I have often heard this quote repeated in relation to holding on to resentments: “Resentment is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die.” It has been attributed to many famous people, and it is often used within the rooms of twelve-step programs, as recovering addicts look to improve their lives by letting go of character defects (one of the main offenders being resentment).
But, the statement I once heard that has served as a much better image for me is that resentment is like “picking up a hot coal to throw at one’s enemy – you have already burned your own hand.” I believe this idea settles in more deeply for me because it clearly describes the harm I cause to myself as I “hold on to” a resentment.
As long as I hold on to a resentment toward another person – no matter how justifiable it may seem to me, or to the people who love me – that is how long I am hurting myself and stunting my personal growth. This is not an easy idea to swallow, especially for someone like me, who has played the role of victim so well throughout her life. “Don’t you know what he did to me?” “Wait until I tell you what she said about me!” When I have been harmed by someone and the anger begins to well up inside of me, my instincts to defame the other person rise up with a vengeance and create an unhealthy, yet powerful, energy that flows throughout my bloodstream. I want nothing more than to shout out the inadequacies of the person and have everyone around me pat me on the head and say, “there, there…” It is an impulse that is difficult to ignore.
What I have learned as I have walked through this world of recovery from addiction is that if I give in to that voice that tells me it is okay to be a victim, I will eventually give in to the voice that tells me it is okay to pick up the first compulsive bite of my favorite binge food, or to take the first drink of the alcoholic beverage that once held me prisoner. It is such a shaky place to be because when I was living in my addictions, I was nothing but a victim. Everything that was wrong in my life was someone else’s fault (at least that was the lie I told myself). Even the fact that I was 120+ pounds overweight was something I could blame on others – as I sat on the couch and shoveled in bag after bag of potato chips! The lie of addiction works wonders to keep the addict chained to it. And embracing the role of victim only serves to help the addict believe the lie. For today, I am not willing to take that risk.
Not being willing to take that risk means that I have to look my resentments in the eye and call them out by talking to someone about them. Whether it be a counselor, spiritual advisor or trusted friend doesn’t matter much anymore. The important part is that I talk about it. I go to someone I trust and tell them about my resentment. I take that hot coal out of my hand and put it on the floor between us. Together, we work through the anger to stomp the coal out so it can’t burn me any longer. It isn’t always easy to do – to be honest about being hurt and feeling out of control. It is definitely not easy to offer forgiveness for someone who many not even know they have hurt me, or towards whom the outside world may justify my anger. But, it is the only way I have ever been able to be rid of my resentments. Otherwise, the resentment grows inside of me and threatens to take away the serenity that clean living has provided for so many years.
I may have to forgive the person over and over again after the first time, but each time it does get a little easier. I may never be able to look the person in the eye and tell them how much they have hurt me, but it doesn’t matter. My forgiveness is more for me than it is for them. In releasing my resentment toward a person, I am freeing space in my heart to be filled with Love. There is no greater gift I could give to myself.
Thank you, Jessica. This is just what I needed to read today.