Resentments and Recovery

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: 

resentments in recovery

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.

Bingo!

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 .

20 comments

  1. As my recovery continues onto day 934 I am so grateful. As a adult survivor of childhood incest working through resentments was top priority. As I worked through my resentments on the other side I found compassion. I became a compassionate person who could see others point of view. It was life changing. I appreciate all the bloggers open in sharing their stories, like you. It has inspired to start my own blog. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Dear VegasRN- it’s hard. I’m not going to lie. My husband also drinks and we have children and it’s hard to stay sober when things get stressful. I wanted to write to share some things that are currently working for me – deep breathing, yoga, going to the gym. This is my second shot at sobriety and last time I said I’d exercise when things got tough and to fill my time but I didn’t. I also saw a therapist last time which was very helpful. Many of her tips can be found online but I was accountable and it was so great to have someone to talk to. This time I’m actually following through on using exercise and breathing to get through the stress. I’m going to bed early and taking naps. Being rested helps fight urges and keeps your resolve. I also remind myself that the kids need a parent – one of us has to be healthy so there’s that. Oh and I read as many of these blogs everyday as I can. This one in particular keeps me on the right path and I very much thank the writer of Unpickled for responding to all messages I’ve ever sent when I needed support. We are all in this together. ❤️

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  3. Sorry, this is gonna be a little long…
    I am not you. When I first started reading your blog, I immediately saw myself in you. But as I went along, I started to see all of the differences.

    I am not a public figure. I am not overly successful in my field. Although I am a perfectionist, I prefer to always hide in the shadows.

    And yet, so much of the struggle that you talk about resonates so strongly with me. I understand the urge coming on at 3 PM…I understand all of the excuses…It was a bad day…It was a good day.

    I am at the point where I want to stop. However, I’ve been at that point for more years than I can count.

    I am still in the clear. I haven’t screwed up too bad, or at least not where it’s been documented officially.

    I have escaped abuse, overcome struggle, and reached some very difficult goals that I set for myself.

    I hate waking up tired and puffy. I am ashamed of how many hours I waste drinking myself to the bottom of the bottle. There are so many things that I miss out with, with my children. Not the big moments, I’m always there for those. But the small moments. The quiet and simple moments that I will never remember because they were all in a fog.

    I think my biggest problem right now is contemplating losing the tiny little bit of fabulousness that I have left. Wine gives us that sense of just being a little bit better than we really feel we are, amirite???!!!

    Before I separated from the father of my children, we had a relatively good life on paper. We were able to, against all odds, purchase a home at an amazing price (equity already in it) with a pool and a beautiful backyard. We had a baby on the way, friends and family that wanted to celebrate with us, and just so much hopefulness ahead of us.

    As the years progressed, he being a much more significantly challenged alcoholic than I, we lost many of those people that were close to us and things begin to deteriorate.

    I am now three years post separation from him… after 13 years of dysfunction, a lot of which was directly related to alcohol consumption.

    I am at a place in my life where I should feel proud. I successfully navigated nursing school through all of the difficult relationship and drinking problems that were occurring all at the same time. I am now a single mother and I successfully take care of both my children without any child support assistance. I should be very proud of myself.

    But I know that I drink too much. And there have been a couple occasions in the last year where I have even called out of work because of a nasty hangover. And I know that my kids know that there is something wrong. They already saw the devastation that their father could cause as a result of alcohol, and they watch me teetering on the brink and I am certain that is a very fearful place for them to be.

    I have to do better.

    But as a single mom, on a very dedicated budget structured only to meet our primary needs and some minor bonuses for the children from time to time( oh and of course my own monthly consumption of dollars in wine), I feel really limited in the outlets available to me that can replace the “job” that my wine does. I absolutely realize that all of this sounds like an excuse. And maybe it is. I could certainly save a lot more money that could be put towards positive experiences with the kids (even if I still won’t be able to afford tickets to major league games), if I cut alcohol out of the budget.

    Anyways, tomorrow will be day one, again. I have four more days of vacation time, at home, before I have to go back to work. I plan on using them to destress and connect with the kids. I expect there will be a lot of anxiety, but I suppose expecting it is the first step in addressing it. Wish me luck.

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    • Hi VegasRN, I’m so glad you posted. Some thoughts about what you’ve written.

      You are strong, very strong to get through everything you describe. Alcohol was a crutch that helped you through it and the confusing thing about that is that it works at first so we keep drinking and by the time it becomes clear that it’s doing more harm than good, the physical and mental dependency has reached a point where it’s hard to stop, and the cycle continues.

