How to Address Resentment Towards Loved Ones After Quitting Drinking

By: Alex Kilpatrick, Contributor

After you stop drinking, it is natural to experience a wide range of emotions, including negative ones such as anger and resentment. 

Those feelings can especially arise when we are stuck at home with nothing to do and nobody else to see but the people we live with. During the global COVID-19 pandemic, many people have moved home to live with parents, family members, and other loved ones, or are simply living in close quarters with their people while sheltering in place. Unfortunately, resentments can certainly fester in these tough situations during this difficult time—especially for those of us who have recently quit alcohol.

“Anger and resentment towards loved ones can be common after entering recovery,” says Ruby Mehta, Director of Clinical Operations at Tempest. “Excessive drinking makes it challenging to uphold individual boundaries with friends and family, and boundary violations often lead to excessive drinking. Upon entering sobriety, the extent of the boundary violation becomes more apparent and people often experience more resentment during early sobriety.” 

It's critical for people in recovery to learn how to deal with difficult emotions like anger and resentment. In the past, we may have used alcohol or other drugs to escape or numb these feelings, and now that our drug of choice is removed as a coping mechanism, we have to find new, healthier ways to deal. This is especially important as there has been a rise in overdose-related deaths and emergency calls in places around the U.S. as well as up to 150,000 additional deaths from alcohol, drugs and suicide, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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It goes back to those boundary violations that Mehta talked about; if you develop anger towards a loved one and no longer have alcohol to relieve your stress, that anger and consequent resentment can be harmful to your physical and mental health. All of that combined can make people feel emotionally stuck and not able to move forward in their recovery journey.

Dealing with resentment is certainly not easy for people recovering from addiction (or anyone!), but there are healthy ways that you can address the resentment and your emotions around it. “Try working through resentment by creating new boundaries and using self-compassion,” says Mehta. Additionally, we’ve put together this list of strategies to work through your resentments towards your loved ones and stay sober in the process:

1. Identify your role in the situation. 

It’s easier said than done but acknowledging the part that you played in the situation, if applicable, can help you manage your emotions around the resentment. Of course, this does not apply to situations where you are a survivor of abuse or trauma.

2. Focus on changing your behavior. 

It can be tempting to simply focus on the behavior of the loved one that you’re angry or resentful towards. Unfortunately, it’s very difficult and nearly impossible to change the behavior of others, especially if they have no desire to change. It’s much healthier and realistic to focus on changing your own behavior, especially if you played a role in the situation.

3. Practice forgiveness and acceptance. 

It’s certainly easier said than done, but practicing forgiveness towards your loved ones will help you reconnect with them and your community. Forgiveness also helps you connect with your own emotions and inner self that may have been overwhelmed with feelings of anger and bitterness. It also helps to fully understand and accept emotions. We recommend identifying how you’re feeling and allowing yourself to feel all of your emotions without judging them or yourself.

4. Use “I” statements. 

When speaking to your loved ones about the resentment, we recommend using “I” statements rather than using the word “you.” Using the word “you” too much can sound very accusatory and it tends to shut the conversation down or turns it into a confrontation. When you use “I” statements, you are able to focus on how the situation affected you and help your loved ones realize the impact of the situation on you.

5. Use relaxation techniques. 

We also recommend learning and practicing some self-calming or relaxation techniques, including yoga, meditation, mindfulness, breathing, and quiet time. These relaxation techniques can help ground and calm you when the resentment becomes overwhelming.

6. Practice gratitude. 

Practice gratitude for all of the good things in your life. Write a daily or weekly gratitude list, recording at least ten things you have to be grateful for that day. Focusing your thoughts and feelings on what you do have can help reduce those feelings of anger and resentment.

7. Express your anger and resentment in healthy ways. 

There are healthy ways to express your anger and resentment. For example, you can vent to supportive friends or people that you trust and feel safe sharing your feelings with. You can work out your emotions through physical activities like sports, running, or hiking. Or you can simply write about your feelings in a journal.

8. Treat your loved ones with kindness.

If you are still feeling some lingering anger and resentment, we recommend treating your loved ones with kindness and thinking loving thoughts for them. Loving-kindness meditation is a great way to practice this. During the meditation, you pray that your loved ones will receive everything they want and need in their life.

* * * 

This time can certainly feel difficult and isolating, especially for people who have recently quit alcohol. If you are struggling right now, you are not alone, and there are ways that you can deal with your anger and resentment without returning to drinking.

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In a study done in partnership with the University of Buffalo and Syracuse University, Tempest members reported a 50% reduction in their symptoms of Alcohol Use Disorder (problematic drinking) and a 25% reduction in the severity of anxiety and depression symptoms.