That’s Just Your Opinion, Man

Men are disturbed not by the things which happen, but by the opinion about the things: for example, death is nothing terrible, for if it were, it would have seemed so to Socrates; for the opinion about death, that it is terrible, is the terrible thing. When, then, we are impeded or disturbed or grieved, let us never blame others, but ourselves, that is, our opinions. It is the act of an ill-instructed man to blame others for his own bad condition; it is the act of one who has begun to be instructed, to lay blame on himself; and of one whose instruction is completed, neither to blame another, nor himself.

Epictetus, Encheiridion, V

Disclaimer: Reading this aloud to myself, it rattles of teenage angst. Emotions involved with anger are difficult dragons to slay. I am proud that I am able to take responsibility for my actions, to the point of blaming myself for things that I shouldn’t. This is a hard pill for me to swallow because I almost want to be the agitator, I don’t want to think others have done wrong. The fact of the matter is that I can’t blame myself for everything, only the things that I know I am directly responsible for. C.S Lewis stated that “true humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less”. In this particular situation, I still find myself on the fence. I haven’t discovered the true resolution if one is possible. I would rather face this than sweep it under the rug, cognizant of my lack of definitive proof against myself or a surefire resolution.

Resentment is an ugly, awful feeling. There are a couple of people to this day, as hard as I have fought in my mind, that I continue to harbor varying degrees of residual resentment towards. One, in particular, has become very troubling. I started to really analyze this problem and figure out how much of it is me, picking individual elements and situations apart to see if I was the ultimate cause.

According to the dictionary, resentment is a feeling of “bitter indignation at having been treated unfairly”. If I adhere to this definition, I’m not truly resentful. I’m angry, to the point that I don’t want anything to do with the situation any longer. Like Pilate, my sole wish is to wash my hands of it. In truth, I can’t say that I have been treated unfairly by them directly. Point of fact, it was the unfair treatment of others that raised my ire. The words power trip and manipulation come to mind. Strong words, I agree. But as an alcoholic, I had become a master manipulator, at least in my own mind. I know all the tricks. I have tried them all to get my way, create another strand in my web of lies or to try to hide my addiction problem.

But, I still have to question how much of the problem originated with my own actions, sober or under the influence. Although I don’t have much recollection, there is a high probability that I shot off at the mouth at some point. I was still drinking during the first interactions. Now, sober and with a clear head, I concede that maybe I should have approached the situation in a more adult manner. I’m not using alcohol as an excuse, or I am at least making a concerted effort to not lay the blame on my addiction this time. Rather, I want the ability to lay the blame on my character if blame should be placed.

I look at the situations that bother me the most and realize that I feel justified in my feelings. What bothers me is how much I let those feelings control my well-being. The feelings will crop up out of nowhere and I will stew on them, getting angry to the point of feeling anxiety and sometimes the onset of a panic attack. This particular demon has been an obstinate and ugly one to fight. In The Screwtape Letters, the elder demon Screwtape relays to Wormwood, his nephew protegé, that “indeed, the safest road to Hell is the gradual one–the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts”. Malcontentment can squeeze in, subtly and quickly, if the door to your heart and mind are barely open, just for a moment. I allowed my guard to be down long enough to allow that thought to appear and foment yet again. It doesn’t matter how uncomfortable a situation is; oftentimes, sweeping it under the rug to ignore for your own comfort is counterproductive and causes more damage.

Avoidance is probably not the best way to handle the situation, knowing I must have some degree of direct contact. Not often, so that is helpful. Nevertheless, I need to keep working through this to make it right, at least in my own mind.

I think one of my points of contention, with internal resolution,  revolves around forgiveness in general. Part of the 12 Step program is actively asking for forgiveness to those that you harmed. In some instances, you have to gauge whether that apology will cause more harm than good. All in all, I have been successful in asking for forgiveness and being granted it. That resolution has been given to me anywhere from “water under the bridge” to direct restitution of a transgression. I think people see that I am working actively to manage my addiction, eradicating it from my life. However, this is the first time I have had to broach forgiving someone myself in this process. It’s confusing because I know I probably could have acted more virtuously, but that doesn’t negate things that have transpired. In all truth, I can not, in good conscience, make an insincere or unfounded apology just to gloss over the situation, to create a false blanket of comfort and amicability.

Perhaps I’m being sensitive. In my defense, it is a delicate situation. Beyond a shadow of a doubt, I can attest to the fact that I have caused strife amongst a close group of peers. I specifically have instigated and I am guilty of many of the transgressions that I am railing against. In that sense, I know I am the pot calling the kettle black. Since then, I have apologized for my transgressions directly. Short of self-flagellation, I’m paying my penance. However, I have to see through my former inebriated state and approach some situations that I am not fully at fault. I realize that I am hypersensitive at this moment in time. I have to keep the serenity prayer close in my mind, knowing whether or not I can change the problem at hand. I believe I can change this both directly and indirectly. Directly, I must continue to make peace with myself, realizing that I am allowed to be angry but not let that emotion control my decisions or actions. Indirectly, keeping a cool head and a closed mouth will behoove me more than anything. The immediate emotions of the situations are gone, left behind in the past. It is my lingering opinion that is bothersome. I strive to be fully instructed, as Epictetus related.

For those in recovery, yes, you have done wrong. Make amends for that. But don’t beat yourself up. You can’t be blamed for everything. Continue your self-examination and be willing to admit when you are wrong but don’t let others use your past to justify. Friends and family of those in recovery, keep an open mind and open heart. We addicts are working very hard, coping and dealing with things we thought we might never have to. Be sensitive to this. It does no good reminding us constantly of how we used to be. There is no amount of shame you can pile on us that we don’t already have. So give it a rest. My goal is to bring together the broken pieces of my life and I will not tolerate anyone who tries to continue driving wedges.

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