Resentment is a Spiritual Lesson Not Learned

Resentment is a Spiritual Lesson Not LearnedMost of the time our anger, irritation, frustration, is just a tempest in a teapot.  We make up a story to stoke our anger because we are angry, we need to be angry, and we want to be angry, so we produce anger. It has nothing to do with the other person at all.  It is all about being an angry person.

“Nothing other people do is because of you. It is because of themselves.”

don Miguel Ruiz

Conversely, nothing we do is because of other people, It is because of self.  No one can “make” us angry; we are just looking for reasons to project our anger.  It is all about us.  Understanding this puts us in charge of ourselves, not victims of the guy whom we are blaming. We can change ourselves, we can’t change him. That is the empowering fact that allows us to resign from victimhood. Our friend Tom says, “It isn’t them, it isn’t them, it isn’t them!

Remember, resentments have an adverse effect on recovery:

  • By focusing on others, we ignore our own character defects.
  • Resentment is poison. It keeps us toxic and stressed.
  • Resentment is a common relapse trigger. It is the Number One Offender.
  • Resentment robs us of peace and serenity.
  • Resentment is a waste of time and energy.
  • Resentments destroy relationships.
  • Resentments separate us from our Higher Power.

“It is a spiritual axiom that every time we are disturbed, no matter what the cause, there is something wrong with us,” AA 12 & 12, p. 90.

So how do we stop the blame game? I think immediate action is called for. As soon as we recognize the disturbance, we want to take action. I mean take action before saying a word.

So what actions will produce good results? I have a few tools that I use to forestall the words that will disturb the peace. One that I like a lot is my Step Seven prayer: Please take my (anger, resentment, irritation, frustration), God. Take it and change me. I have no power. You have the power. Thank you for making this change in me. Step seven is so effective because it shows willingness to “let go and let God”.

Here are instructions for a way to deal with resentments from the book Alcoholics Anonymous, Freedom from Bondage, p. 552:

“If you have a resentment you want to be free of, if you will pray for the person or the thing that you resent, you will be free. If you will ask in prayer for everything you want for yourself to be given to them, you will be free…Even when you don’t really want it for them, and your prayers are only words and you don’t mean it, go ahead and do it anyway. Do it every day for two weeks and you will find you have come to mean it and to want it for them, and you will realize that where you used to feel bitterness and resentment and hatred, you now feel compassionate understanding and love.”

Forgiveness is a pathway out of resentment. Unforgiveness is subjective and judgmental and arrogant it is a demonstration of lack of love. We give away our power. When we say to the person we resent, “If you act the way I think you should act I can be happy. If not, I will suffer from toxic emotions.” (Of course we really don’t realize that we are choosing toxins, but that is the way it is.) When we do that, we choose powerlessness by denying responsibility for our thoughts/beliefs and feelings.   Forgiveness is objective and suspends judgement returns us to love and acceptance. Shall I live in toxic resentment or peaceful love?

Kay Sheppard, LMHC, CEDS, CET

What Will Acceptance Not Cure?

What Will Acceptance Not Cure?We read these amazing words “… and acceptance is the answer to all my problems today”[1]. Could that possibly be true? Think of all of the ills in your world today and how acceptance applies.

I started learning the lesson of acceptance in my first five minutes in recovery. I was given a precious little pamphlet by Father Vince Collins entitled Acceptance: The Way to Serenity and Peace of Mind.   I read it until it was ragged.  One of my favorite passages which I have remembered for almost 50 years is this one: “An old Arab, whose tent was pitched next to a company of whirling dervishes was asked, what do you do about them? I let them whirl!”[2] Just consider his options; he could fuss, mumble, complain, swear, scream, yell, pray, shake his fist at them, or he could accept them just the way they are. “Let them whirl!” That’s acceptance! The same goes for all external environments. Whatever occurs outside of us is subject to acceptance.

