nearby town, I suddenly teared up.
That’s exactly what AA has done for me. It taught me, sometimes in just a few moments, through the heartfelt words of experience, strength and hope of other sober drunks, how to live my life in the way I’d spent years trying to teach myself to do without success.
Now, I’m watchful for other resentments that might have a surprise treasure buried somewhere deep inside. And, as ever, I’m extremely grateful to AA for giving me a new life filled with the joys of seeing things in other, better ways.