resentment & sin

I love my catch ups with my Alcoholic friend. I continue to learn more about Twelve step spirituality and admire it more deeply.

A recent gem that’s been sticking with me is the relationship between resentment and sin. In 12-step fellowships it may not be ‘sin’ that they call it, but I am appropriating it for reflection in an explicitly Christian framework.

The very structure of the steps suggests that behind the addiction which we must surrender (steps 1-3), is a whole life’s worth of behavioural, emotional and personal baggage which we must face and work through. So there is a connection between our baggage and our problematic behaviour (addiction/’sin’).

The A.A. ‘big book’ suggests that at the root of all of our personal and spiritual issues is resentment. “Resentment is the number one offender… From it stem all forms of spiritual disease.” (p. 64) For the alcoholic, an all too common experience is a) feeling angry about a person, principle or institution, and b) escaping by picking up a drink. You don’t have to be a recovery alcoholic to name this as obsession leading to compulsion.

The thing about resentment is that it is not only characterised by outward focused anger, but also by inward focused pity. “That person always snubs me.” is accompanied by “I’m not worth noticing.” “They don’t pay me enough.” is followed by “I’m such a loser.” Et cetera. The addictive/problematic behaviour provides a welcome distraction from this angry self-pity.

My friend had a brilliant – and colourful – summary for these two phases: “poor me” leads to “f**k it”. I’m definitely a fan of brevity and simplicity.

Is there a better summary of angry self pity than “poor me”?
Is there a better summary of an addictive escape than “f**k it”?

(pause and reflect if you need to)

My theory is that the twelve steps and the principles of recovery are useful as life tools, regardless of whether you have identified a particular form of addiction. We all enjoy a bit of anger at ‘that’, ‘they’ or ‘them’. We all enjoy the self-justifying comfort of feeling sorry for ourselves. We all have various ways of changing the emotional channel we are currently feeling stuck on…

Twelve step spirituality is not just about stopping ‘drinking’, but also about our character defects being removed. Or in Christian language, our salvation and discipleship are deeper than our behavour.

The way to address my tendency to give in and hit the ‘f**k it’ button is to face the ‘poor me’ underneath it.

Alcoholics in recovery have found two key tools to use.

  1. They take a spot check inventory. They run a quick step 4, which involves going past the resentment-at-the-other, and seeks to responsibility-I-can-take. Clarity and sanity also come from sharing my feelings with another who shares the same spiritual principles, who can help me to inventory both where I am resentful and where I need to take responsibility.
  2. They do gratitude lists. Gratitude is the ultimate counter to resentment. I cannot be grateful and resentful at the same time. Resentment focuses on what I do not have. Gratitude has eyes to see what I already have.

These are tools we can all use. Thank God.