The Serenity Prayer suggests we “accept the things we cannot change”.   It does seem to be the best option.   Somehow, refusing to accept the things I cannot change is like banging my head against a brick wall. There is no positive outcome. It is futile, frustrating and painful.   I cannot change persons, situations or circumstances—external environment. The good news is that I can change myself. The path to change involves recognition, admission, acceptance and action.   Change the world and nothing happens, change myself and the world changes. In order to do that, I must be aware of my internal environment. What is going on inside me? I must identify the thoughts that create my irritation, impatience and anger.

Our anger comes from lack of acceptance. Anger starts with judgment, criticism, blame, expectations—and all other ego demands.   Every fight, divorce, war, barroom brawl, and resentment starts with: “I’m right, you’re wrong, you’d better change!” Where there is no acceptance there is condemnation which creates the illusion of power and control. The price we pay for being right is our peace of mind, happiness, serenity. We can’t be right and be happy!  To find happiness, we have to give up the illusion of control through acceptance and surrender.

Another recovering person and I were doing some step work this week and we came upon a really important point to consider. We both had similar experiences that involved being irritated by the behavior of a stranger. We both spoke to the person we felt irritated with in an appropriate way, thinking we could help solve a problem. We both got violent rageful reactions to our comments. Our conclusion, after thinking the situations through was this: “It is a spiritual axiom that every time we are disturbed, no matter what the cause, there is something wrong with us.” [3] A better choice than to comment would have been to identify and correct our irritation. In other words, hit the problem where it starts—with me! This would have been a good time to say the “other” serenity prayer: God grant me the serenity to accept the person I cannot change, courage to change the person I can, and wisdom to know that person is me!” These situations would have presented the perfect opportunity to say silently:” Bless him/her, change me.”

It is not just people but situations that create the need to accept as well. Just think of a list of situations that need to be accepted: health concerns, economic issues, political differences, the economy, the weather, the past, and most important: our addiction. Sometimes we change our attitude, sometimes we change our behavior. If we can’t change the external environment, we can respond to it in a healthy way. It’s not what happens, but how we handle it that makes all the difference.

So is acceptance the answer to all our problems today? If not, it is a really good starting place!

[1] Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th Edition p. 417 Copyright 1976 A.A.W.S. Inc.

[2] ACCEPTANCE the way to Serenity and peace of mind. by Vincent P. Collins,  p. 1 St. Meinrad Archabbey, Indiana. ABBEY PRESS, St.Meinrad Ind.47577

[3] AA 12&12 Step Ten, p.90

Getting a New Brain in Recovery

Let’s talk about the circles…

The so-called circle work is a way to identify the ways we are stuck in our old patterns of thoughts, feelings and beliefs. We stay stuck as long as we continue to use addictive substances and behaviors to soothe our feelings. A huge challenge greets us when we get abstinent from all addictions. And that challenge is to deal with all the stored thoughts and emotions that we never dealt with directly.

Our addictive patterns are wired into the brain…

We come to realize that the work of recovery is to change. What do we change? What we think, what we say, and what we do. It may seem tough to change everything about ourselves but we do it one day at a time, one choice at a time, and one action at a time and in doing so, we change our brains.

Our addictive responses are wired together in our brains…

You may be familiar with the statement regarding the brain that, “Neurons that fire together–wire together.” It means that every experience we have, and the associated feelings, thoughts, physical experiences become carved into our brains. The more an action is repeated, the connection between the neurons becomes stronger. Practice makes permanent! In the disease process, this works to reinforce the thoughts, feelings and behaviors that support addiction. The brain is plastic!! Plasticity is the brain’s ability to be flexible and to rewire in response to experience. We have found that our positive recovery experiences can actually rewire our brains. There are many tools that we can use to do this work: meetings, literature, sponsor contacts, immersion into the twelve steps, and our spiritual practices to name a few.

The circles are another way to deal directly with emotions when they come up by changing the thought that creates them. That’s right! Our thoughts create our feelings. It is the thoughts we think, not the people we blame, that cause our anger, fears and guilt.

Circle map by Kay Sheppard

Here is how the circles work:

1)  Identify the Present Feeling: What’s the feeling? Be sure it is one word: sad, glad, hurt, angry, guilty. We do the feeling first because it is the messenger that we have work to do.

