Is there a difference between Resentment and Anger?
All horses are animals, but not all animals are horses, right?
All of my resentments have anger in them, but not all of my anger is what I have come to think of as a resentment.
For me, anger (that "dubious luxury of normal men") is a simple, clean emotion. And, like all of my emotions, it can be healthy and even appropriate depending on what's going on -- it's the actions I take (or don't take) based on my emotions which define my recovery and my character.
Resentment, however, is a much more mental exercise. For me yes, it is born of emotion -- usually my anger, maybe occasionally my fear -- but it's a head thing, not a heart or gut thing. All of that thinking, that toxic stewing... I believe it's sourced by self obsession and fear. It's dwelling on the anger -- reimagining the circumstances which led to it, fantasizing about making speeches or taking revenge, mentally assuming the role of victim or the mantle of martyr -- now we've got a resentment.
Thus, I think of it like this:
Anger + [Fear x Self Obsession] = Resentment.
Is it important to parse that out? To distinguish between the two? For me it can be, since (especially when I was new) I was prone to sorting my emotions into categories: "Good" feelings and "Bad" feelings -- and the bad feelings were things I "wasn't supposed to" have... which led to self judgement... which fueled more self obsession and... dear God, it's busy in there sometimes, yes?
So it was a healthy development to give myself permission to feel angry, rather than bury it under layers of evaluation and mental masturbation about how I felt.
And this also seemed to help me let the anger pass through me; to release it (a little) more easily.
When I was drinking, and well into sobriety, the anger-to-resentment process took all of a nanosecond. The two were virtually indistinguishable. For me that's why writing is such an important tool in recovery, because it slows my thoughts down to the speed of a pen travelling across a page. (Temporarily, anyway). And whether it's resentment, anger, or some sick, twisted blending of fear, self obsession and rage, I am still best served by writing an inventory and looking for my part in the equation.
I am, of course, incredibly moved and grateful for the outpouring of support and overwhelming number of comments yesterday. Thank you all so much; words fail me. (Mark the date! That sure as hell doesn't happen often. Or often enough, a few friends might say.)
My deepest thanks.
Today I had lunch with the Big Boss. The one who, as detailed in yesterday's post, made some comments to my boss about my weight.
(I have come to believe that I've been blessed with a prodigious sense of humor just so that God could share all these little jokes with me.)
When I realized that we would be eating together, my mind, as you can imagine, began spitting out suggestions as to what I might say. But I have learned (the hard way) the value of AA's wise, wise admonishment: Restraint of pen and tongue.
Thus, what follows is a list of
10 Things I Did Not Say At Lunch With the Big Boss
10. Hey, this isn't what I ordered! Where's my cheesecake and pizza?
9. You know, before I started working here I was going to go on a diet, but now that I can eat for free, and the food's so good, I think I'm going to be packing on the pounds!
8. You know what would make this salad better? A stick of butter.
7. Damn it, I asked them to put some melted cheese on my melted cheese!
6. I'm on kind of a health kick. Only brown sugar for me.
5. You know what would make these phony bacon bits better? A stick of butter!
4. Listen, I wanted to talk to you about the Dress Code. How do you feel about Caftans?
3. I'm going to be working as a Santa next Xmas, so I'm on a strict diet. I only have to gain another 75 lbs. to reach my goal weight!
2. I'm going to be entering an eat-a-thon next week to raise money for an organization called The Fat Liberation Front. Can I count on you for a donation?
1. Oh my gosh! I think I felt the baby kick!
To be honest, we had a very pleasant lunch.
I got to work early, and sat down at the Starbucks across the street, and wrote out an inventory of my resentments and fears about the job in general, and the whole "have they talked to you about your weight" thing in particular.
And, as is always, always the case, even though I think I'm so smart and so very clever, things came out the end of the pen that I could not see by thinking (or blogging) about it alone.
I got clarity. The fact of the matter is, this man may (or may not) have had the concern my boss assumed he did. It's all hearsay and her interpretation of events. I wasn't there -- Big Boss might have been trying to tell her something completely different from her interpretation. He might actually have been trying to show her, by mentioning it, that they're not as appearance driven as she has accused them of being in the past.
And/or, Big Boss is trying to do his job to the best of his ability. I have no idea what pressures he is under. IF what he said meant what my boss thought, while it is about me, it's not about me. He's just a guy trying to make rent like anybody else.
I might feel a little differently about what kind of image I wanted my company to project if it were my money at stake.
Blah blah blah, I went on for some time on the inventory.
The point I want to make is that I sat down and wrote out the four column inventory structure for my resentments, and then also wrote about my fears, and I felt about a hundred thousand percent better by the end of it. I gained perspective, and I was free from the angry red fog I'd stumbled into. (Well, red and purple, maybe. Resentment and victim by turns.)
