In our 4th Step, we sit down and write resentment inventory, fear inventory and sex inventory to expel the emotional and psychological garbage that has piled up inside of us. We are human. Nobody is immune or exempt from anger, resentment, bitterness, frustration, judgment, projection, false assumptions, anxiety, fear, dishonesty, self-seeking and selfishness. Emotional or spiritual poison left unchecked can turn into a volcano just waiting to erupt… yet once dissolved, there is room to allow for something much greater and more powerful to come in and fill the void. The idea for addicts and alcoholics is to replace our addiction with something at least as powerful as the addiction itself, and the same goes for any other demon. Soft, fluffy, hollow remedies won’t work when we are powerless over something. We are going to need an engine with some real horsepower.
The problem with harboring resentment, fear and sexual misconduct is that they slowly rot us from within, eating away at our physical, mental and spiritual health. Resentment is like a psychic acid, slowly burning the soul and eventually destroying us with jade, cynicism and self-delusion until we wind up depressed and full of self-pity. It will convince us that we are somehow victims and that something outside of us is to blame for our woes, but despite the problems we may have, whether real or imagined, to blame anything but ourselves is false. The French philosopher, Jean Paul Sartre, once asserted that our “existence precedes our essence”. While we are certainly born with certain proclivities, traits and personalities, the idea is that we ultimately make ourselves into who we become, regardless of external circumstances. If I become a hero, I have made myself a hero. Conversely, if I become a failure, I have made myself a failure. Inventory teaches us this truth, but only if we are willing to find it and then accept it once we do.
The Big Book notes that resentment is the “#1 offender for alcoholics”, but one of the purposes of this book is to point out that resentment will crush anybody, addict or not. The secret is to realize that resentments are born within and therefore can be vaporized without anything outside of us needing to change. People tend to think the only way to dissolve resentment is for external circumstances to change, but that is not correct. Once a resentment grows within, its energy is there to stay until we ourselves change.
We cause ourselves to resent because it is often easier to blame others than to swallow our pride and feel the discomfort of personal responsibility. By nature, we tend to be selfish, ashamed, emotionally immature and ignorant, and it is up to us to rise above our more banal, lower selves. If we loathe or dislike some part of who we are, we often project that quality onto others, seeing it in them instead of ourselves. In doing so, we develop a false perception of events, thus clearing the path to resentment. We see events as acting upon us as opposed to creating or attracting the events to ourselves.
Even if we are wronged terribly by someone, the resentment that burns inside is still birthed and fueled by our reaction and response to the event as opposed to the event itself. No person or thing outside of us actually turns a switch and makes us feel, say or do anything, as we alone are responsible for our thoughts, feelings and actions. Not to realize this is one of the great human illusions, next to fear. It is therefore our responsibility to rid ourselves of the resentment, and the truth is that only we can do this, with the help of God. The beauty of this process is that when we see the light and gain the ability to let go of our resentments, we can forgive. Once we can forgive ourselves, we can forgive anybody, and that, my friends, is a recipe for freedom.
Close relationships cause most of our resentments, especially those with our parents and spouses or x-spouses. Mom and Dad are in almost every case the first two people on our list. It’s easy to resent our parents because we care so much about what they think of us. We care about how they see us and we seek their approval. When Mom or Dad disapproved of who I am or what I was doing, or if they criticized or ridiculed some part of me, you can probably guess what my natural response used to be: defensive anger, underneath of which was sadness and shame. To avoid the discomfort of my feelings, I threw it right back at them, accusing them of the very same things. Perhaps I was aware on some level that what I did was wrong. Perhaps I didn’t do anything wrong but simply felt unheard and misunderstood.
Whatever the case, as the resentment grows, it began to warp my perception. I failed to see that I wanted something I didn’t get, that I wanted to be seen a certain way, that I was trying to cover something up and got exposed, or that some fear or shame of mine was triggered. Perhaps I was ignoring something I previously did to antagonize them, or perhaps I failed to see that Mom or Dad were just trying to protect me or teach me something and it came out the wrong way. Let’s say they did actually say or do something hurtful. Maybe I failed to see that they themselves were suffering and it wasn’t about me at all. Sure you can’t expect a kid to understand everything a parent might be going through, but we can go back and reassess what really happened. We can get honest about our own feelings and actions to see if our assumptions may have been off. Not everything is about us!
