­­Are you holding onto anger towards someone? I have been and  it is a lot of work to continually remind myself why I am angry, how they hurt me, how amazing I am for enduring unfairness. The nursing of wrath is exhausting, which in itself adds another check in the “poor me” column.

I knew that this was not helping my recovery process at all. Facing and releasing resentments is an important component in healing our addictive thinking patterns. Being hurt and angry all the time fuels the need to numb and escape by drinking, so the thirsty brain will lock into destructive patterns in order to subconsciously perpetuate the cycle. I get it. I see it. I worked on it and cleared away many obstacles.

But man, some people just so deserve to be resented! They just keep repeating the same asshat maneuvers; so predictable that often they don’t even have to say anything at all. I can sense their disrespect and I know without hearing it that they’re going to speak badly of me the moment I leave the room. They drop those hints, just trying to poke at me. It never fails. I always leave upset.

Truly toxic relationships need reconsidering, but what about the grey area before toxic? How do we handle the key people in our lives that are upsetting yet vital?

I’ve grown so much as a result of working through recovery, and yet I just kept bumping into this particular situation. After patiently listening to my bitter complaints, a dear friend suggested I see a counselor who could help devise a better approach.

Within a few sessions, I was seeing things in a whole new way. My old habit of “expectation” was a big part of the problem, because I have changed so much and was expecting others to engage with me on my new terms – not just as a non-drinker but also at a new level of honesty, respect and loyalty. The problem is, they aren’t on this journey. They haven’t changed at all, and I know that. So why then would I expect them to be different than they are? Perhaps it was that part of my brain that wants a reason to suffer and an excuse to comfort.

If it’s a mistake to expect them to understand me, should I then just prepare to be wounded? That’s the opposite approach, but that doesn’t make it the antidote. Bracing for someone to hurt us only leads to resentment if they don’t, or sends us looking for slights that didn’t exist.

What has helped me is shifting my expectation to a specific goal: I am here to show kindness. I am here to bring joy. I am here to be respectful. Those things I can control, even if the kindness, joy or respect I bring are not well received or even noticed.

This was all positive but I kept going back to each therapy session with a “yah, but….” which always boiled down to the same question: “It still hurts. How do I learn to live with the pain?”

The answer came as epiphanies do – not in a therapy session but unexpectedly, perhaps as the cumulative result several sessions. I was driving in my car and listening to “The Dr Jenn Show” when I heard something that made my brain PING.

In paraphrase, Dr Jenn told the caller, “When you change how you interact with other people, you change your life profoundly and forever.”

That’s when it hit me – I shouted with joy! I can stop asking how to live with the pain because the purpose of changing my approach is to stop creating pain in the first place.

I don’t control other’s actions, only my own REACTION.

I knew this intellectually but I have never felt the truth of it so powerfully. I get to live the rest of my life free from this burden! I can set it down, step over it, and still engage with people I care about even though our old patterns are messed up.

The small changes I have made in my thinking are coming together to effect giant shifts. Each time another piece lumbers into place I feel relief in areas that I didn’t even realize were hurting.

The future looks bright.