So I could have a nice business lunch and not seethe inside, nor did I have to address something which didn't need to be addressed -- at least not then and not there, if ever.
I could turn my attention from my own wounded pride and look at work in the manner which has always served me best and eventually led to my most happy job experiences: As a way to be of service.
Writing out an inventory doesn't necessarily change a bad comment or a bad day -- what it does is change how I view them.
I was able to sit across from this man and see him as a really hard working guy who wants to get it right, who is trying to help this little company pop, and saw in me something that he thought was worth hiring -- yet left to my own devices, what I want to do is walk around boo-hooing over a second hand report of a comment which, if you look at the words that were said ("He's a big guy, but he carries his weight well."), is actually a compliment!
Look, I'm not trying to minimize how hard that all was, what a wrenching and brutal day it became -- especially with that final K.O. punch. But the hard truth is that what made it such a difficult day was, at heart, my worries about what other people think of me, my feelings of entitlement, and my ego. The Unholy Trinity of Career Unhappiness.
After lunch -- which was delicious, I'm certainly not working for a company that doesn't have a shot -- I got back to work and was actually grateful to be cleaning the refrigerator again.
It gave me a chance to stick my head inside it so no one could see me get all emotional as I thought about how lucky I am -- not just to have the job -- but to have the tools AA taught me.
Alcoholics Anonymous helps me keep my ego in check -- "right sized." One result of this is a freedom from interpreting other people's wish to be included as a "threat" to me. To put it another way, other people's "me too" doesn't equal "not you."
The world is a less hostile place from that perspective.
Their abundance is not my lack (because they don't have my stuff -- their stuff has nothing to do with me).
Their success does not diminish me (because their accomplishment or good fortune is not a comment on my abilities or fortunes).
Their faith is not an indictment of my belief -- or doubt, for that matter (even if they think it is).
Whenever I think someone else's anything is a comment upon me, whether overtly or covertly, I've slipped back into an ego based world-view. I'm deeply grateful to Alcoholics Anonymous for giving me the tools to recognize that -- and change it.
I relapsed on alcohol shortly after my one year milestone. Since seeking sobriety I have been struggling with health, relationship and employment issues (doubtless therein the problems lie ... I've been struggling...)
My sponsor told me, and I believe they are absolutely right, that I am suffering from self pity. If you've written on it, it was not in your alphabetical sidebar (Categories).
I am needing to know the difference between self-pity and sorrow ... and how to get back on track in recovery... I have had five relapses in the last two months. And yes, I am the same person who wrote to you about doing Step 8. I hung on to my anger and pride instead of doing the work... and relapsed.
How do I get out and stay out of self pity?
Well, first off, it's good to hear from you again, and I'm sorry you're having a tough time of it. I know it sounds silly or flip or cliche, but if you could look in my eyes as I type it hopefully you would see how sincerely I mean this:
I does not matter if you relapse five times if you get sober six.
I know people with a very long time sober and with rock solid sobriety who had as rough a time coming back from relapse as you're having now. Relapsing again is not inevitable.
Personally, I have tremendous hope for you, and that is not empty cheerleading, it is based on the solid tone of taking responsibility for your feelings and your relapses, and asking for help and for your sobriety, which is there for anyone to read in your email.
Now then, the difference between self-pity and sorrow is that the former is about what you're thinking and the latter is about how you're feeling
Sorrow, sadness, melancholy... this is from my heart. This is an emotional response, depending on circumstances or events a normal and healthy one. Sobriety is not about putting all my emotions on a pie chart and labeling some as "good" and some as "bad" (or "supposed to feel" and "not supposed to feel" or whatever lingo you're working). You feel how you feel.
What I think about ... now that's where alcoholism likes to play. Self-pity, for me, is the act of thinking about my sadness. And actually, it's the act of thinking about how I wish things were different, or things are unfair for me, or I've had a hard go of it, or I screwed it up and now for me it's going to be ... and then I'm ... but not for me ... I ... me ... I ... me ... I ...
Self-pity, when it comes to alcoholics, is our self obsession wearing a sad clown face.
To put it in the simplest terms (which I need if this stuff is going to stick):
Sadness + Self Obsession = Self-pity.
And as I'm sure you know, thinking about ourselves is not something we should really lean into if we want to stay sober. Of course we think about ourselves via things like self examination or simple self care, but those things are nothing like the kind of mental self-involvement alcoholics can slide into. Sometimes I think the whole Program is just an enormous exercise in ballast to serve as a counter-weight to our titanic self-obsession.
And I think self-pity can be an especially dangerous place to be, for too long.
