“Resentment is the number one offender. It destroys more alcoholics than anything else.” (Big Book, pg. 64)
I sometimes resent my resentments. I know what they are, I know that they’re mostly irrational, and I know they’re dangerous, but I have them from time to time all the same. I spend a lot of time, less now than before but still a lot, thinking about the things I resent, and that’s time I’ll never get back. Sometimes I can’t help it. Sometimes I have to put something on the list.
Why do I even have a list? Shouldn’t I, after all of this work in recovery, default to a Zen-like state every time things don’t go my way? I’ve put so much into this program, shouldn’t I be rewarded and enveloped by constant, unyielding serenity? In some parts of my life, I realize that through working the steps I’ve achieved something like this. This program, as we’re so often told, does work if we work it.
And then I think about the self-checkout kiosks at the grocery store.
It’s supposed to be faster, we’re told. It’s supposed to offset rising costs by lowering the number of employees needed. It’s supposed to grant privacy for items you may not want someone to see, like a gallon of chocolate milk and three boxes of marshmallow peeps being purchased by a lone, middle-aged man. It does none of these things.
Why are there three input terminals? Why do you need someone to supervise my bagging, aren’t we defeating the purpose here? Do you really think I’m shoplifting a banana? Why am I placing things lightly into the “bagging area” like I’m Indiana Jones in a tomb with a bag of sand? Why am I being limited to three plastic bags’ worth of groceries? If I remove one and put it back in the cart before I’ve paid, the little red alarm (whose existence is insulting) will light up and you’ll have a SWAT team of “associates” on me in seconds.
They are awful.
Yet every time I shop, I elect to use them. I actively and consciously make the choice to inflict it upon myself. Every time, I assume I’ve got a leg up on the rest of the store’s less-technical customers. Like a subway car with nobody on it, they are empty for a reason.
I’ve personally worked with point-of-sale systems. I understand them, I’ve designed interfaces for them. And with all of that experience and what some would call talent, I am absolutely, one thousand percent sure that there are THREE bell peppers in that bag! I can see them! I don’t care what you think the bag weighs! There isn’t a bagging error, don’t pin this on me!
This resentment isn’t just my feeling slighted. It’s more complicated than that. It’s my ongoing reaction to that feeling, and what I do about it, that puts this resentment into their own category of dangerous thought patterns.
There’s a core pain and anxiety, a vitriol, to resentments that leaves them lingering in my mind. It’s not just that I don’t agree with or have trouble accepting some person, place or thing — I’m offended, maybe even scared, that they exist and are somehow beyond me. They’re supposed to be inherently simple, and I think I’m doing everything right. Am I just getting older? Am I going to be confused by cell phones next?
I just can’t let go of it. I must let go of it. It bothers me more because it shouldn’t bother me at all, and I know that. I suppose at some level, like most things in Alcoholics Anonymous, it comes down to acceptance.
The bane of my existence in my recovery efforts, the concept of accepting things I don’t like and can’t change remains difficult for me. I do, academically, understand the concept. It makes sense. I suppose that again, like most things in this program, it’s something that is simple to attempt but impossible to master.
Resentments are much easier. You feel a resentment. It doesn’t take a lot of mental effort to get a resentment settled into your grey matter, and they tend to grow on their own, like weeds, without any necessary care and cultivation. You can resent something on Monday, planting a seed, and have a forest of spite and anger by Friday.
I perfected the art of crafting resentments through addiction. I didn’t have a higher power I looked to for guidance and support as an addict, unless you’re counting drugs and alcohol themselves. Everything I did was in service of their acquisition and use. If you dared interrupt that process, well, I wouldn’t outwardly admit that it was so important that I’d be angry to put it on hold, but I’d certainly be terse with you.
I’d say angry things to you in my head, of course, things that I’d say out loud if they were actually valid complaints. I’d resent myself, at times, for using. I’d resent my dealer. I’d resent liquor stores and their clerks. I’d resent the city for limiting alcohol sales to specific hours. I was angry at my girlfriend, angry at my boss, angry at the neighbors.
Everything was a tragedy, with me as the victim. What selfish, narcissistic behavior. I believe it’s called “main character syndrome” these days. In working the steps, I’ve managed to avoid this mostly. Tragedies in my life are few and far between, not trivial and common as they were.
And yet, here we are. I still resent some things. Especially those (expletive here) self-checkout kiosks.
Resentment doesn’t have to be about a thing. It’s not isolated to disappointment with circumstances or facts expressed as anger at another person. Sometimes you resent a group, a philosophy, or a concept. At times, resentments are a mirror: we resent the things in others we wish we didn’t see in ourselves, our groups, our meetings. We often criticize other people for doing what we do, acting how we act.
We recognize this behavior. We are ashamed of it. We must let go. Why does this upset us so much? What negative emotions is this causing? Why those emotions? Why doesn’t it just go away, like a bad driver or a mosquito bite? Why does this person, place, thing, whatever, inspire such a reaction?
Our resentments say just as much about us as they do the people, places or things that we resent. This is difficult work, but work worth doing. After all, this thing’s supposed to be simple, not easy.