I’m sure my mother doesn’t know what gaslighting is, but she’s gaslighting me. On my exhausting post-Thanksgiving drive back to Los Angeles from the Central Californian wasteland of my birth she texted me a guilt trip in five parts, lamenting our lack of “closeness” and her inability to understand why it exists. I responded with a long, yet by no means exhaustive, list of resentments, up to and including the fact that my childhood home has a “Make America Great Again” flag hanging outside of it.
“I’m sorry you feel like you resent me,” she typed back.
Not “I’m sorry.”
“I’m sorry you feel like you resent me.”
My list of resentments did not come out of left field; I have expressed countless grievances countless times, especially in those early days of sobriety where one replaces binge drinking with binge emoting. Her response is always the same: She’s sorry about my feelings, but can’t comprehend the root cause of them.
I’m sure in her mind I’m petty and irrational, unable to stop fixating on the same handful of decades-long slights. I know I judge her too much for actions that aren’t inherently malicious.
I don’t think she went out of her way to render my childhood home inaccessible to me, but she did marry a racist, xenophobic, homophobic manchild with a delightful history of using the n-word at the dinner table. When I tell her I can’t be around him because he’s emblematic of the intolerance that is rapidly rendering America uninhabitable, she blames the current political climate, not his inherent loathsomeness. “Why does everything have to be about politics these days?” she responds.
Am I taking the news out on her? Am I being irrational? In the grand scheme of things, it’s not as though she’s some kind of irredeemable monster. She was never physically abusive, never fucked me or committed social security fraud on me. Her greatest sin was being distant and not cognizant of my needs.
Engaging with her can be an exercise in frustration, but one I continue to embark on because I’m unwilling to chalk reconciliation up as a lost cause (my father, however—that’s a whole other story).
Could I try harder? Sure.
Could she? Definitely.
In sobriety the onus is always on us to rise above resentments, yet it doesn’t count the other part of the equation—the people we resent. Like an algorithm, it cares not of why we feel a certain way, it cares solely about the feeling itself. And, like a piece of poorly programed AI, it expects there to be a binary solution. Your parents fucked up? Go easy on them, they did the best they could! Oh, they’re still fucking up? ERROR, ERROR, DOES NOT COMPUTE.
Acknowledging your inability to rise above is, by and large, verboten in the sober community. I’ll concede that the problem was most certainly me when I knocked the mirror off that woman’s car while driving home drunk from a Halloween party, or when I drove in a blackout to the bowels of the SanFernando Valley to engage in allegedly “amazing” sex I have no recollection of, or when I purchased then immediately threw up $8 worth of Del Taco drive-thru at 3AM. (Sensing a thread here? The fact that I never got a DUI is proof of a higher power, that higher power being the infallible ineptness of the California Highway Patrol.) I was, in these instances, as problematic as Woody Allen’s existence post-2017. But, as Trump might say, “there is problematicism [sic] on both sides.”
Going home for Thanksgiving was a large concession on my part. I have never enjoyed going home for the holidays, as my family has never been particularly close and pantomiming affection once a year in order to honor a country founded on genocide and the son of a God we don’t particularly give a shit about feels wholly disingenuous. I still harbor a near-infinite amount of resentment for my parents, despite the fact that”the program” teaches us the way to rise above addiction is to toss such resentments aside.
I am still resentful of my parents, yet I am also still sober. Funny how that works.
It’s OK to still feel petty and isolated and angry while possessing the ability to drive a car after 9PM. I can’t help but notice the ease with which woke non-drunks tell one another it is not only acceptable but preferable to cut intolerant family members out of their lives, yet people in sobriety are expected to tolerate the intolerable.We’re supposed to be better than bitter? Fuck that—haven’t we suffered enough?
It is, of course, possible to figure out a way to stop resentment from ruining your life, step one of which is to cease slowly killing yourself because your father punched a hole in the wall 20 years ago. But to pretend as though prayer and meditation and coffee duty can completely eliminate acrimony from your mind is, at least for me, nonviable. Resentment no longer ruins or rules this bitch, but, for the moment, it continues to find a happy home in it. I don’t know if this will always be the case. But I know it is now. As surely as I know I will, at least this year, not be returning home for Christmas, because sometimes taking a step back is the most sober decision one could make.
Relationships are complicated and nuanced, in the same way the reasons why people drink are complicated and nuanced. There is no universal solution to this shit. Taking stock and expending effort in an attempt to fix things doesn’t mean the things will magically be fixed. There are many things that are possible when one stops drinking, up to and including life, but it’s not a miracle cure. It certainly hasn’t made my disposition any sunnier. The sight of a woman in culottes can still ruin my day. One checkout stand open at a busy supermarket makes me wish there were no waiting periods for guns. It has, however, lowered my ice usage.
It’s OK if certain relationships in your life, relationships you use to drink about, are still fucked up in sobriety. They may get unfucked in the future, but they also may not—regardless, it is fine for them to be fucked in the now. It’s not a competition to be the most well adjusted, the most zen. Just because I stopped drinking doesn’t somehow make me superhuman. I still, for example, lack that poreless, Clarisonic-ed complexion I see women at meetings exude. If a woman maintains sobriety and doesn’t have that sun kissed, Just Been Fucked by the miracle glow, did she even stop problematically drinking?
It’s frustrating when you put effort into something and don’t get the resolution you wanted, but it’s not the end of the world (climate change is the end of the world). You shouldn’t feel as though you failed yet again, or that you’re not”doing sobriety right.”
And anyway, maybe I don’t want to drive ten hours round trip to sit in a room and watch my grandparents watch television and get in another argument with my mother’s husband about “fuckin’ Obamacare.” So I won’t. I don’t feel guilty. I feel sober.