As you know from your experiences with not making amends and staying in anger, resentment is, as the Big Book puts it, the "number one offender" when it comes to the reasons we drink again. If, as I've heard it said, expectations are the mother to our resentments ... then I think self-pity is the midwife.
Poor me poor me pour me a drink.
How do you get out of and stay out of self pity? The answer for any alcoholic, and especially for you right now, is perhaps most eloquently expressed in "Bill's Story," Chapter 1 of the book "Alcoholics Anonymous" (AA's Big Book). At this point in his story he has gotten sober, and done most of what eventually became the 12 Steps in a kind of raw, informal way (and that's all covered on pgs. 12 and 13). Here Bill's talking about what it was like shortly after he got sober. Bill wrote:
"My wife and I abandoned ourselves with enthusiasm to the idea of helping other alcoholics to a solution of their problems. It was fortunate, for my old business associates remained skeptical for a year and a half, during which I found little work. I was not too well at the time, and was plagued by waves of self pity and resentment. This sometimes nearly drove me back to drink, but I soon found that when all other measures failed, work with another alcoholic would save the day. Many times I have gone to my old hospital in despair. On talking to a man there I would be amazingly lifted up and set on my feet. It is a design for living that works in rough going." -- BB pg. 15
You do not have less to offer because you've relapsed ... you have more. You can help someone else save their life -- you, your experience, can be literally life saving. And you don't even have to believe that fully for it to work. You don't have to find people with "less" time or in "worse" shape -- you don't have to be anything other than or more than who you are right now: An alcoholic who is struggling to get and stay sober and remain on an even emotional keel.
The more you work with other alcoholics the more sure your sobriety will be. Anyone who tells you that you do not have enough time or enough experience or enough anything to be of service to another alcoholic is wrong. If you tell yourself you aren't up to it or have nothing to offer you are wrong.
It is not for you to judge what you have to offer -- or anyone else, for that matter. It is your job to offer it, in the service of trying to help someone else avoid the relapse experiences that you've had, or to help someone who's already relapsed feel better about their own fledgling sobriety.
You want to get out of self-pity? You want to stay sober?
He took off his glasses and pinched the bridge of his nose. His face looked strangely naked and a little weary without the glasses to hide behind. "... so what you're saying is ... okay, I'm sorry, I don't know what you're saying."
I drank my coffee and tried to think of a different way to explain myself. "Okay, you had a terrible, violent, abusive childhood, right?"
"One of the things which often comes from that is a kind of low-grade but ever-present hypervigilance ..."
He cleaned his glasses with a napkin, sighed and said, "And this is where you start to lose me."
"Hypervigilance is technically a symptom of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. To define it without all the clinical lingo it means constantly scanning the environment for threats to your survival. Children in abusive situations learn to do this not just in the literal warfare manner, like soldiers do -- that is, constantly scanning for snipers and bombs and such -- but in reading moods, facial expressions, body language ... without any power to protect themselves, they learn to be hypervigilant about social and relationship dynamics -- they're constantly, if sometimes unconsciously, 'reading' everyone in the room. I believe that's true for lots of addicts, actually, even if their childhood was not as abusive as yours."
"Okay. So... what does that have to do with why I freak out at fellowship after the meeting?"
"Well, in my opinion -- and I'm only going from what I've learned from dealing with other alcoholics and my own stuff -- it's the fallout from your childhood that makes you hyper-aware of what's going on around you. It's your alcoholism which then leads you to conclude that what's going on around you has anything to do with you."
"It's like the hypervigilance gives your alcoholism more to work with. You are hyper aware of every eye roll, every sigh, every restless twitch -- and you conclude that each of those things mean you're boring or annoying or people don't want to spend time with you."
"Isn't that low self esteem?"
I shrugged and nodded. "Yeah, it's that too. The way I sort it out is that it's alcoholism which makes me certain that things are all about me, then it's either low self esteem or ego out of balance that gives a 'less than/better than' value to it."
"So trauma from my childhood makes me super aware of everyone, alcoholism makes me think that everyone I'm so super aware of is thinking about me, and low self esteem makes me think they're thinking I'm crap."
"Yeah -- I mean, that's how I fine tune my own process."
"Great, now I feel even more screwed up -- I don't have one thing wrong, it's like I have a bunch now."
"Don't -- I mean, okay, go ahead, you feel how you feel -- but fine tuning and untangling this stuff has helped me put names to it all, and then better understand what's happening to me when I am freaking out, and then eventually apply solutions which better match what's going on."
"And all that can make me drink."
"Oh no, not really. All that is just ... the stuff ... you drink because you're a hope-to-die falling down drunk. You drink because you're an alcoholic. That part isn't complicated at all."
"Oh ... ummm, great, that, uh, that's simple enough. Good news. I guess."