Rev. David Lee Jones, Th.D.

In my first article on Resentments, I chronicled the deadly havoc that resentments wreak in the lives of those who harbor them. I made the case that nursing resentments is “poisonous” for the soul. Resentments confound recovery and encourage denial and relapse. They wound others and destroy relationships. Resentments block the “sunlight of the spirit,” delay maturity, promote rationalization, and retard spiritual development. They facilitate “cutoff” from self, others, and God. Resentments rob persons of peace, joy, fulfillment, and happiness. Harboring resentments insulates persons from doing the deep work of feeling and owning pain which is essential for recovery. Further, resentments ultimately result in grandiosity, ineffectiveness, relapse, and self-destruction. The Big Book says: “… the wrong doing of others, fancied or real, had power actually to kill” (66). So, what can alcoholics do to prevent the negative consequences of resentments driving and ruining their lives? The Big Books says that “resentments must be mastered” (66). What spiritual practices might alcoholics embrace and employ that lead to a more excellent way? In this article I offer some time-proven spiritual tips for helping alcoholics address resentments.

Time-Proven Tips for Addressing Resentments

1). Pray, pray, pray for divine insight, guidance, and patience. The little devotional book, Twenty-Four Hours A Day, with its meditations and prayers for every day of the year, is an excellent spiritual resource. I have found that nearly every prayer in this book is relevant for dealing with resentments.

2) After you have prayed much—meditate and pray some more for “freedom from self-will” (Alcoholics Anonymous, 87).

3) Secure a sponsor and meet with him or her regularly.

4) Learn to speak up in meetings. Naming inner-demons gives one the power to begin to defeat them.

5) Employ humor as a way to “re-frame” the resentment into spiritual insight or a new plan of action of forgiveness.

6) Write down your diatribe in a letter that you never send. Bill wrote: “The most heated bit of letter-writing can be a wonderful safety valve—provided that the wastebasket is nearby” (As Bill Sees It, 39).

7) Set all your resentments to paper—list “people, places, things,” institutions, and organizations with whom you are angry or feel threatened and then ask God to help you forgive.

8) Work the 12 Steps regularly.

9) Seek and offer forgiveness freely.

10) Remember that just because the drinking days are over the former ways of behaving are often still close at hand. Bill wrote: “And even though we are now sober, the old patterns of behavior are to a degree still with us, always threatening to explode on any good excuse” (As Bill Sees It, 56).

11) “Find the grace to exert restraint,” calm, and self-control (As Bill Sees It, 56). The Big Book says: “As we go through the day we pause when agitated or doubtful, and ask for the right thought or action” (87).

12) Be wary of the seductive trap of “righteous anger.” Bill wrote: “The positive value of righteous indignation is theoretical—especially for alcoholics. It leaves every one of us open to the rationalization that we may be angry as we like provided we can claim to be righteous about it” (As Bill Sees It, 58).

13) Take a daily/nightly inventory. Bill writes: “When we retire at night, we constructively review our day. Were we resentful, dishonest, or afraid? Do we owe an apology? What could we have done better? Were we thinking of ourselves most of the time? We must be careful not to drift into remorse or morbid reflection, for that would diminish our usefulness to ourselves and to others. After making our review, we ask God’s forgiveness and inquire what corrective measures should be taken” (As Bill Sees It, 89). The Big Books says: “Continue to watch for selfishness, dishonesty, resentment, and fear. When these crop up, we ask God at once to remove them. We discuss them with someone immediately and make amends if we have harmed anyone” (Alcoholics Anonymous, 84).

14) Refuse to give into the desire for revenge, pay back, or retaliation. Bill writes: “Punishment never heals. Only love can heal” (As Bill Sees It, 98.)

15) Learn to focus on your own past and present behavior and not on that of others. Bill writes: “If we are about to ask forgiveness for ourselves, shouldn’t we start out by forgiving others, one and all?” (As Bill Sees It, 151).

16). Do not take the bait. Bill writes: “Nothing pays off like restraint of the tongue and pen. We must avoid quick-tempered criticism, furious power-driven argument, sulking and silent scorn. These are emotional booby-traps baited with pride and vengefulness. When we are tempted by the bait, we should learn to train ourselves to step back and think. We can neither think nor act to good purpose until the habit of self-restraint has become automatic” (As Bill Sees It, 179).

17) Be mindful of the connection between recounting resentments and participating in hurtful gossip and pledge not to participate in either. Bill writes: “. . . hurtful gossip is but a symptom of our remaining emotional illness; and consequently . . . I must never be angry at the unreasonableness of sick people” (As Bill Sees It, 268).