One time my dad was on the phone with his sister, joking sarcastically that I did nothing with my life and happily leeched off of him. I fumed. It infuriated me… but it was TRUE. I was weak, depressed, insecure, and intentionally avoided my discomfort and responsibility by isolating and avoiding the world. Part of the ensuing resentment towards Dad was fueled by the deeper truth that I was a coward. Another part of it is that my dad was quite sarcastic on the phone, which I interpreted as him using my shame and low self-worth for his amusement. He wasn’t consciously doing any such thing, but because everything was somehow about ME, it solidified an enormous grudge I had towards him for years – that he never really heard, understood, knew or accepted who I was, and that he didn’t really care about me or how I felt inside.
By writing inventory, I discovered that Dad wasn’t trying to hurt me. For one, he was having a private conversation and I was eavesdropping on the other line, and whose fault is that? Two, I failed to see how HE might be feeling. Perhaps he was worried about me or about his own finances and our future. Perhaps he was expressing that fear indirectly and I chose to construe it as offensive. In fact, years later I discovered that my father was unemployed at the time and hiding it from us. As well, he was developing early-onset dementia and was anxious about money and our future. It is so easy to make false assumptions about others, assumptions that mold our point of view – the way we see others and the way we react. The point is that we have to see where other people are coming from. What might they be going through? What are their true intentions?
My sensitivity was also characteristic of my life-sucking depression, the conditions of which led to a very unhealthy sort of narcissism. We who are depressed are pathologically or hyper-focused on self and it becomes a self-fulfilling loop. The depression feeds the narcissism and the narcissism feeds the depression. Inventory helps us to expand our view of the world around us so we do not see ourselves as a victim, as the only one suffering out there. It prevents us from thinking that the world owes us something because of the way we feel. The world owes us nothing.
People generally have some very old and well-cemented patterns of thinking and behaving. If we have been ridiculed as a child or had no stability growing up, we may develop a guilt complex or a pattern of self-doubt. We may even resent others for being annoyed by the doubt in our tone of voice, as the guilt practically creeps out of our pores. The truth is that we are only mad at ourselves for not being able to communicate confidently or straightforwardly with others. We are unable to say what we mean. We are passive and indirect. We beat around the bush, expecting people to read our minds. We do this because we fear being rejected for who we are. We are afraid to be honest. Imagine that.
This sort of scenario is typical with both addicts and codependents, and unless we know why others are responding to us negatively, we will constantly be frustrated and hurt. Ironically, we usually have no idea how we come across, and sadly, this lack of self-awareness leads us to project our flaws onto others. Feeling misunderstood by nearly everybody, we become bitter and cynical and even begin to judge or criticize others in much the same way mom or dad ridiculed us. That is how we become our parents, which happens so frequently that it has become a cliché.
My parents weren’t perfect, and I doubt if anybody’s were. I was shamed and misunderstood at times. I was also made fun of horribly all through elementary school, but should I blame any of that as the reason I became an alcoholic? Sorry, nope. To state the obvious, the booze didn’t crawl its way up my throat and pour itself down my throat. I chose to drink and use drugs because I wanted to drink and use drugs. In fact, I loved drinking and using drugs. That was my solution for life. I wanted to feel comfortable 24/7, even if it came at the expense of others, let alone my own well-being and sanity.
So long as we continue to blame our parents, we won’t get better. Even if we don’t believe we mold ourselves into who we are voluntarily, what’s the point of blaming our parents when nothing they do can fix us or change the way we perceive things? Even if they begin to love us in the exact way we’ve always wanted to be loved, the skewed frame of mind and worldview we have developed over time can only be undone by us and us alone. I know it doesn’t sound fair, but when push comes to shove, it is our own responsibility to heal the damage that has already occurred, regardless of who or what is to blame.