2)  Identify the Present Thought that proceeded feeling: What’s the thought? This puts us in charge of our thoughts. We take responsibility for our thoughts instead of blaming others..

3)  Describe Past Belief (it is a message from past): This is a core issue usually from childhood. Beliefs often contain “shoulds” that are irrational.

4) Automatic Future Reaction: in addiction our automatic reaction is to eat, drink, or drug to soothe the feeling. The point of power in our timeline is before we react. This is the place in the timeline that we pause and apply our recovery tools in order to stay abstinent and to change and grow.

5)  Challenge the thought:  Was that thought helpful? If we are experiencing toxic feelings it is not a helpful thought.

6)  Change the thought to one that is helpful. Helpful thoughts produce peaceful, nontoxic feelings.  When I am in conflict with another person, I change the thought to this:
“I love and accept________________   just the way he or she or it is today, because love and acceptance are spiritual principles and I choose to live a spiritual way of life.” In other words, my spiritual choice is to love and accept the person I am in conflict with.

7)  How do you feel now? Describe your feeling.

8} In order to constructively change the brain and develop new neuropathways we speak, write, record our affirmation (from number 6) forty times. We call this our 40-40-40 work.

If you have questions or need help, get in touch at

Take Care of This Moment

Every day, every moment offers an opportunity for growth and change. Sometimes the opportunity is real, sometimes imagined.  We have two types of challenges in life; first, there is reality where we get to deal with serious illness, relationship disputes, unemployment, death of a loved one, and other major life issues.  Secondly, there are the ones we make up all by ourselves.  These are ego demands such as dissatisfaction with life on life’s terms (I want what I want when I want I it!), resentments, whining, complaining, criticisms, blaming, and all other attitudes that show lack of acceptance and forgiveness.  That is just stuff that we have made up that seems real.

We can be grateful for the day when there are no major challenges because those are the days that we can practice the recovery principles of evaluation and correction of the “made up stuff”.  In other words, we go to work on those defects of character that keep us miserable.  We identify those traits which we need to address in our daily tenth step inventory.  It is critically important to stay conscious and current on our shortcomings.  Once identified, it is time to apply the principles of steps six and seven, eight and nine.  If others are involved we owe amends or forgiveness, if not, we owe it to ourselves to change the attitude that is creating our stress.  Doing this work on a daily basis is like exercising a muscle, we get stronger, better at it, and eventually it becomes our way of life.

In his book, Rewire Your Brain, Dr. John Arden lays out a simple formula for how to harness this science for personal behavior change. It follows the acronym FEED (Focus, Effort, Effortless, Determination)

  • F for Focus: Attention activates your brain, so you want to pay focused attention to the behavior, memory, or pattern to repeat or remember.
  • E for Effort: Take deliberate, specific action to program the new behavior or thought pattern. Practice. Even if it’s hard. Even if you fail sometimes. Keep practicing. The more you think a thought or take a specific action, the stronger the neural network gets. Note: many people give up on new initiatives before they have practiced enough – made enough “effort” – to create sufficient neural network.
  • E for Effortless: Once the neural network becomes wired, actions that once required effort become effortless. Think of the effort required learning to drive a car; years later it’s effortless.
  • D for Determination: Finally, you must exhibit the determination to keep the neural network strong. “Use it or lose it.” Continual practice builds the neural network even further until it becomes your dominant pattern.

That is the neuroscience of recovery too.  So here is the wisdom: do the work every day, deal with the daily annoyances and irritations that are demonstrations of our disease of attitudes.  When we do the daily work, we become ready for the big stuff when it hits.  An example of this in my own history came about in 2004 after I had seen a physician who told me in so many words that I had cancer.  She didn’t say it outright because as we all know it takes a biopsy to be sure.  However, what she did say to me was this: “That is not a cyst and this is why.”  She then explained the difference between a cyst (which I thought it was) and a tumor.   After a period of ice cold shock, after I got home, I said a prayer.  I was standing in the living room when I said, “Whichever ways this goes—live or die–I accept it.”  Well we all now know the outcome; I completed successful treatment with an attitude of acceptance without fear or complaints.  At that time I realized that I was able to “accept the thing I could not change” because of my practice (at that time) of acceptance for thirty-seven years.

