I love the Serenity Prayer. It was a prayer I loved even long before I became an alcoholic, long before I joined AA and attended rehab. It’s just good for the soul. Three simple lines that help us remember that we’re not perfect, our lives are not perfect, and that’s ok. But we can do things to change ourselves and our lives for the better, with the right approach.
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change
The courage to change the things I can
And the wisdom to know the difference.
You don’t have to believe in God to use this prayer as a daily meditation. I spoke at length in a previous post about how God is not my higher power, but I still love to say this prayer. If you need, simply omit “God” at the beginning when you say it to yourself.
Each line has meaning to me in its own way.
Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change. This was a huge issue for me as I struggled with sobriety and recovery. As an overly sensitive and anxious person, I longed to be in charge of everything. I wanted to be able to control so many aspects of my life that were simply impossible to control. My miscarriage was out of my control. My ability to conceive again was mostly out of my control. My child’s SPD diagnosis was out of my control. My melanoma diagnosis. My older cat’s death. Having to leave our beloved home of four years. Having a difficult teacher for our child’s 1st grade year. Problems in my extended family.
These were all things that brought me pain and caused a flare in my anxiety, and I let it get the better of me. I didn’t realize at the time that I had no control, and all I could do was accept these life events and respond to them more positively. I allowed myself to fall into any abyss of depression and fear and self-loathing that eventually I used alcohol to self-medicate for.
These days, I find myself more easily accepting things I don’t control and can’t change, and recognizing them for what they are. I focus my attention instead on shaping my life around them, learning how to move past them, and trying to stay positive through difficult situations.
The courage to change the things I can. There are those things, however, that we do have control over, and can change. Those things that we own, but don’t want to admit we’re in control of them, because that would mean taking responsibility for them, and being held accountable for them. My drinking, albeit difficult in the end, was in my control. I had the power to stop, to change the course my life was taking. But for so long, I refused to admit I had a problem, and I refused to accept help. That takes courage. And courage is hard to come by in a person with a dual diagnosis. (A dual diagnosis is addiction paired with depression/anxiety issues.) Courage is often the last thing that comes to us, but the most important ingredient for success.
Change is also uncomfortable. Even when the change is desired and positive, it can still cause stress and discomfort. Moving from one reality into another is hard work and you need strength and a good support system to be successful. In the safe coping strategies, change and growth are described as “uncomfortable.” We should expect change to feel awkward and maybe even a little painful. That just means it’s really happening. And we should allow it, if it promises to improve our lives.
And the wisdom to know the difference. This is the trickiest one for a lot of us. Knowing what problems you own, and what problems you can let go of is not always such a black and white decision. For instance, when something tragic happens to a loved one. While you want to be there for them and comfort them in any way you can, you also need to realize that the situation is out of your control, and that while you can lend a helping hand, you cannot solve their problem for them. Knowing when to step back from the situation to protect yourself from getting too stressed and anxious about it is key. It takes time, but you can learn when and how you can step in and change things, and when you simply need to sit back and accept things for what they are.
Reciting this prayer daily is a great way to keep this in the forefront of our minds. Taking on the pain of others in situations I could not change was a huge problem for me. I thought I had to carry the burdens of the world on my shoulders. But through counseling and rehab I learned that not only can I not shoulder all of those burdens without hurting myself, but that it is also not my responsibility to do that.
Knowing which external life forces can be changed, knowing which ones need to be changed, knowing which ones cannot be changed and can only be accepted, and knowing how to decipher everything as it happens to us is an important part of recovery. Keep the Serenity Prayer in the back of your mind the next time you face a life challenge. Is it something you can change, or something you should work toward accepting? This will make the whole thing go a lot more smoothly, and will aid in your recovery.