What about the trap of bitterness?

If ever there was an, “Every time I think I’m out, they pull me back in”, experience with respect to being tied to our past it’s when we feel bitterness.

I make specific mention of this because of the ease with which many of us have slipped into it and the power it can have over us… if we let it (I hasten to add).  It is usually the final stronghold for us as we are closing out our past and moving forward.  The final shackle that tries to jump out at us, reattach itself, and hold us back is that age-old trap of resentment.

How do we deal with it when it shows up?  How about the same way we deal with everything else?  1) Don’t take the bait.  2) Refocus on what you are grateful for today.  3) Accept that moving forward does not erase the past, it simply leaves it to fade in the rearview mirror of our lives as we enjoy the scenery of our new life.

The usual retort of our unhealthy thinking is, “Ya but….”.  Ya but what?  Fill in the blank with a thousand different things:  ‘It wasn’t fair’, ‘You’d be bitter too if it happened to you’, ‘I can’t shake it’.

I’ve said all of these and a hundred more.  Yet I found that any statement that rationalizes bitterness or resentment of a past event is part of my less-healthy side fighting for its own survival.  It needs fuel to burn and the fuel it wants from me is to engage the thoughts of the wrongs (or perceived wrongs) of the past, then convert them into feelings to add strength to the resentment.

Does this mean we should simply stuff or ignore the past?  No.  We need to first wind it down and close it out in some healthy way.  What do each of us need?  Hard to say.  For me, I have founds counseling, reading, blogging, dialoguing with others with similar histories, and working the 12 steps to be the most helpful.

I think we are wise to take reasonable time and make reasonable effort to address the wounds of the past.  But once that is done, it is time to let go.  Surrender it and form new thought habits.  Habits that focus on today and the next step forward.  Not 5 or 10 steps forward, just one.

If a bitterness or resentment persists, maybe we haven’t done the work and closed it out.  If we haven’t, we should once again seek the help we need.  Spending time in the bitterness and stewing alone in our thoughts, however, will not help.  By doing so, we are only re-rehearsing old self-destructive patterns.

Resentments born of some legitimate harm or injustice will sting harder and burn longer.  They carry a greater emotional charge.  And much in our culture tries to suggests that we deserve to have resentments.  So there is often a lot of unravelling and retraining to do.

The bottom line is that most of us will find bitterness the hardest thing to shake.  But it can be shaken.  We need to stop participating in it, close out the issue with the appropriate help, and develop new habits of thought that carry us to better places today and in the future.




About Chaz

Husband, father, brother, son, friend. Sober member of AA. Grateful for the life God gave me and for the happy struggle of recovery.
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8 Responses to What about the trap of bitterness?

  1. Chaz,

    Your posts always give me hope, especially after hearing, yesterday, that my step-son, who’d been in recovery for two years, did not only relapse, but graduated to cocaine, a new drug for him.

    Also, thank you for reminding us that bitterness hurts us (and those around us) deeply. To your list of to dos to let go of resentment, I’d like to add forgiveness (of ourselves and others), and meditation. I have been working with a Buddhist lovingkindness meditation that is helping me to soften my heart.

    Peace and blessings

    • Chaz says:

      Hi Converging Heart…

      Your step-son going back out and adding another substance is lots to deal with. I can only imagine it hurts, it’s disappointing, it’s frightening.

      Glad to know that you are working with positive ways to deal with this. Life does seem to continue to deal us tough cards and bad hands. We are not spared from these types of things seemingly at any point.

      The motivation behind me posting this in the first place was a hurt that I felt from my daughter the other night when she talked about my wrongs while overlooking and rationalizing a hurtful wrong of someone else. I had to deal with it in the most positive ways possible which included me bloggin about it. I am handling it so much better now.

      I agree that forgiveness of self and others is essential. It is part of the closing out. Some of the reading that I did that helped me in this area was a book called, “Whats so amazing about grace”. It chronicled some very extreme but very real applications of grace. Funny how humanity strives to be extreme in so many things, yet grace and forgiveness are cards that by and large we play conservatively.

      Good to hear from you.



  2. jeremy says:

    I kind of see things this way … Imagine a gem stone. We are the gem stone. Situations and memories are cyclical. They come up repeatedly. And every pass at the gem brings with it a new cut. A new polish. Every time the same memory comes up the sting is lessened, the memory looses its heat. As we polish the gem stone it gets refined.

    I can’t excise the memories from my mental hard drive. However hard I try. The less I hang on to the past, the better things get. Stepping an issue works just as well. I have worked my steps and there are some 9’s that I will never get to do. But I have prayed that away.

    The less energy you give the past, the less it will affect you.

    Slips are a bitch. Adding a new drug is dangerous. All we can do is pray that the young man will make it back, and his experimentation with drugs will be short lived. God help him. Addiction is insidious.


    • Chaz says:

      Great analogy Jeremy. I like it.

      If we take value from when the hurtful memory appears again, then it is indeed true that we we can improve each time.

      The cyclical passes the memories make do indeed seem to happen on their own. The come to visit. How long and what we do together is another question. Inviting the memories in for a pity party of course is less likely to produce a refining for us. While feeling the pain, discussing it, and learning something is.

      Thanks for this great reply. Something to work with here.



  3. Great post! The worst resentment I’ve experienced since coming into recovery was toward the psychiatrist who misdiagnosed my husband and wouldn’t listen to me when I told her he was psychotic again. It took me over a year, and a really bad two-week anxiety attack before I recognized that I needed more help than I’d already gotten in letting go of my bitterness toward her.

    I ended up taking a class about mental illness specifically designed for people with mentally ill family members. I can’t tell you how much it helped me to talk to other people who understood exactly what I’d been through! I also started putting the psychiatrist in my prayers, which was something I knew I should have been doing all along but hadn’t been willing to do.

    And, boy, when I was finally able to move past my resentment, it was such a relief! My feelings certainly hadn’t been hurting the psychiatrist — they were only hurting me.

    Like you said, we’ve got to put in reasonable time and reasonable effort to let things go. Until we’re ready to do that, the bitterness can eat us alive.

    • Chaz says:

      Hi Heather, thanks for the reply.

      I can relate. I had a Psychiatrist make a mistake with me a few years ago by prescribing a medication that helped trigger a cocaine relapse. He should have known better than to prescribe this substance to a known recovering coke addict.

      But like your situation, mine had value in it. From it, I learned beyond the shadow of a doubt that any mood-altering substance was dangerous for me and could send me back out. And I mean any. Including cough syrup with codiene, even though I never touched opiates.

      And like you, I have forgiven him. In fact, I am grateful for him and the experience. It helped me become who I am today and learn not to blame. Because I also learned that even tough I took the substance, I still had a choice in whether or not to go back out. And if it happened again, I know more clearly what to do.



  4. jobo says:

    Beautifully written and dead-on, as usual. Bitterness is a tough thing to shake, but it is an ugly, ugly emotion. And it’s not productive, nor healthy in the slightest. (clearly I hate bitterness!) Great post.

    • Chaz says:

      Are you perhaps…. bitter at bitterness? 🙂

      Thanks for stopping in Jolene! Encouraging as always. Glad the post had meaning for you. See ya on the blogs! Trust you’re doing well?



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