Thursday, 9 July 2020

You will never be happy until you learn to let resentments go

Life is full of all manner of needless upset. Most of the time it is truly irrational. I was reading some of the newspaper coverage of Johnny Depp and his lawsuit against The Sun. What struck me was just how unhappy he seemed. Putting aside the serious issues at the heart of it, how sad is it that such a successful actor, who seemingly has everything, needs to 'self medicate'  to the point where he is completely comatose. I am no angel and I am not a stranger to overdoing things, but it seems to me that Mr Depp's drinking is not the real problem. I suspect that there are demons that he just can't get control of and the drink is used as a relief from whatever darkness is lurking within. Of course I don't know him, but I recognise aspects of what he is doing. 

When I was in my early thirties, I found myself on a path of very self destructive behaviour. On the face of it, I thought I was having an amazing time, I was living the life. But one day, I awoke from a very heavy session, feeling like death, in bed on my own and I realised that something was seriously wrong in my life. I decided to have a 'few days off drinking'. This I did, but the longer it went on, the worse I felt. Not physically, but I would sit in my bedroom, thinking about all of the slights, all of the resentments, all of the bad things  anyone had ever done to me, silently raging. 

I felt that I wanted to put all of my memories in a tin and throw it in the sea. For a few years I'd meditated to relax, but even this wasn't working. A friend rang up and asked me if I wanted to go for a beer that evening. I decided that this was infinitely better than sitting in my front room feeling annoyed. I got the Thameslink up to town, made my way to the pub and bought a drink awaiting his arrival. No one came, I assumed he'd been held up (This was pre mobile phone days). I had another, no one came, I had another. After about the sixth pint, in a foul mood, I made my way home. I was cross that he'd dragged me all of the way into town, only to fail to show up. I was also cross with him, as I'd broken my no drinking pledge. I vowed that next time he called, I'd tell him where to get off. 

I didn't hear anything for a couple of days. It confirmed my feelings that the guy was a selfish twat. Eventually the phone rang. I answered and he was extremely apologetic. I was just about to tell him what to do, when he explained that a tragedy had occurred just after he spoke to me, and he had to make a journey and he'd been so distracted he'd forgotten he'd even arranged to meet me that evening. When he'd remembered he'd called. Of course, I could say nothing, but I resented this. He really wanted to meet up and have the drink, I realised that he needed it. So we met up. He is usually the life and soul of the party, so when we had an evening of him pouring his heart out, it wasn't really what I needed to lift my mood. But that is what we do for friends, isn't it?

But I was in a selfish and self destructive cycle, so I just found the whole thing an almighty pain in the backside. At the end of the evening, he said how great it had been to 'just have a beer and pour my heart out'. He suggested we meet the following week. I said "Give me a bell on Monday and we'll sort something out, I need to see what night is free". It will sound crass and horrible, but I fully intended to make my excuses. I had my fill of his miserableness. I felt it might be contagious and that was the last thing I needed. On the way back, I met a mutual friend on the train.  He asked where I'd been and I explained. I mentioned that he'd suggested meeting the following week. Our mutual friend asked if he could come along. I now felt backed into a corner, I was lumbered. I wanted to say "Well actually I've had my fill of listening to his problems" but I actually said "Yeah, that's a great idea". I went home and felt a deep resentment against the pair of them. By the time he rang and we'd set the night for Wednesday, about five or six friends had been roped into going. Again very selfishly, I thought "Well at least they can listen to him and I'll talk to someone else". The appointed night came around, and we actually all had a great night. My friend was in a markedly better frame of mine and so the morose outpouring of the previous week was long gone. At the end of the night, he thanked me so much for 'getting the boys out'. I felt like a complete fraud. 

The following Saturday, I again woke with a hangover, I got myself ready to play football, and made my way to the meeting point for Old Hendonians, who I was playing for at the time. I loved playing for them, but the game was a disaster for me, as I pulled my hamstring badly after half time. I was between contracts and so I had no work, and I was stuck at home, almost unable to walk and in pain. I've never been someone who drinks on my own, and so I had a week's enforced sobriety. I started to think about the events and rather irrationally, decided that the injury was Gods punishment for being such an uncaring fraud. My then ex Girlfriend (now my Wife) called up to see if I was OK. We'd been on good terms, just felt we couldn't live together. I explained that I could hardly walk, but was fine. She asked if she could do any shopping or cook me something, but I declined. I wasn't really in the mood to be cheerful with anyone. 

