Bitterness: the Pal, the Parasite

Bitterness and I go way back.

He's been with me for as long as I can remember. He's my friend—he says he's my friend because he reminds me that I deserve better and that people aren't treating me right and that life is being really unfair to me.

He thinks every person who hurts me needs to be paid back.

He thinks I'm way too underpaid and way too overworked.

He hates it when things don't go my way—it gets him all worked up.

He's looking out for me, you know?

He tells me I have every right to be mad, and that I absolutely should get mad.

Sometimes, he tells me what I should do or say when I'm upset—again, he's just got my back. He has a really extensive, exotic vocabulary and gives me colorful words to say when I can't think of the right words on my own. So articulate, Bitterness is. He's great at sarcasm, too, so he helps me with that—great lines like "I'm so glad that person gets to be a horrible human being and sweep it under the rug and act like nothing happened; it's my favorite." He gives me these cool glasses to wear sometimes, and when I put them on, everything sucks and everyone is the worst. "See? Now you know why I'm always so upset for you," he says, as I nod my head and think, Yeah, you're right, my friends probably are conspiring against me and writing mean things about me in a burn book that has a picture of mint chocolate chip ice cream on it because they know that's the one flavor of ice cream I hate

Ah, Bitterness. What a pal.

Bitterness has been around so long, speaks so smoothly the thoughts and words I want to hear when I'm hurt or angry, feels so much like a natural companion, that I can trick myself into thinking of it almost like an advocate who fights on my behalf.

Except it's not. Bitterness isn't looking out for me. It's not a friend.

Bitterness is a parasite.

It burrowed its way into my spirit years ago, it set up camp, dug its hooks and claws in, and has no intention of leaving. In fact, I know it's here to stay. It will never leave me completely. I'll never be immune to bitterness wanting to have a say in my life.

Even though I can't expel bitterness permanently, there is something I can do from giving it more power.

Bitterness feeds on my pain, my anger, and my frustration. That's blood in the water for bitterness. It comes to me and says, "Yeah, get mad! Yeah, lash out! Yeah, get passive-aggressive! Yeah, believe in the worst of that person! Yeah, keep thinking and stewing and imagining all of the worst-case scenarios!" When I listen, when I give it what it wants, it grows. It gets bigger and stronger.

Have you ever heard that proverb about the dog and the puke? It starts, Like a dog returns to its vomit...

That's bitterness. When bitterness is strong in me, it feeds on my anger and pain, then it throws up more anger and pain, and then feeds on it again. It's a cycle. It wants me to stay angry so it can feed. It throws up more reasons for me to be angry so it can keep feeding. It's a gross image, I know. What's even grosser is what it does to my heart, my attitude, and my relationships. It makes my life worse.

The only way out of the cycle is to stop feeding bitterness.

When bitterness says, "Say something mean to this person—make them hurt for hurting you, or at least stonewall them," I have to reply, "I don't want that. It won't make anything better. It won't help or heal or get any of us what we really want."

When bitterness says, "That person hurt you because they're despicable," I have to say, "No, they're not. They're doing the best they can." And I have to let it go, no matter how hard it is, no matter if the person hurt me intentionally or not.

When bitterness says, "God's out to get you, the universe is conspiring against you, life doesn't want you to win," I have to ignore it. I have to believe and hope for better. I have to remind myself that I've survived and thrived in spite of so many rough patches before, and I'll do it again.

When I can do that, I cut off the supply that feeds bitterness. It starves. It shrinks. It shuts up.

It's not easy to do. Most times, it's way easier to feed bitterness. It can even feel cathartic. It even feels like justice, or an attempt at justice. But for me, there's a simple, strong truth that keeps me choosing to starve bitterness:

I don't want a life with bitterness in it.

That's it. Stupid simple. I don't want to be bitter. I'd rather get hurt or screwed over 1,000 times and have to forgive or let it go 1,000 times than to live with bitterness. Being bitter magnifies the worst in me and suppresses the best. It sucks, and I don't want a life like that.

So when I'm having a bad week, when someone lets me down or something lets me down or I let myself down, I have to refuse to feed bitterness.

It's not my pal. It's a parasite.


This is the second post in a three-part series.

Basically, I had a crappy November, and I need to remind myself of the ways we can deal with adversity that make things better, not worse.

Part 1: "Don't Quit Doing What's Good"