Every day we have opportunities, real or created, to strengthen our acceptance and forgiveness muscles.  And by doing so, we develop a brain/body/mind/spirit that is resilient and ready to take on the next challenge.

Happiness is an Inside Job

Happiness is an inside job.  The only way happiness can be achieved is to remove the blocks that we ourselves create against it.  During the holidays, we often spend more time with family and that can present a wonderful opportunity to review our feelings’ list.  Old feelings we didn’t even know we had might come up.  What a surprise!  Our long-term memory can be a storage bin for old stuff that is reactivated as our holiday plans take place and we think about people, places, and situations of the past.

Recently, a friend defined our four basic feelings in such a simple way that we all took note.  She said:  Anger is the feeling I get when I am not getting my way today.  Resentment is the feeling I get when I didn’t get my way yesterday.  Fear is the feeling I get when I think I won’t get my way tomorrow.  And depression is the feeling I get when I think that I never get my way!

When old ideas and the emotions they generate come to the surface, we have the tools to change them.  All we really need to do is change our thoughts. After all, it is only a thought and a thought can be changed. The good news is, a good feeling follows a good thought.  When we change our attitude about a person, place or situation, we reap the reward.  Who wouldn’t rather feel peaceful, joyous and happy than resentful, fearful and sad?  Sometimes we can simply say: bless him/her, change me.  Then pray for all the good things you can think of for that person. (Let’s face it, most of our old stuff falls into the category of resentments.)

In one of the stories in the AA big book, the author shows us the way to be free of resentments.  She says: “In my prayers that morning I asked God to point out to me some way to be free of this resentment. During the day a friend of mine brought me some magazines to take to a hospital group I was interested in, and I looked through them and a “banner” across the front of one featured an article by a prominent clergyman in which I caught the word ‘resentment.’”

He said, in effect: ‘If you have a resentment you want to be free of, if you will pray for the person or the thing that you resent, you will be free. If you will ask in prayer for everything you want for yourself to be given to them, you will be free. Ask for their health, their prosperity, their happiness, and you will be free. Even when you don’t really want it for them, and your prayers are only words and you don’t mean it, go ahead and do it anyway. Do it every day for two weeks and you will find you have come to mean it and to want it for them, and you will realize that where you used to feel bitterness and resentment and hatred, you now feel compassionate understanding and love.’

It worked for me then, and it has worked for me many times since, and it will work for me every time I am willing to work it. Sometimes I have to ask first for the willingness, but it too always comes. And because it works for me, it will work for all of us.”  Alcoholics Anonymous (Fourth Edition) pp 561-562. 

It seems to me, to follow this formula, we could identify our resentments, pray for two weeks for the persons we resent and that would take us right through the holidays.  In fact, we could just go ahead and pray right up until New Year’s day.  What a good ending to our year and what a good beginning the New Year.

Wishing you all a happy, healthy, holiday season and the best New Year ever.




Pray More, Worry Less

Pray More, Worry LessWorrying is like sitting in a rocking chair. It gives you something to do but it doesn’t get you anywhere.” Glen Turner

I love quotes about worrying.  They make me laugh and they make me think!  Are you a worrywart?  Well, then here is another famous quote to reflect upon: “Worry trades the joy of now for the unlikely catastrophes of later.” Tim Fargo

Projecting into the future is a guaranteed way to create fear because no one can manage the future.  Anxiety is caused by the “what ifs”.  What if this happens, what if that happens?  We make up stories and give them validity.  Those stories create very “unlikely catastrophes.”  When I was in early recovery, I had a technique to use when I projected into the future.  I visualized that my mind was on the end of a fishing line and then I would reel it back into the present.  I don’t know where that idea came from but it worked great.  There are a lot of catastrophes in the future—most are unlikely!   Live in the here and now!

