I CAN mark one thing well, in looking back at my whirling nightmare of drinking, it was the only time I was ever completely jealous of total strangers! It amazes me now to remember that I had ugly and envious thoughts about innocent people I passed on the street--people who never knew me and had never done me the slightest harm. I resented their good fortune, their fine clothes, their poise, their normalcy. I wanted to see them taken down a peg or two, or even down many pegs to where I was!
I am no longer jealous of strangers. Yet, this is not to say that I have been purged of the terrible emotion. It is only to say that my capacity for jealousy has become more subtle, often cloaking itself in seemingly righteous feelings. It is now directed toward people whom I know personally. What used to be blind jealousy, seething almost on the surface at all times, has now become "conditional" jealousy, kept under lock and key unless certain nerve-ends in my life are rubbed the wrong way. Then, in almost an instant, the cold fury rises, as it always did.
Fortunately, it does not usually rise all the way. For I have done battle with this demon Jealousy, and I charge that he is a great destroyer of happiness and stability. It is impossible to be both jealous and happy; the two conditions are what engineers call "mutually exclusive." I want to be happy, I want to be sober and I want to progress. Therefore, I must exclude the very beginnings of jealousy at all costs, for the pain of rooting it out is nothing compared with the pain of being its victim.
Most of the jealousy I suffer from today is in a disguised form; I have simply allowed it to appear in a new mask. It soon makes itself known, however, for abruptly something good is missing from my life, and I feel tense and bitter and unhappy. It is my old enemy again, and I throw him out.
I give AA's Fifth Step a great deal of the credit for my progress. The Fifth Step is something of a mystery to me; I'm unable to understand why it should be such an effective part of the program. It is, though, and it got me off dead center on this problem. Unable to quell the vicious feelings myself, I talked them over with certain other members, and sometimes even brought them up at group meetings. There was marked improvement almost every time, particularly on the occasions when it had seemed especially difficult to mention the subject. If a person is able to recognize that he is a victim of jealousy, then the Fifth Step--talking the thing over with another human being--will certainly help.
I suspect, though, that most people who suffer from jealousy, are afflicted with a disguised form of it. It has escaped detection, and remains in the shadows like a beast of prey, appearing only now and then to make sudden, lightning attacks when its victim is most vulnerable. Jealousy in its meaner forms is too crude for most of us, but we would do well to look for the subtle expressions of it.
Many of us cannot help feeling jealous under the following circumstances:
- When somebody else gets something (a promotion, a possession) which we have wanted for ourselves.
- When we are bested in a hotly competitive situation, and our own abilities are shown to be second to another's.
- When we are rejected.
- When somebody else is praised to our own disadvantage.
In most cases, our jealousy is towards acquaintances and close relatives. As I mentioned, it was only in the primitive world of constant drunkenness that I could be jealous of strangers. One should not be deluded just because he is indifferent to the successes of people he reads about in the newspapers. Were these stories about people whom he knew intimately, he might find himself smoldering with rage because fortune had blessed such "undeserving people" while bypassing him. And it does no good simply to hold the violence of your feelings in check, while outwardly appearing to be glad for your friends' good luck. The damage is in the way this evil thing poisons and strangles the human heart--and eventually destroys fine personal relationships.
Aside from recommending the Fifth Step, I have no world-shaking news of fast-fast-fast relief for the jealousy sufferer. I believe that any person who is able to face it as a problem, and to search for it in himself, is already on his way out of the woods. Still, here are a few things to keep in mind about jealousy:
- It may stem partly from our own feelings of inadequacy. We secretly doubt ourselves, and resent anything which calls attention to our own lack of achievement.
- It indicates a lack of trust in God; an unwillingness to accept the role God has assigned us for reasons known only to Himself.
- Jealousy is the wreckage of thwarted ambition. Too much ambition, in the AA member, often means a loss of contact with the principles of the program. Such a person loses even if he wins, and loses more painfully when he loses.
- It has a lot of self-centeredness and lovelessness in it. After, all, we must admit that we don't really love the people whom we envy. In fact, we are at that point dangerously close to wishing them bad luck! We are then thinking only of our own twisted desires.
One last thing to remember about jealousy is that it is a universal human affliction. Even the saints suffered from it; even Peter and Paul suffered from it, despite their marvelous spiritual experiences. So it is not a question of whether one is bothered by it, it is simply a matter of degree! And don't forget that there can also be jealousy between AA members trying to do good work. As Henry Drummond said in his wonderful little book called "The Greatest Thing in the World," "the most despicable of all the unworthy moods. . .assuredly waits for us on the threshold of every work, unless we are fortified with. . .grace of magnanimity."
M. D. B.
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