“I could never forgive/am still upset with X for doing Y.” I’m sure you have plenty of X’s and Y’s. I try not to anymore. One of the biggest pieces of my recovery has been learning to drop grudges and squash resentments before they start. Letting things go feels like releasing oxygen; refusing to feels like suffocation.
I remember it was only a few days into my first in-patient rehab when we were tasked to write a letter to someone we held a resentment against. At the end of the exercise, we put them through the shredder, so it wasn’t like it was going to ever be seen by them. It was more just about a cathartic release.
On the surface, I thought it was one of the stupidest things I’d heard. In the past, my way of dealing with resentment was to either stifle and move forward or angrily confront the person, usually just making things worse in the process. This exercise sounded like hippie, touchy-feely crap. Then I did it.
The first person I could think of was one of the people I co-owned a couple of companies with prior to being arrested. They, like most of my business partners, were once someone I considered a close friend, but had distanced themselves from me a few months earlier and I was still framing it like an abandonment.
Once I started writing, I focused on the small things this person did that irked me over the years. You know, the kind of stuff that gets under your skin in the moment and you look back and think “That wasn’t cool.”
It was little things, like saying they’d help with something I thought was major, but backing out at the last minute. In retrospect, it wasn’t major, they had a decent reason, and my Plan B was just fine. Or needing them to step out of their comfort zone to deal with somebody, but them not being able to overcome their anxiety. I have anxiety too, so I get it. I just wish they could have faced it.
It surprised me how good it felt to understand their side of things. When I stopped being the center of the universe, it’s easier to understand other people’s issues.
Then I moved onto the bigger things. This person had spoken ill of me to quite a few people. I don’t know why they didn’t think it wouldn’t get back to me. I realized just how much this person and I did that to others when we were on the same page. Should it be any great surprise they would do that me? Maybe it’s my journalism roots – or why I got into journalism in the first place – but I used to really enjoy gossiping and this person and I had earned PhDs in the science.
I was collapsing in on myself like a black hole, but they weren’t. Their behavior was boorish, just like mine was when I did the same thing, but they were still behaving naturally.
When it came to them “abandoning” me as I flamed out and crashed like a satellite entering the earth’s atmosphere (What’s with all the space references today?) that wound was still very fresh when I wrote the letter, but I was able to take a breath and recognize it was not abandonment. It was pulling away from a bad situation by someone who was looking out for themselves. People shut themselves off to others as a form of self-preservation. This is what they were doing. Through an objective lens, it honestly made sense.
I read the letter out loud to the group and put it through the shredder. Writing down that I forgave the person and then saying it out loud was powerful. That night, as I went to sleep, I noticed I felt a lot better. I thought about some of my other business partners and other people who had made it onto my list of resentments. Once I got that first person out of the way, it was so much easier to just let things go with everybody else.
Asking myself why I was holding onto things actually made me feel kind of dumb in a way. What did I think would change or come out of negative thoughts or energy? Nothing could change what happened in the past and I wasn’t looking for anything to really change in the future. Did I expect them to grovel at my feet begging forgiveness? Even if they did, I’d have been angry for them causing a scene to make me look like the bad guy. Those kinds of lasting bad feelings weren’t going to be mended, because they couldn’t, so why carry it with me?
Letting go isn’t saying they were right or wrong. It’s not saying I was right or wrong. It’s saying that the energy in taking a side isn’t worth the outcome, especially when the outcome is negative emotions. I don’t have to admit defeat because there is no winning side in resentment.
I talked with my wife every night while I was at that rehab on the telephone. She and I were in very similar places of resentment against many of the same people when I left. When she’d voice anger toward someone, I realized mine was either gone or had dissipated greatly. Somehow, I was learning to let things go.
Now, nearly four years after that happened, I look back at the angry person I was and feel bad for that guy. Sure, he may have been more successful on the surface, but he carried too much spite inside. I think my wife has released a lot of it, but I know there are still people who carry resentments for me and carry resentments against me that they’ll probably never let go of. I feel sad for both groups. It’s just not worth it.
Let your resentments go. You have nothing to gain by maintaining them.