Sobriety is pretty straightforward but recovery can be tricky.
Sobriety is straight up, black and white: Don’t drink.
Recovery is vague and ongoing: Get it* together (wherein * denotes a moving target).
I’m not complaining. Sobriety and recovery have changed my life for the better x infinity. But I can’t help finding amusement in the process. There’s no end of resources to help us get to the asterisked it and chisel away.
I got sober my own little way, an example of patchwork recovery in the truest sense, looking into programs like Smart Recovery, Alcoholics Anonymous, LifeRing, and more, plus devouring the blogs that existed at that time (the “quit lit” category had yet to explode and resources were scattered).
I looked at the principles each method suggested and picked a few things to try. I was particularly intrigued by Step Four of the Twelve Steps, curious as to why it was an essential part of recovery. The step itself as it is described by the program sounds a little vague:
Fourth Step…a searching moral inventory….huh…?
But then somewhere along the way – A blog comment? A tweet? A meme? – someone referred to the Fourth Step as a list of resentments.
I knew right away that this was a recovery goldmine for me.
I never thought about my redhot pokers of righteous indignation as resentments before. I thought that being right made them okay, better than okay. Positive. A little virtuous even.
So wait now. I need to figure out the things I am right about that piss me off, and somehow release them, and that will help me feel better?
Exciting and a little terrifying.
Can I do this and still be “right”?
Here’s the deal. Recovery is all about figuring out the things that make us feel uncomfortable and undoing them, so that we don’t have to numb out to tolerate the world.
Even when justified, resentments are uncomfortable. Being right made me feel safe from an imagined force, a whole other category of healing that would undo itself in the process.
The first thing that came to mind when I considered the weight of my resentments was my over-reaction to missionaries at my door. In my community, it is not unusual to be interrupted at home by a surprise visit from strangers who ring the doorbell and proceed to tell you why you ought to join their church. I minored in theology in university and have a decent understanding of world religions, including the history of the particular culprits that rely on doorknocking as a method of outreach/retention.
The only thing worse than disagreeing with someone who waves off facts as if they’re trivial is to feel ambushed by the discussion.
Doodeedoodeedoo vacuuming my house, got this day under control…and ding dong. Oh, let me just drop what I’m doing and take a moment to defend my spiritual beliefs.
The idea of not answering the door or just telling them “not today” had never occurred to me. (Later I’d learn another handy recovery cliche, “You don’t have to attend every fight you’re invited to.”)
To realized that I felt responsible to singlehandedly take down faulty theology was a revelation. Releasing myself from the obligation was a gift. I was carrying the weight of the world on my shoulders without even knowing it!
The relief was so spectacular that I got busy looking for other things to let go of. Big and small. I was casting my cares like a nymph sewing wildflowers. Slow drivers! Litterbugs! People who say ‘irregardless’! Let it be, Jean. Let it be.
It’s become a healthy habit now, catching myself in resentment mode and pulling back from it. And it can be startling, to say the least, to lift the rock on these things.
I regularly have to back myself down from stupid things that my brain wants to get upset about, like women with the great fortune to be named Jennifer – a beautiful THREE-SYLLABLE name – who downgrade it willingly to “Jenn”. As someone whose spent her life with a boring old four-letter, one-syllable J name, it pains me to call anyone “Jenn” when there is an option to say Jennifer. No other name shortening bothers me except the Jennifer to Jenn thing. Obviously this is about me, not them, or I’d be saying the same about John, Josh, and Jess.
As the former owner of a coffee house, I will patiently explain to you the difference between a latte and a cappuccino, and why an espresso drink has much less caffeine than drip coffee, but may the angels be on the side of any barista who asks me what size I’d like my (beloved) Flat White.
There is only one size. There should only ever be one size.
Don’t get me started.
I literally went to the doctor for medication when I couldn’t stop obsessing about this non-issue-issue. It’s been three years now and happily the Flat White Thing has been downgraded from symptom-of-mental-health-crisis to identified-resentment-in-process. I’m off the meds and handling Starbucks like a champ.
The biggest trick in getting the jump on resentments is to take a hard look at expectations, and the stories we tell ourselves about what happened, what matters, and who we are.
I had a great chat with Ellie Strong on the Bubble Hour recently and this topic came up. Listeners of the podcast will recognize Ellie’s name immediately as the founder and original host of the show. Her warm voice and thoughtful perspective endear her to everyone who listens, so please be sure to check out the interview.
Let me know if you’ve stumbled across quirky resentments of your own, and what you’ve learned about yourself as a result.
PS – Please visit the new website I created to house all my endeavours in one place. It’s part of the next step for me, which is to find a literary agent with an interest in recovery-related fiction who can help get my novel published. If this sounds like someone in your sphere of influence, please send them to jeanmccarthy.ca .