Almost every 12 step meeting regardless of fellowship will begin or end with the serenity prayer, which says, “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.”
At a topic meeting recently, the chairperson of the group had chosen to qualify on acceptance and serenity. After he finished sharing, he opened up the meeting for others to share. Towards the end of the meeting, one fellow rhetorically asked, “Do you want to know the difference between acceptance and serenity?”
“Acceptance is when you are standing on the 10 item express line at the supermarket where the person in front of you has 13 items and you don’t say anything to them.
And serenity…….Serenity is when you are on the same line and you don’t even count how many items he has in his basket.”
Many of us have mastered moments of acceptance,where instead of blurting out a criticism or a disagreement we exercise self-control over our speech muscles. Yet one often still senses a degree of agitation which percolates along with our self-control.
To come to a place where we no longer even “count” is a much more rarefied spiritual state.
You can determine if you are in acceptance or in serenity by examining if there is any “counting” chatter in your head the next time you are presented with a challenging situation.
Personal Reflection: Have I gone beyond acceptance and moved towards serenity in my life?
These days when a certain level of proficiency is reached, society acknowledges that accomplishment. Given that you have “mastered” a certain body of knowledge, you are now designated a “master”. We have master chefs, master teachers, master coaches and master carpenters. Other terms like a diplomate in medicine are also used to to recognize a degree of expertise.
There are also negative attributes like a master jewel thief or master criminal that are part of our language. Twelve step program also has its collection of negative masters. One of the most common of these is the master of non acceptance. We see this especially early on in the program. People seem to have great difficulty in accepting life on life’s terms. They need to learn that even when we put in the efforts, results are in no way guaranteed. That means we may not get the promotion, the apartment we wanted, the college admission we expected or the inheritance that was anticipated. The true test of our growth in the program is accepting all of these disappointments without blaming ourselves or others. When that finally happens we move into a new category; the master of accepting the things we cannot change.
Personal Reflection: Do I still struggle with accepting the things I cannot change?
The life of an alcoholic, drug or food addict is not a happy one. All aspects of our lives had been negatively impacted by the choices we had made. Our health had often deteriorated because of our actions. A lot of stress had been placed on our relationships with family and friends. We also encountered many work related problems. All of these had taken a toll on our emotional well being.
We felt a sense of relief when we entered the fellowship. We thought that once we had stopped our addictive behavior, everything would be fine. It was a bit of a shock to us to discover that many feelings which had laid dormant for a long time, came rushing back in. It seemed like we had replaced one set of problems with another. As we immersed ourselves in the program, we saw that not using drugs and alcohol was only the first step. If we really wanted to become, “happy joyous and free”, a lot of work needed to be done. A rigorous examination of our character defects was in order. Out of that examination we began to see our role in the reality we created. We also learned about our powerlessness and the need to let go after we had done the requisite work. Our Higher Power was also called upon as part of this process.
Personal Reflection: Am I happy, joyous and free today?
It is obvious that not everyone who drinks needs to go to AA. There are millions of people the world over who are social drinkers and will remain so for the duration of their lives.The same holds true in relationship to food. Overeating at a restaurant or stuffing yourself at a smorgasbord does not mean that you immediately qualify for OA. Without getting into a legal or moral debate, there are countless people who can use drugs recreationally without issues of addiction.
Then of course there are the people who belong in a fellowship. For them, alcohol, food or drugs might have initially been used socially. However, over time the patterns of usage of the substance changed. More of it was consumed and the frequency of use increased. It often reached a point where the quality of life of the user and those around them began to decline due to drugs alcohol or food. Substances became the “antidote” to the vicissitudes of life. Even when we wanted to stop we found we could not do so.
In program we finally learned that we could not drink or drug safely. We could no longer use substances to buffer life. As we began to live one day at a time; we started to feel the exhilaration of life on life’s terms; and no longer needed to deaden ourselves with food, drugs and alcohol.
Personal Reflection: Am I enjoying my reality?
