There is something so profound in working through the steps in the larger 12 step community. For so many, it is life changing because it is truly a program of action. To work the steps literally requires "work". It means stepping out of our comfort zone in ways that we normally would never have imaged. The beauty of the program is the community of people that have gone before you and are willing to let you go at your own pace.
Al Anon is one of those 12 step programs. In many ways, it is a program on learning how to be in relationship to others around us. The tool of detachment is one of the most helpful tools Al Anon has to offer. Al Anon has a lot to say on the subject of detachment. Detachment is the idea of stepping away when you sense chaos, control, or intensity. A phrase often used is "don't pick up the rope". The heart behind detachment is letting go of control and allowing another person to maintain "their own side of the street". Al Anon encourages detachment "in love" and not in abandonment or neglect. In a sense, it acknowledges that we are not God therefore we will step out of the way and let God be God to that other person. But it doesn't stop there.
The program also encourages us to look at our part or "our side of the street". I believe the heart behind any 12 step program is relationship. So much of the program is about re-engaging others when there often times has been a great deal of discord. In a sense, we detach from the negative cycle / relationship in order to get our bearings in how to re-engage when it is safe and calm to do so. It is during these times that we take an honest account of our part in the relationship. It is only after this that we can really own "our part". This then allows to be ready to engage.
One the most impactful moments is often found in "making amends". It can be a very risky and vulnerable process. Re-engaging with a person puts yourself at a place of powerlessness. We really do not know how the other person will respond. Will they accept us, shame us, or ignore us? This is the real crux of relationship. We cannot control others and what they feel. But we often try by hiding our real feelings or dismissing them entirely. So much of our relationship struggles are really rooted in fear. Fear isn't necessary bad and in many ways it is very good because it helps us access our needs. We need to be affirmed, valued and assured that we matter. But we really can't do this unless we make the first step by re-engaging.
All in all, the beauty of a community that practices making amends is that you get to hear stories along the way the inspire and motivate. Otherwise, we are doing it alone and life is just not made to live solo.
Over that past couple of years, I have thought a lot about resentment. The subject of resentment has been something I have heard tossed around for so much of my life but didn't give it much thought. My thinking towards resentment sounded like this, "So what's the big deal? Isn't it normal?" I have found that yes it is normal and the effects of it are powerfully toxic.
I know resentment well. Not that I have figured it out. Rather, I have lived with resentments so long that I know the damage it has done to me. A few years ago, I experienced pain from a group of people. I felt as though there were legitimate wrongs. I had all the data and story to support the great "harms" inflicted to me. I felt hurt and the hurt was consuming. I couldn't shake the facts that "they" did this to "me". I was consumed with a "how dare they?" mentality. What I didn't realize at the time was that my hurt transformed into resentment almost instantly and covertly. This is in part due to my own character defects. It is much like using a compass. If you don't account for the difference of magnetic north vs true north you will end up off course. In the case of my resentments, I have to account for my own part in the relationship. This is so difficult to do when we feel like we are the victim and close ourselves off to examining our own lives. Resentments can be blinding.
The problem is that holding onto resentments actually feels good for a while. I get to feel angry and in control. It feels good to be mad and hold it against these people. My resentments fuel the drug of control. Sadly, this control is really a delusion.
The reality is this: resentments are like a cancer that metasitisizes unless it gets treated immediately. It is a spiritual disease in that we can't see nor heal on our own due to our own ego. It goes hand in hand with judgment and I am reminded of the verse in Matthew 7:3 that states, "Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?" Resentments keep us from seeing ourselves and our part in the story.
The most toxic resentments are those "justifiable" resentments. These justified resentments are so hard to shake. We do in fact have legitimate reasons and they make sense. What makes "justifiable" resentments even more difficult to let go is that you can find other friends to help you justify these "wrongs" because they make sense. The real struggle is what to do with this.
The Big Book in Alcoholic Anonymous states, "Resentment is the number one offender to recovery" (p. 64). The reason resentments are so toxic and a great offender is because with resentment we are still maintaining a delusion of control.
We are created to feel emotions. Hurt feelings happen and it is healthy and normal to feel hurt. The danger is that hurt can quickly and quietly morph into resentment. This happens when we start wanting to control the outcome verses surrendering to God in the process. The feeling of hurt is painful. It is consuming at times because of its painful reminders. The answer to hurt is forgiveness but forgiveness is not so easy to do nor can it just happen. Forgiveness is a mysterious process in and of itself. The worst thing we can do to ourselves and to others is to put a "should" in front of forgiveness. By forcing forgiveness, we are in fact shaming ourselves or others in the process. While, in our heart we are not ready to forgive. I have heard it said that forgiveness is like a winding staircase where we continually (to ourselves) surrender ourselves in forgiving the other person. It is more like a process than a one time act. Again forgiveness is a process and it takes time. The good news is that forgiveness is an antivenom to resentment.
So what do we do if we are struggling with hurt, resentment, or a mixture of the two? First, we have to name our feeling of hurt and that often times requires us breaking through the denial that we have in fact been hurt or the delusion that we can control our feelings. Secondly, try to look at it from a different angle. More specifically, think of that person and their story. Most likely, they have their own story of pain. Doing this doesn't mean we have to be "OK" with what happened but it does help us see their humanness. Thirdly, pray for them. The big book recommends a prayer that says, "This is a sick man. How can I be helpful to him? God save me from being angry. Thy will be done" (p. 67).
Another great tool is making a resentment list. If you are aware that you are resenting someone or a group of people write it out on paper. Then write out the emotion you have around the resentment. Lastly, ask God what His will is for you with our list? This is the hardest part for me. My default is trying to get God to align His will with mine. Rather, this puts us at a place where we align our will with His. The other great antivenom is making amends with this person. It means confessing to this person the resentments you have held against them. The paradox of making amends is that making amends is as much for you as it is them. It quite literally frees you from the resentment. It helps you be at peace with you.
The goal in all of this is to direct our attention to ourselves rather than the other person. There is a great metaphor in recovery circles that talks about keeping our side of the street clean. We are only responsible for our side of the street. At the end of the day, I have found that I have enough to deal with on my own side of the street, let alone trying to manage somebody else's side of life.
Brene Brown has become a sensation on the discussion of shame. Here are a few excerpts from several of her videos...
"When you ask people about love…they tell you about heartbreak. When you ask about longing….they tell you about excruciating experiences of being excluded. When you ask people about connection…they tell you about disconnection. Shame is the fear of disconnection. It asks “Is there something about me that if other people know it or see it that I will not be worthy of connection.”"
"The less you talk about shame the more you have it. What underpins shame is excruciating vulnerability. In order for connection to happen…we have to be seen....There is only one difference being those with toxic shame and those without it…it is if you hold “love and belonging” for yourself. Its believing that you matter. Its believing that you are worthy...."
"The one thing that keeps you out of connection is believing that you are not worthy of connection.....Courage = from latin word “cour” original meaning is to tell your story with your whole heart"
Here are several links to videos by Brene...
Shame and Empathy - ( click here )
Connectedness and vulnerability - ( click here )
Definition of Shame - ( click here )
Part II - ( click here )