“It is plain that a life which includes deep resentment leads only to futility and unhappiness. To the precise extent that we permit these, do we squander the hours that might have been worthwhile? But with the alcoholic, whose hope is the maintenance and growth of a spiritual experience, this business of harboring resentment is infinitely grave. For then we shut ourselves off from the sunlight of the spirit”
—Bill W. in As Bill Sees It
I’m a person who is easily pissed off.
There . . . I said it. And it’s true. Let me give you an example . . .
Just yesterday, I got a call from a friend. He’s a guy I don’t see much, because he lives a couple hours north of me. He said, “Hey Dan! What are you doing tonight?”
I didn’t have anything planned, and his question piqued my interest: “Nuttin’ much. Why?”
“Wondered if you wanted to go catch a Timberwolves game with me.”
“Wow. Really!?” I’m not a huge fan of basketball and I don’t keep track of the NBA at all. Still, that he thought of me to do this with him was really kind. Seeing him that evening, I actually enjoyed the game. It was great to catch up with him too. My problem wasn’t seeing him or watching the game in Minneapolis (the Wolves lost, by the way), my problem was something that happened right before the game.
I decided to take the light rail from St. Paul into Minneapolis and get a bite to eat before I met my buddy; I figured that there would be plenty of places where I could grab a quick bite. When I got off the train at the Warehouse District station, I could see there were already people milling about. The Target Center is only a block away and I looked up and down the street to see if I could find a fast food joint. But there were only bars, lots and lots of sports bars.
I suppose I could have whipped out my handy iPhone and looked around, but there were so many people and I didn’t want to look like an idiot peering into my smartphone. So I walked.
No Burger Kings. No McDonalds. Just coffee joints and bars. I finally settled on one that had & restaurant tagged to its name like an afterthought (“oh yeah, we have FOOD too!”).
As I entered, I could see that it was packed. I had 45 minutes to eat and meet my buddy at the game, but there were spots up at the bar itself. After having been a waiter for two summers while I was in college, I knowthat the bar generally gets the food to you quickly. I figured, what the hell? I’m not drinking. What harm is there in it?
I pulled up a barstool and a clean-cut guy in his mid-20s looked up from washing beer mugs. He threw a paper coaster with some brand of beer stamped on it atop the gnarled wood counter and said, “What can I get for you?”
He replied with a few options, then asked if I wanted to instead see the menu. I told him no, that I just wanted a simple burger and fries.
“Sounds great! What can I get you to drink?”
The thought to go ahead and order a beer, I admit, did cross my mind. I mean, no one would know, right? That’s a fairly common thought with me and I know how to deal with it. No, I’d have my favorite drink instead.
“Half tonic water, half cranberry juice with a twist of lime, please. No alcohol!” (I make a point of saying no alcohol. Firmly too. One time I ordered without specifying and my drink came back with vodka in it. I didn’t drink it, but boy was I mad.) from page 1
“Ooooookay,” he said.
I saw him punch in my order at the register and several other customers sat down, up at the bar.
And then it happened.
He proceeded to take their drink orders (all alcohol) and serve them first!
I waited patiently. After 15 minutes I had my burger in front of me. Still no N/A drink.
“Hey. Did you forget my drink?” I asked. I saw that he was busy filling orders for the other servers.
“No. I got it on the bill,” he said as he hustled over to another server who placed an order with him. He assumed I was asking whether or not he included the drink on my tab.
“Hey! I never got my drink!” I yelled across the bar, so a few of the patrons turned their heads to see what asshole had a few too many and was getting rambunctious. He looked at me. Then he looked at my place setting and, without apologizing, quickly mixed up my bitter, tee-totaling concoction (it has a name, by the way —The Saint Paul Summer. It’s my own creation, thank you very much) and placed the glass next to my plate. Then I heard him apologize under his breath as he turned to fill more orders.
I was seething. I actually contemplated standing up and leaving, meal and all. I imagined I saw myself walking to the hostess at the door and informing her that the restaurant had committed a grave error in hiring the jackass behind the bar. I mean . . . come on!!!
But something kicked in. It’s a habit I’ve created with myself. Instead of reacting, I paused.
It’s funny that such a simple action allows the prefrontal cortex of my brain (the part that controls higher reasoning) to catch up with my animal side. The animal, lizard brain only knows fear, sex, hunger and how to fight. Alcohol and drugs fed this side of me four years ago (and a day). Today, I have to pause, count, and hold back. Then, I see the resentments for what they are: a false reality created to stimulate my brain and feed my ego to assuage my deep-set fear that I’m not good enough.
Bill W. was right to identify resentments for what they are: the hydrochloric acid of the soul, seeking to eat away the spiritual foundation we depend on. Resentments build not only anger, they destroy relationships. Resentments seek to blame the source of a problem on something or someone else. They thrive when self-righteous indignation creeps into every corner, blurring our vision so we fail to see what really is. Perhaps most importantly, resentments block us from experiencing heart-felt forgiveness.
Part of me wishes that non-alcoholics and non-addicts could experience the freedom that the Twelve Steps have given me. There are many different stories of transformation, not just recovery-based stuff. The fact of the matter is that anyone can benefit from the lessons that recovering people have to share. After all, these are human issues, not just ex-boozer or ex-junky matters.
The gift of a spirit-filled life is recognizing that the center of existence is not you. Your resentments toward people and things do not have to rule you. And it’s remarkably freeing to know that things and people don’t control your destiny in life. That much has already been decided by a power greater than any of us.
(I apologized to the bartender for yelling. He wasn’t impressed. Then again, he didn’t need to be — my action to do this was just as much for me as it was for him.)
Daniel D. Maurer was an ordained ELCA pastor for 11 years, but now pretends to be a writer, drinking Lattés while sitting at his Mac. He is the author of two nationally distributed books, and he lives with his family in St. Paul, the world’s coolest city.