I recall one time I was sitting around worrying about a couple of life situations.  The question came to mind, “Why are you worrying; that is unusual for you? “  My usual approach to things is to problem-solve by using the tools I have learned in recovery.  So I continued the conversation with myself, deciding it would be a good idea to write down my worries and put them in my God Box.  However, I didn’t know where it was.  Instead, I visualized it and mentally placed those worries in the box.  It worked!  Soon afterward, the phone rang and the caller said exactly what I needed to hear to put my worries to rest.  I firmly believe that whatever we send out to the Universe is answered.  My answer came quickly that day.  Let go!

The Serenity Prayer is a good way to address worries by separating the things that can be changed from those which require acceptance.  We have only two choices really, to find the courage to change the things we can and wisdom to accept those things we cannot change.  Both require some kind of action.  Either way, one thing that can always be changed is a thought.  I can take every negative, fear producing thought and change it.  I have an affirmation that does the trick for me: “I am safe.  I am secure.  I am protected.  I am healed.”   Affirm!

Of course, the first word of the serenity prayer is “God”.  We ask to be granted serenity.  Taking the spiritual path is the best way for me.  God always grants me serenity when I ask for it.   Here is a prayer I use to dispel worry, anxiety, and fear.  “Here is my worry, God.  Please take it and change me.  I have no power.  You have the power.  Thank you for making this change in me.”  This is my step six and seven prayer.  Pray!

Remember the song, “Why worry, be happy?”  It was so popular it got irritating but I have never forgotten that refrain.  So let’s discard the worry today and Be Happy!  Sing!


Step Ten: The Character Building Step

Step Ten: The Character Building StepStep 10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.

Step ten says that when we were wrong we promptly admitted it. It doesn’t say that when we were wrong we promptly made excuses for our behavior or that we readily blamed someone else.  That was our old way of doing things.  By the time we reach Step Ten, we have become familiar with inventory taking and amends making.   Step Ten is a continuance of that process on a day-to-day basis.

The key to step ten is to continue to take personal inventory.” The book Alcoholics Anonymous emphasizes the importance of continuing to take the steps. On page 84, we read:  “This…brings us to Step Ten, which suggests we continue to take personal inventory and continue to set right any new mistakes as we go along. We vigorously commenced this way of living as we cleaned up the past. We have entered the world of the Spirit. Our next function is to grow in understanding and effectiveness. This is not an overnight matter. It should continue for our lifetime.”

The AA Twelve and Twelve, on page 90 makes our responsibility abundantly clear: “It is a spiritual axiom that every time we are disturbed, no matter what the cause there is something wrong with us.”  This sentence ends all judging, criticizing and blaming and puts the responsibility for building our character clearly on our shoulders.  It also ends victimhood.  This statement gives us power, the power to change and grow and the power to become responsible for our thoughts, words and actions.   With God’s help and the experience of the twelve steps, we can become the person we wish to be.

And the AA book tells us how to take the step, “Continue to watch for selfishness, dishonesty, resentment, and fear. When these crop up, we ask God at once to remove them. We discuss them with someone immediately and make amends quickly if we have harmed anyone. Then we resolutely turn our thoughts to someone we can help. Love and tolerance of others is our code.”  (Notice that we have a code.)  This is how we live each day.  We continue to take inventory, we continue to make amends and we continue to help others.  We have “entered the world of the spirit” and that is how we live in recovery.

Food addiction is a Primary Disease

Food addiction is primary and not the result of any other diseases. Treating secondary diseases will not facilitate recovery. Treating the secondary diseases whether they be physical, mental or emotional will not “fix” addiction. It is just putting out fires.

The American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) defines addiction as a chronic brain disorder and not simply a behavioral problem involving too much alcohol, food, drugs, gambling or sex. ASAM has taken an official position that addiction is not solely related to problematic substance use.
“At its core, addiction isn’t just a social problem or a moral problem or a criminal problem. It’s a brain problem whose behaviors manifest in all these other areas,” said Dr. Michael Miller, past president of ASAM who oversaw the development of the new definition. “Many behaviors driven by addiction are real problems and sometimes criminal acts. But the disease is about brains, not drugs. It’s about underlying neurology, not outward actions.”