18) Get a spiritual advisor. If you are not tapping the resources of a sponsor and spiritual advisor—you are not working the program. Bill writes: “Often it was while working on the 5th Step with our sponsors and spiritual advisors that we first felt truly able to forgive others no matter how deeply we felt they had wronged us” (As Bill Sees It, 318).

19) Embrace the fact that forgiveness is a two way street. If we want to be forgiven we must be willing to forgive. Bill writes: “Our moral inventory had persuaded us that all-round forgiveness was desirable, but it was only when we resolutely tackled Step Five that we inwardly knew we’d be able to receive forgiveness and give it, too” (As Bill Sees It, 318).

20) Learn to respect the power of negative thoughts and learn to reject “stinking thinking.” Recovery ultimately demands a renewal of the mind as well as the heart and soul. A renewal of the mind which re-orients the way alcoholics predictably “think” is as important as soul care. The previous capacity for “whipping up a fine contempt” for others must be replaced with critical self-reflection, contrition, and circumspection. (As Bill Sees It, 205). The Big Book says: Before we begin a new day, “we ask God to direct our thinking, especially asking that it be divorced from self-pity, and dishonest or self-seeking motives” (Alcoholics Anonymous, 86).

21) Learn to embrace a “non-anxious presence” or state of calm amidst the storm of threatening feelings. Bill writes: “. . . if we were seriously disturbed, our very first need was to quiet that disturbance, regardless of who or what we thought caused it” (As Bill Sees It, 58).

22) Jesus said: “Remove the log from your own eye before noticing the speck in another’s eye.” Bill says it this way: “To escape looking at the wrongs we have done to others, we resentfully focus on the wrong others have done us. Triumphantly we seize upon their slightest misbehaviors as the perfect excuse for minimizing our own” (As Bill Sees It, 151). And further: “Putting out of our minds the wrongs others had done, we resolutely look for our own mistakes” (Alcoholics Anonymous, 67).

23) Page 84 of the Big Book lists what many Old Timers refer to as “The Four Part Guidance.” Alcoholics are charged to “watch for selfishness, dishonesty, resentment and fear.” Without insight and self-awareness there isn’t much hope for change.

24) “Avoiding retaliation or argument” (67) is an excellent way to deal with resentments.

25) Promptly offering to make full amends or restitution for our own previous transgressions—things both done and left undone is another powerful strategy. Part of every alcoholic’s story is not just the damage that occurred by what was done, but often what is more profound are the sins of omission--by what was left undone. Most alcoholics leave in their wake a string of broken promises and important occasions that were missed or forgotten. The damage done by not being fully present or available due to immaturity or inebriation is always profound. At the end of the day—actions speak louder than words. Learn to make a list of past trespasses and be willing to make amends.

26) “Fake it until you make it!” The Big Book says: “If you have a resentment you want to be free of, if you will pray for the person that you resent, you will be free. If you will ask in prayer for everything you want for yourself to be given to them, you will be free. Ask for their health, their prosperity, their happiness, and you will be free. Even if you really do not want it for them, and your prayers are only words and you do not mean it, go ahead and do it anyway. Do it every day for two weeks and you will find you have come to mean it and to want it for them, and you will realize that where you used to feel bitterness and resentment and hatred, you now feel compassionate understanding and love” (552).

27) “The program only works if you keep working the program.” Recovering persons must share the “good news” of the program because it is life-giving to those who both give and receive it.

I trust that you have found these spiritual tips on addressing resentments to be both insightful and helpful, and I hope that you will share them with all who can make any use of them.

About the Author

Rev. David Lee Jones, Th.D. is an ordained Presbyterian minister and a Fellow in the American Association of Pastoral Counselors. He pastored five separate Presbyterian congregations for 21 years before directing the Doctor of Ministry program at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary from 2003 to 2012. He graduated valedictorian with an Associate’s Degree in Alcohol and Drug Abuse Counseling from Sullivan County Community College, holds a Master of Divinity Degree from Princeton Theological Seminary and earned the Doctor of Theology degree in Pastoral Counseling from Emory University where his doctoral research focused on helping those wounded by problem drinkers with forgiveness. He currently teaches pastoral counseling courses adjunctively at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary and Seminary of the Southwest (Episcopal), both in Austin, Texas.

Comments (1)
1 Saturday, 14 May 2016 10:23
Tom S St. Louis
Thank you- what I need just for today

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Last Updated ( Thursday, 03 April 2014 09:59 )