      Over time, we become so conditioned to alcohol that we forget all the other things that are soothing, pleasurable, comforting. But they’re still there.

      It takes a while to retrain your brain to recognize and respond to other pleasures. 8 years ago, if you handed me a mug of herbal tea after dinner I’d want to throw it against the wall. It made me feel angry, actually angry with the tea for not being alcohol. Now as soon as the dishes are done after dinner, the only thing I want is a tea and my jammie’s. That took some time.

      Be gentle and patient with yourself. I love this quote:

      “The poison leaves bit by bit, not all at once. Be patient. You are healing.”
      Yasmin Mogahed

      As for your kids, the best gift you can give them is your full presence. They will respond to just having you available.

      Sometimes with teens/tweens it feels like we are only on standby, but when that moment comes that they need you, wow do they ever need you. And when they start to see that you’re always available and not checked out with a glass (bottle) (box) of wine, that they can always always count on you to be YOU, not a wine zombie, they reach out more and more.

      Even if they can’t verbalized it, kids recognize the messages we send when we drink: this is stressful, I’m not okay, I need to numb to tolerate life, no trespassing. When we aren’t drinking, the sign says “I’m here for you” – open for business, available, present.

      It’s hard but you can do it. And you don’t have to do it alone. Meetings are a great option for ready-made community and support, or you can sign up for some of the online communities (you can message me privately via the UnPickled Facebook page for more info on the ones I’m in, though there are many other good ones out there, including This Naked Mind, The UnRuffled, She Surrenders, Women for Sobriety, SoberSchool, Hello Sunday Morning to name just a few).

      I hope this message helps you feel hopeful and recognize your strength. You deserve to have a great life, to be fully you. Sending you a big, strong hug.

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      • Dear VegasRN,
        As a registered nurse, wife, mother, and daughter of an alcoholic family I understand your story. We hold onto the crutch of alcohol for so long we forget our other senses. I was so tired of being tired. I knew for a long time my relationship with wine was becoming dangerous. I kept a clean house but after 6pm or after my shift ended I disappeared into a bottle. Yes I missed work because of a hangover only to let my co workers down and myself. Wine gives us an ahh moment for just a moment only to bring us down into a hole. Blackouts, fog, and guilt had to go. Becoming sober was one of the hardest and best things I ever did for myself. I believe in meetings for support. The women in AA gave me such strength when I questioned things. I was angry for a long time in sobriety but refused to turn back to booze. I am a present mom, wife, nurse, friend. I am now able to finish my higher education instead drowning in wine. I had to change people places and things. I am celebrating 3 years of sobriety in August and it’s not always easy but life isn’t always easy. My girls are so proud and supportive of my sobriety. Wine intake only progresses. I now have a fridge of sparkling water and love my herbal tea in the evening. Life is simpler quieter and I am ok with that. Stay here:).

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  4. I really enjoyed your post because I certainly share your flaw; the perfectionists resentments……..too numerous to mention . I grew up with a alcoholic / drug addict parent ; I refer to him as the double dipper. I have to stop myself daily from ripping myself apart and have some sort of reasonable expectations……..its work everyday. I laughed at your coffee annoyance ………no one will even make me a coffee; I’m not relaxed when I witness the destruction of this godly fluid; microwaved coffee is not something anyone should consume . Crooked pictures, bad paint jobs, sooooo many things; therapy:)

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I recall you giving me a ton of grief years ago when I got sober via AA. I ended up quitting your blog and unsubscribing from your emails. And wow, magically you have found the 4th step. Now, if only you could try true recovery by doing all the steps, with a sponsor, while attending meetings. Novel idea!

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    • Hi Tricia, thanks for dropping in to say hello. I remember you. Being new to both blogging and recovery, it did take a while for me to learn how to handle comments that felt aggressive and critical. You were offended when I asked you to tone it down, and I apologize for that. I still think it’s fair to ask readers to stay within the boundaries of kindness here. The idea that there is only one pathway to “true recovery” sounds judgemental and unsupportive, and comments that seem designed to spark conflict still concern me. Be well, Tricia Hoy, and may your program of choice continue to keep you sober and heal your heart.

