Where, Oh Where Did My Resentment Go?

By Mark Smed 04/19/18

I’ve tried again and again to overcome feelings of isolation, self-loathing and disconnection from the world around me. I try to form friendships, and be a part of, with limited success and sometimes disastrous results.

Thoughtful man sitting on the grass in a park with coffee, hand on chin.

It took several years of clean time in a 12-step program for me to fully appreciate how much resentment I had accumulated and why I continued my relationship with resentment. I remember the first time I heard the phrase “resentments are like drinking a cup of poison and expecting the other person to die.” I was stunned by the truth of the statement. I started to realize that justified or not, the people, institutions and things that I resented the most never lost a moment of sleep over it. I talked to my support group and examined my behaviors and understood that all my resentments came from expectations. I decided to get to the source of the problem, and let go of my expectations whenever I could. This worked well, and I found that living without expectations, as much as possible, I was able to see many things that happened as gifts, such as a friend who calls after a long absence, finding that lost $10 bill, or a picturesque scene at the local market.

Life was good for a time, and I grew rich in experiences. I was able to process and let go of any number of expectations, moving to gratitude quickly. Resentments came and went like the tide, but I never understood what they left behind until everything came crashing to a halt. In 2016, my world abruptly ended; work and friendships shattered and the very things I cherished the most seemed to be in shambles. I withdrew and sought comfort in the rooms of a healthy 12-step fellowship, working with newcomers and rebuilding my life with good supports, selfless service and a healthy smattering of counseling. An old friend wondered about my resentments from the experience, but I was focused on the principles behind it, and we parted ways for the last time.

I have struggled with anxiety and I am often overcome with emotions. I alternate between humility and horror at the magnitude of the internal issues before me. I’ve tried again and again to overcome feelings of isolation, self-loathing and disconnection from the world around me. I try to form friendships, and be a part of, with limited success and sometimes disastrous results.

I recently learned that my thoughts can be divided into four categories: truths, ideas, beliefs and emotions. Every thought falls into one of those categories. My counselor taught me that truths are unquestionable, Ideas are unlimited, beliefs are unprovable, and emotions are unmanageable. Truths have no emotion connected to them, and are simply facts. A truth is that I am 6 feet tall, and I don’t have any emotions tied to the fact. Ideas are wild with little or no basis in the moment, whirling around like dust devils, only to collapse and disappear. Beliefs are my understanding of how the world works, and emotions come from having my beliefs challenged or supported.

When I was in grade 7, I arrived at 6 feet tall after a crazy summer of growth. If a new kid named Kirk hadn’t moved to town, I would have been the tallest boy in class. My pride at being tall came from my belief that tall people had an advantage and my contempt came from this lofty belief that I was somehow special. I resented Kirk for being 3 inches taller and stealing my thunder! Other beliefs also drew strong emotions from me. I covered this over several counseling sessions and after each I would need some time to reprocess a lot of my personality, focusing on my assets and defects.

My life today is like a valuable gold chain, and I’m willing to invest the time to carefully pull and prod the many knots. For a long time, life taught me that I was smart, and the belief that I was special because of it caused me a lot of grief too. What I learned in recovery was that being smart is like being pretty, it’s handy but it isn’t everything. Lots of people are smart. I have friends who are gifted musicians, but they freely admit that many are, and only a few are fortunate enough to make a living at it. The same holds true for amazing writers…

In recovery we develop new values and learn spiritual principles that help shape our beliefs by sharing with each other. We experience conflict and go through struggles and from those we also develop or shape our beliefs. Values are what we strive to achieve, but beliefs are what govern our actions. I personally value human life, but my belief is that society places less value on a life. I have contempt when I see others who do not adhere to my ideas about the sanctity of life.

For years I denied the existence of some benevolent God figure. What God would allow innocent children to starve to death by the millions in nations like Africa? It wasn’t until I got free from active addiction, formed new values and shaped my beliefs in a healthy environment that I realized that millions of children starve to death because I allow it to happen. We have lots of land and capacity to feed the planet, but our addiction to self prevents us from embracing solutions. World starvation would be easy to resolve if we worked together and sacrificed a small amount of time and money. The recent opioid crisis can be easily solved by providing safe supplies of drugs, in the same way we provide safe supplies of alcohol. The Prohibition era was a failure and we still insist on placing expectations on society about drug use. Discussions about the effects of addiction are separate from supply issues. We discuss the obesity issues facing modern society, but you can still stop at any convenience store and buy drinks with dangerous levels of sugar, caffeine or other chemicals.

There are a lot of interactions I observe in my day to day life. I’m constantly processing what I observe and end up lost in thought, oblivious to what is going on around me. I have a complex set of values and my beliefs make it difficult to form trust relationships. I believe my resentments come from expectations and as I let go of expectations I form new values and adapt my beliefs. Those values, and my beliefs shape my actions. Gratitude can be expressed as a feeling but what is lost amongst many of us is that gratitude is truly a virtue, which can only be expressed by action. Gratitude without action is false, and more likely to be ingratitude. We form a sense of entitlement – I deserve this, or I have a right be treated this way. Ingratitude breeds contempt. “I am so happy” can be the most contemptuous statement I share or hear today.

Many 12-step meetings start with readings from our literature. The literature represents our cumulative values and beliefs. Newcomers can sometimes struggle with learning new language or even with basic literacy. At these moments I can direct my actions to sitting patiently and directing our attention and thoughts to this momentary struggle. A lesson in patience and tolerance for some, perhaps. Some struggle and shift in their seats, eager to get on with the meeting, frustrated with someone else’s struggle. I can live there too. Unity of purpose is the most basic of values we can all adopt, and our common beliefs arise. Expectations about what unity looks like can breed resentments, and I can quickly become full of contempt. Embracing the moment, accepting the grace of God for ourselves but more importantly directing it to another. Compassion is key to my survival. That, at its core is my belief about what recovery is all about. When we all focus is on compassion, unity thrives and recovery spreads. Love might be the only thing we get more of by giving it away.

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Mark Smed lives and works in Summerland British Columbia. He started his technology company in 1989 and he has worked with small- and medium-sized businesses his entire career. He is married and his two daughters attend university. Mark is enormously grateful for the life he leads, particularly since he found recovery. He has published articles on TheFix.com, Pyetta.com and his own company Silver Lining Technology Services Inc. He has also released a book on Kindle.  He looks for opportunities to improve himself and his community through discussion, volunteering, and work. In his spare time he likes to hike, fish and mutilate the occasional canvas with acrylic paint. Find Mark on LinkedIn.