ASAM describes addiction as a primary disease, meaning that it is not caused by other mental disorders. Depression, bipolar disorder, and other mental illnesses do not cause people to “self-medicate” and then to progress into addiction to food, drugs, and other substances and activities. Addiction is a primary or first disease with its own root causes in the brain.

In this regard, addiction is not “issue oriented”. Issues don’t cause addiction, addiction causes issues. In other words, resolving issues does not lead to recovery. Recovery is based on getting abstinent in order to resolve life issues. That is why my favorite slogan is Recovery First. We want recovery to become primary. When it is primary, meaning “of chief importance”, we put our lives into recovery, not recovery into our lives. It cannot be a sideline. It is number one or zero.
How can we make recovery number one? For me, that means to keep it conscious, intentional, consistent and daily. We need to evaluate every decision, behavior, relationship, and life situation in terms of our recovery. Is this good for my recovery? That is the question we ask ourselves as we move through life.

Step Nine, Making Amends

Step nine - making amends
As our food addiction progressed and affected every phase of our lives, lots of times we did things that broke our own rules. We lied, cheated and stole in order to get and hide our food supply. We walked around “drunk on sugar” and relationships were shattered, friendships lost, and we left behind a trail of dismay.

We are given the opportunity in our Twelve Step process to “make things right”.
In Step Eight we made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all. Then, in Step Nine, we made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others

Implementing these steps is a process that requires help from our sponsors and others in our helping network. Our support people help us overcome fear and develop strategies for our approach to those we have harmed. We start with the understanding that amends are not the same as making apologies. I used to work in the insurance field and one of the aspects of insurance is to “put the insured in the same or similar position as before the loss occurred.” So too in doing our Step Nine, we restore that which we have damaged or broken to the best of our ability. For instance, we don’t apologize saying, “I am sorry I smashed your hundred dollar vase”, instead we make amends and replace the vase. When restoring our relationships, we ask, “How can I make things right?”

We are cautioned in Step Nine to hold back when our amends would injure others. We cannot salve our own conscience by burdening another with our confessions. The obvious truth here is that we don’t talk about affairs that would hurt our spouse if he/she were to know about them. This is a specific situation, where we change our behavior and make amends by being the best person we know how to be in our relationships.

There are times when we can’t make direct amends at all if we cannot locate the person, or they have passed on, or there may be someone who rejects us so completely that we cannot speak to them directly. In each case, we find a way to make amends through prayer, letter writing, and willingness to do the right thing “wherever possible”.

We make “living” amends by growing and changing. Our spiritual way of life gives us direction as to what we need to do on a daily basis. We keep from accumulating new wrongs. And when we are wrong, we can promptly admit it. In our recovery lives, we evaluate and correct each day through the use of our tenth step. We clean up our side of the street in steps eight and nine, and keep our street clean with step ten. In doing this, we become free!

What is Refined Food Addiction

Refined Food cereal isleHow do addictive food substances compare to other addictive chemicals? Addictive food substances are forms of plant life which have been refined or processed in order to be ingested by drinking, eating, inhaling or injecting.

The refinement process facilitates quick absorption of substances into the blood stream which effectively alters brain chemistry and changes mood by flooding the brain with the neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine.

Food addicts seek this mood change by eating refined and processed calorie-dense foods which result in short-term highs. But what goes up, must come down, and the high is followed by a long period of depressed feelings (withdrawals). In order to avoid withdrawal, the addict eats more. The food addict eats to feel better and always feels worse due to this flooding and depleting of neurotransmitters.

As with all addictions, treatment and recovery are based upon abstinence from all addictive trigger substances. The need to abstain from addictive substances is common to both alcoholics and food addicts. Treatment of food addiction begins by introducing the concept of abstinence from addictive food substances. Abstinence is the foundation of recovery.