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      • Only 50 days sober. I am so appreciative of all of the resources that are now available on what is still quite a taboo subject. The only thing I have found and that I can’t quite understand, is why I still come across people that are so judgemental? Are we not all in the same battle? Does it matter which path each person chooses as long as we all meet at the same point of success in our goal? The trouble I have found is that those that have chosen the AA path do not seem to be supportive of those, like myself, that have utilized other ways to be sober. Everyone is so different in what works for them (in every aspect of life). Isn’t sobriety and happiness the goal? Jean, kudos to you for your ever so kind words, thoughts and support. It is truly inspirational… Keep being the amazing person you are! Much love and support from me always!

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        • Hi Cherry, thanks for your comment. My experience is that most people in recovery are welcoming and supportive, regardless of what program they’re in. Comparatively few are as you describe, but when we encounter them they sure do pack a punch. I try and remember that they may need rigidity to stay sober, that their success may depend on a lack of other options. So the compassionate thing to do might be to let them have the last word. It’s the only way I can make sense of that attitude. Congrats to you on 50 days of freedom and healing! How beautiful. Keep it going. It gets better and better.

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    • Hello. By “tone it down”, I believe your words were “…I ask you to please respect the spirit and purpose of this blog, which is not to constantly promote one recovery pathway…”. I think some of my posts were deleted. So in essence, I took that as, “I really don’t want to hear about AA or your experience getting sober”. I really didn’t think I was being unkind, but simply sharing my experience. I realize this is my perspective and you may view it differently, which is certainly your right. To respect your wishes I, for the most part, avoid your blog and don’t post. I realized I disagreed with most of what you had to say, so no reason to keep on reading.

      My experience getting sober was similar to yours, only after I put it down for good, I didn’t spend years dabbling in all kinds of recovering programs or trying to maintain on my own, picking what I liked and didn’t like. I chose to thoroughly follow the path as outlined in AA, and have found my sobriety has been much easier to maintain than others who do not choose this path.

      After I left your blog I received countless comments and thanks. Over the years and since our exchange, from time to time your blog entries come across my inbox (thought I had unsubscribed?). I always find it amusing that most of your posts involve some portion of AA without you really knowing it. This time, you seem to have discovered a tiny portion of AA and are somehow applying it to your daily life while sharing it with others.

      Good for you on staying sober – it was the hardest thing I ever did and finding your blog was helpful before I put it down. But I do believe that had I tried to do recovery on my own I would have failed miserably. I know this because I certainly did try to put it down, countless times before!

      My personal opinion on this matter is – if you are not following the program of AA, it might be a topic best left to those who do follow the program. I don’t believe that the 4th step is meant to show only “quirky” resentments, and I don’t believe it’s meant to think out our issues on our own. In fact, we (members of AA) believe that to drink is to die, and that resentments are our biggest draw back into drinking. We work the steps not alone but with another person (a sponsor), someone who has worked all the steps and has what we want (usually a happy sober life!)

      This is just my own personal experience and thoughts. I’m sure you will disagree, not like it, deem it unkind, perhaps even delete it, but it’s not really meant to be rude. My comments are meant to add my own personal experience to this thread, and perhaps reach someone out there struggling and trying to do the program of AA on their own while not doing so well. Godspeed.

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  6. Some resentments I can easily let go despite how strongly I felt about them before eg people thinking Oasis were anything more than a glorified pub band…. But some hang on, which is where the 12 step program comes in with 6&7 to look at at do something about my defects of character (arrogance, inpatience etc) I remain a work in progress on all of that and will probably do so the rest of my life.
    Lol at the coffee my daughter worked as a batista whilst doing her masters she’s like you always critical of any coffee we get.

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  7. Jean,

    Thank you for this (and everything you do). After reading this I’ve been sitting in my chair at work listing off resentments in my head for the past 15 minutes and I still have so much more! I feel like a walking barrel of resentment. This is definitely something I need to deal with. I’ll be journaling about this one for sure! Thank you for bringing it to light!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Hi Jean!
    I have a resentment that I thought I let go, only to have it pop up again.
    So, back to the basics! I can’t change the person, yes, she lied, but she has no control over her own life. I’m ok, wasn’t hurt in anyway.
    Sure, I could confront her, but is it necessary?
    No. I just will not give money to her again.
    xo
    Wendy

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Sobriety for me means no booze or drugs but since I never used drugs I write about recovery from alcohol addiction. Different people have different perspectives on what sobriety means to them. Let’s be true to ourselves and kind to others.
    PS You may want to read the post further to the part about resentments…;)

    Liked by 3 people

  10. Just read the first line… I have seen “sobriety “ uses when medicinal marijuana used regular. Bull shit really. sobriety should refer to all substances not just booze.. shame on the druggies that call themselves sober. Look up definition please

    Have a good day

    >

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