After the call finished, I started thinking about everything. I realised that not only was I a rather selfish person, but the root cause of it all was holding on to resentment and anger. As chance would have it, there was an article in the paper about anger management. I read this and wondered whether this would help. So I booked up for some counselling. What came out of that was something that I had not expected at all. The sessions revealed that my great sense of anger and resentment had started at school. It had its roots in my dyslexia. In the 1960's and 70's dyslexics were just considered thick troublemakers. Bullying was rife, especially by the teachers, who would make you feel awful about yourself. I was full of unresolved anger towards teachers, ex classmates, ex bandmates, ex colleagues, former bosses, the list could go on. Every slight was neatly filed in my brain, to be endlessly analysed and to fester. What the counselling made me realise was that this was actually a defence mechanism from my early school days. I didn't like teachers humiliating me and getting the rest of the class to laugh at me ( a standard practice at St Vincents). So I'd just bottled up the anger, as I had no way of getting back at them. As I'd progressed, I'd simply adopted  the strategy every time anyone upset me. In relationships, if someone upset me, I'd shut them out, rather than try and resolve something, even though half the time they wouldn't know why I was upset. 

The other downside of this was the selfishness. I realised that my resentment towards my friend and his problems, was a complete inability to deal with grief, both my own and other peoples. The resentment I felt was not resentment at all, but a desire to absent myself from a situation which I couldn't cope with. My friend had complimented me on being a good listener, but the truth was that I simply was terrified of the feelings of fear that what he was saying had triggered and almost unable to speak. 

I had three sessions with the counsellor. Once I realised that the root of all of my problems was dyslexia, I felt further counselling was unnecessary. I'd realised that the way to deal with fear and anger was not alcoholic excess. I'd taken on board some basic strategies and felt I was 'cured'. In truth I wasn't cured at all, but I could cope marginally better with difficult situations and I had learned that if  I felt my sense of anger rising, I could generally manage this by deploying one of a number of taught strategies. As for the long term resentments, realising these had to be dealt with was a key. There was no point feeling resentful about people where you will never see the person again. As a start, I wrote letters to the people I felt the most resentment towards, explaining why. When I re-read those, I realised that the whole resentment  thing wasn't worth the bother. 

Then I looked at my own behaviour. If I applied the same rules to my own behaviour as I had to everyone else, I was damned. I had been horrible to many people I really liked. God only knows why they put up with it and forgave me. Those that hadn't, I'd simply manufactured a huge sense of resentment against. When I looked at it from their perspective, often they'd been quite reasonable. Some of the things that had upset me, in hindsight were ridiculous. How could I still harbour a grudge because someone put the wrong album on at my birthday party? How could I still harbour a resentment at the ex band member who nicked the battery out of my effects pedal before a gig? How could I still hold a grudge against the teacher who had deliberately given me the wrong English Literature Mock  O level paper, resulting in me getting 0/100 and thrown off the course. How could I possibly still hold a grudge against the Head Master who told my mother I was a homosexual because I wore pink socks to school? How could I possibly still hold a grudge against the former class mate who'd smacked me in the mouth and stolen my Kit Kat when I offered him a piece? How could I possibly still hold a grudge against the ex girlfriend who had dumped me and gone of with someone she knew I thought was a complete twat? The point was that whilst all of these things at the time were devastating in their own way, they were all in the distant past and had no bearing on my life today. Some of the perpetrators had passed away. most were people I would never see, so why did I even bother thinking about them. And what if I saw any of them now? What would it say about me, if they knew I still had the hump about it?

A couple of years ago, I had another beer with the friend who had the crisis I mentioned at the start. He mentioned the night we went for a beer and said "Mate, you saved my life, I was in pieces". He then said "I was all over the place, I was surprised you arranged a night out the week after, but that really helped so much". I was quite shocked he'd even remembered. So I thought I'd tell the truth. I told him that I'd found it really difficult listening to it and if I hadn't met up with our mutual friend, who suggested he came along, I wasn't sure I could have faced listening to his woes again. I told him that I felt a bit of a fraud. He replied that "We all feel like that sometimes mate, and you were there, don't beat yourself up over what ifs". 

That really is the bottom line. It isn't the 'what if's' that define us. It is what we did. The resentments we gather as we go through life don't help us. They just hold us back. I am far from perfect, but over the last 25 years I've got myself to a far better place. It was a long journey and what I've mentioned here is just really the first step of the process. During the period of Lockdown, I actually realised that the dyslexia was not the major problem I thought it was, there was an even bigger elephant in the room, but I've still to fully get my head around that one. Last year I started to write my autobiography and I realised that there is another event in my past that had an even greater bearing. 

But that is a blog for another day and resentment plays no part of it. 

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