Resentment is a powerful emotion—one that pops its head out and refuses to leave in some moments where you feel wronged or mistreated.
We forget who said it first, but a spot-on description of resentment is drinking poison and expecting the other person to fall ill. Resentment can keep you stuck in an ‘if only’ mindset, and may even act as a trigger or a justification for drinking again after you have gotten sober.
Often, when you’re free of the alcohol that helped to drown out your feelings about your circumstances, you’re suddenly emotionally vulnerable. Choosing to focus your emotions on resenting your loved ones, society, or even yourself for the choices you’ve made helps to avoid the full weight of this newfound vulnerability. But what this actually does is help you shift blame, rather than focus on making real progress in your sober journey.
But there’s a way out. Resentment can be unlearned to allow for a healthier recovery journey after you have quit drinking. Read on for what causes resentment, how it can affect your sobriety, and how to deal with resentment in sobriety.
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What causes resentment after quitting drinking?
1. Believing your loved ones don’t support you.
Although Ashley Blassingame is now 15 years sober—plus a certified alcohol and drug counselor—when she got sober, she struggled to understand why her family didn’t trust her. “It had been 3 months since I was a dishonest, addicted person,” she says. “It felt like a lifetime for me but my family was still catching their breath.”
On any given day, it’s normal to consider your friends and family as valuable support systems. But after you get sober, when you are most vulnerable, this responsibility tends to be multiplied by 10. More than ever, you need your loved ones to appreciate the effort you’re putting into your recovery. Where you view this support as lacking, it can lead to feelings of resentment.
Mrs. Blassingame explains it better: “People in recovery have to feel their feelings without anesthetizing so they often spend more time thinking about resentments, which means that more narrative is created. If there are triggers, the person can become obsessive about the situation.”
What tends to happen is you see yourself as a new and improved person, working to achieve the best version of yourself. It’s hard to wrap your head around your family not viewing you the same way. And so begins the cycle of blame.
In reality, while you may be currently working to carve out a new identity for yourself quitting alcohol, your family/friends have remained the same people who watched you struggle and fight with alcohol use disorder over a period of time.
Resenting loved ones for failing to show immediate trust in your process can be unfair. Likewise, because you’re confronting so many truths in sobriety, there is a tendency to be self-conscious or hyper-aware of criticisms, even where there are none.
2. A difficult recovery process.
You may have heard this a number of times already—but when you get sober, you truly are at your most vulnerable state.
For some, it’s difficult to have compassion for the person you were when you were dealing with addiction. Without the usual means to numb your feelings, coming to terms with the pain of disappointing people along the way or the harmful decisions you may have made can cause resentment to build against yourself.
Dr. David Rakofsky, Psy.D., president and owner of Wellington Counseling Group, points out: As if this isn’t hard enough, resentment may be the outcome of the challenging nature of the recovery process.
Rather than focusing on how much progress has been made in your sober journey, it’s easy to zero-in on how slowly your pace is moving. This can encourage feelings of disappointment which may morph into self-resentment.
3. The success of others.
Dr. Rakofsky also notes that resentment may be directed towards people who are progressing quickly in their recovery efforts.
Because we’re only human, it’s normal to make comparisons when we see others doing supposedly ‘better’ than us. It’s understandable to want to know why you were passed up for a promotion, but what wouldn’t be advisable is feeling bitter towards a colleague moving up. Instead, appreciate your progress and recognize areas to be improved on.
Likewise, everyone has a personal road to quitting alcohol. It’s unfair to yourself and all the hard work you’ve put in to consider a modest pace at sobriety as a personal failing. Focusing squarely on your progress in quitting drinking is a solid way to stay on track towards your goals.
How can resentment affect getting sober?
Resentment isn’t simply muttering under your breath or shooting eye daggers at people you believe wronged you. It has much deeper effects on your wellbeing, especially where it concerns your sobriety.
“Resentment can pose significant challenges and dangers to those working through the recovery process,” Dr. Rakofsky says. “Resentment can be a common trigger as the emotional weight can push someone to return to alcohol.”
Resentment is dangerous because it can fuel feelings of victimhood. All of a sudden, you have a valid reason to stay angry.
Thoughts such as “Why won’t my family appreciate how hard I’m working here?” or “How could I have let so many people down?” can emerge, and reaching for a drink to manage that negative emotion can become a last resort.
He goes further to explain that “resentment can also make it difficult for individuals in recovery to let go of the past and their addictions … these feelings can also make it difficult to rebuild relationships, as they may still feel shame for their actions or resent the actions of others.”
If there’s any plus side to resentment, it’s a little difficult to find. This emotion only works to hold back your progress in sobriety, and perhaps even undo it.
The best ways to deal with resentment after quitting alcohol.
There are different approaches to help manage resentment after you have quit alcohol. But for a first step, Blassingame recommends that “the best way to deal with resentments in recovery is to remain in recovery while doing it. The truth is that the longer a person remains on a sober journey, the better they will get, and the gift of clarity will appear.”
By focusing on sobriety, you’re fully centered on your goal to overcome your drinking. This helps to reduce the appeal of managing your emotions using alcohol as you may have tried to do in the past.
“My favorite way to work through resentments is to reflect on the cause” she continues. “Most often, we have done the same thing we are angry about, like being dismissive, judgmental, or hypocritical. Once I find my part, I can look to see what part of me the resentment is triggering. Usually, my ego is triggered, and I don’t feel heard, seen, or respected. Those things tend to get me going. Once I deconstruct all of this, I can step back and look at the resentment in its entirety. I can see that sometimes I do the thing that I am angry about, or that I have expectations that weren’t met. This helps me to get back on solid ground and bring my ‘grown-up’ self to the resolution table. Many times, I don’t need another person at the table with me because I have learned the resentment is completely about me.”
After processing the source of your resentment, you can try Dr. Rakofsky’s more practical measures: “Mindfulness meditation can be an effective way to process thoughts and feelings. Journaling can work well for tackling negative emotions, and a gratitude journal can help you focus on the positives of your life.”
This approach will help you deconstruct and manage your feelings. It may also help to clarify if there is a basis for feeling resentment.
Where there are valid grounds for resentment, he recommends that “support programs can help individuals share their personal inventories and let go of resentments. It may also help to go confront the people who are the sources of your resentment.” Or set clear boundaries with them.
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Resentment can be a powerful emotion, but it’s only as powerful as you decide to make it.
Using measures like self-assessment, therapy, and the other approaches listed above, it is possible to move through resentment. This will help you accept responsibility for your circumstances, forgive yourself, and permit your full focus to be placed on your sobriety.