Identifying resentments is a key to recovery.
When I first worked on my Fourth Step (made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves) with my sponsor, it was an arduous slog. He was, however, very patient. The Fourth Step is actually pretty complicated and it exacts an emotional toll even on addicts willing to do whatever it takes to find recovery. From what I’ve seen and heard, it’s at the Fourth Step when most people drop out of Twelve Step programs, or at least when they stop progressing.
“I, the Lord, will remember your sins no more.” But…
The Fourth Step required me to take a pen and a notebook, sit down and review my past (mis)behavior, and then make a written record of it. Part of that review was a “resentment list,” a list of people, ideas and institutions for which I harbored resentment. You can see why that would be hard for me. I had spent a lifetime trying to forget all my bad behavior. I was enamored with that verse in the Doctrine and Covenants that says, “he who has repented of his sins, the same is forgiven, and I, the Lord, remember them no more” (58:42). Notice that in this verse, the Lord gives himself permission to forget my sins.
That’s a tricky scripture passage for an addict like me. Really tricky. In my addiction, I was trying to put myself in the Lord’s shoes and give myself permission to forget my own sins. In section 58, the Lord doesn’t actually give me that permission. I don’t think the Lord has given me that permission anywhere. And with what I now understand about and have experienced through addiction recovery and the Atonement of Jesus Christ, I no longer feel like I have to forget my past sins. I don’t dwell on them, but I certainly haven’t forgotten them either.
Disciples of Christ don’t resent anyone, right?
Anyway, I was stuck on the Fourth Step. My sponsor would ask how things were coming along and I would respond with something like, “I’m having trouble with this resentment list. You know, I consider myself to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. That means I try to love and forgive everyone. And I think I do a pretty good job of it. I really can’t come up with anyone I resent.”
Usually, my sponsor would laugh a little and shake his head–that really bothered me (more on that later). “Keep working at it,” he’d say. I suspect now that he was probably chatting about his sponsor dilemma (me) with his own sponsor and other guys in the program. “Hey, there’s this Mormon guy I sponsor who says he doesn’t have any resentments. Any thoughts on how to proceed?”
Let’s play a game of pretend
One day, we sat down again to talk about my progress. I gave him my same no-resentments-disciple-of-Jesus line and then he said, “Okay, I understand that your faith requires that you harbor no resentments. I get that. But let’s pretend for a minute. Let’s pretend that you are a guy who really experiences resentment and that there’s nothing in your background or makeup telling you that you can’t resent. Who are the people, institutions and ideas that might make it on the list if you were that hypothetical person who actually held on to resentments?”
“Fine,” I responded. “I’ll pretend. If I actually were a person who harbored resentments–and I’m not–at the top of my list would be my mother, my father, my brother, my sister and the LDS Church.”
He continued, “All right. So if you did resent your mother–and I know you don’t, because you don’t actually do the resentment thing–what would be the reasons? What did she do to you that might have caused someone else–not you–to resent her?” Then, I opened my mouth and a torrent of facts spilled out, all of it clear evidence that my mother had done me wrong. And then we talked about my father. I had a massive list of his wrongs to share as well.
Suddenly, no more pretending
Suddenly, I wasn’t pretending anymore. We talked about the other entries on my short list. Then, one by one, I started adding more people, ideas and institutions to the list: several of my current clients, several people I worked with, several former employers–and then all former employers–graduate school professors and certain students, certain government employees.
The flood gates opened. I added my wife, each one of my children, my current bishop, my stake president, all my former bishops and stake presidents, my mission presidents, their wives, my mission companions, my college basketball coaches, my high school basketball coaches, every guy I ever played on a team with, anyone who had ever coached me in any capacity, my roommate during my freshman year of college, all of my teachers from kindergarten to twelfth grade. Many classmates and friends from when I was growing up. On and on. The list grew longer. I scribbled furiously. I added one target of my resentment per line in my notebook.
Getting smacked by the truth
I was crying during much of this experience and didn’t understand why. Then, suddenly, several life-changing and soul-saving truths crashed down on me:
- I can actually lie to myself and not know that I’m lying to myself.
- I do harbor resentments; in fact, I have harbored massive resentments for pretty much my entire life.
- The character of the person I had become was basically built on a framework of resentment. Resentment permeated my life. It oozed out of everything I was and everything I did.
- I was lying to myself when I repeatedly asserted that I didn’t harbor resentments because I was a disciple of Jesus Christ–and I genuinely did not realize that I was telling myself this lie.
- I had been trying to hide behind my Mormonism to keep from having to deal with my addiction.
Hiding behind my Mormonism
At BYU many years ago, I learned about logical fallacies in my PoliSci 200 class. One of these fallacies is begging the question, a circular argument in which the conclusion is included in the premise. My faulty reasoning was something like this:
I am a Latter-day Saint. Latter-day Saints are disciples of Jesus Christ. Disciples of Jesus Christ love and forgive everyone and don’t harbor resentments. Therefore, I automatically and unreservedly love and forgive everyone and I never harbor resentments. Really. Seriously. I’m not kidding. Check out the solemn look on my face. No resentments. Ever. A Mormon of my spiritual stature shouldn’t have to make resentment lists!
Quickly, several more things became clear to me. I definitely needed this sponsor and the other guys in the program to help me better see reality. My view of reality was obstructed by the half-truths, mistruths and lies I’d been telling myself for decades. Important spiritual insights could come to me through people outside the Mormon Church. I needed to be more humble and willing to let the Lord open my eyes to the truth of my past so I that could own up to it, address it and move on with my life.
Resentment fuels addiction
My sponsor also explained to me that resentment is a necessary fuel to feed the fire of addiction. Most addicts are loaded to the gills with resentments because resentment makes them miserable, leaves them feeling sorry for themselves and compels them to self-medicate with their drug of choice in order to check out and numb the pain. Resentment helps to guarantee that addicts will keep pursuing their drug.
I’ll write more later on about what I did with that list of resentments in the process of working the Fourth Step. What I experienced was entirely unexpected.
A list 400 lines long!
By the way, when I finally stopped writing that day, my resentment list was was over four hundred lines long. That’s pretty amazing for a guy who had been just been telling himself and his sponsor that he loved and forgave everyone.
At the end of this exercise, I looked at my sponsor and quipped, “You know, I’m really resenting you right now, too.” He laughed and then shot back, “Yeah, I figured you did.”