Entering sobriety, it was extremely difficult for many of us to process anything except the simplest of concepts. Luckily, the philosophy of the rooms can be distilled into a two part system. The first emphasizes the need for us to apply ourselves. Recovery is not something that is just going to come to us. There is real work involved. Whether it means calling our sponsors, or making a meeting, we need to put ourselves out and take an action. Once we adapt to this concept we take it on the road so to speak. We begin to apply it outside the rooms to our life in general. We slowly but surely begin to make commitments in life and then show up to honor them.
The second part of our system is rooted in learning how to cope when things don’t go according to “our” plan. How are we going to react to disappointment and rejection? Will we get up, dust ourselves off and get back on the treadmill of life? Or will we steep in anger, fear and frustration and just give up? True sobriety understands that once we put in the effort, the results are in the hands of our Higher Power. As we grow spiritually, we find that “our” plan and “His” plan are more and more often in alignment.
Personal Reflection: Is your action response ratio in the correct proportion?
Growth in the programs of AA, NA and OA is a process. It took a long time for many of us to make it into the rooms. Some of us were mandated to be there. Others were still using in the early days of attending meetings. After many struggles we finally put down our drug of choice. Perhaps we were surprised when an old timer told us that we were just at the beginning of our journey. Not drinking, drugging or binging did not mean we were truly sober. True sobriety was something that grew within us as we began to work the program. Meetings and having a sponsor were important elements which contributed to that growth. Our emotional sobriety really began to flourish as we seriously engaged in step work. For the first time in our lives, we honestly examined our character defects. Where necessary, we made amends to people we had harmed. Over time we deepened our relationship with our Higher Power. We called upon Him more and more as we admitted our ultimate powerlessness. Then one day after much work we began to truly understand the concept of “accepting the things we cannot not change”. In that moment we learned about serenity.
Personal Reflection: What helps contribute to my serenity?
There is an old proverb that says, “you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. No matter what you do with it, it will always be the ear of a pig. We can also apply this quote to members of the program in regards to their past. When we first came in, we probably had lots of war stories about our past behavior. As time passed perhaps some of those stories got a little fuzzy. Perhaps we began to tell ourselves that things weren’t really as bad as we had remembered. For an alcoholic or drug addict, this is like skating on thin ice. If we keep it up, we’ll eventually fall through and slip back into our drug of choice.
We need to be very clear with ourselves. It is extremely important for us to have an accurate memory of our past behaviors. Most likely we will find this to be uncomfortable. We probably feel deep shame and regret over some of the things we have done. Though we need not dwell on the past, it shouldn’t be denied or romanticized. To do so would be endanger our present and future.
Personal Reflection: Do I sometimes romanticize the past?
Why do people use alcohol, drugs or food? I’m sure that psychologists, psychiatrists and substance abuse counsellors have a boatload of answers. When you get down to it, people used because they were just to darned uncomfortable being who they were. Life went along with a lot of pain and suffering. To just get outside of themselves and experience a degree of comfort was the motivation of many. In fact, you will hear people say that in the beginning their drug of choice worked. What we found out out was that over time our miracle cure lost its potency. It no longer had the effect that we desired. In fact it caused even more pain, suffering and self loathing. It was a wolf in sheep’s clothing. No real psychic or emotional change took place when we used. At best, it just deadened our feelings down to the core.
Sobriety has the potential to deliver that shift that we were so desperately seeking. There was finally a real possibility of accepting who we were and learning to love ourselves. Life still hit us with a daily barrage of challenges. Now, we were able to say, “bring it on”.
Personal Reflection: How have I changed in sobriety?
We all the took that first step. After a long time of making excuses, we finally admitted that we were powerless over alcohol, food, drugs, sex, gambling or whatever our addiction of choice was. Some of us felt a tumble of relief like a heavy weight had been lifted from our chest. That deep dark secret finally had the light of day shown on it and was now in the open. Those were the lucky ones. Many of us began to back pedal immediately. “What was I thinking”, they exclaimed. “There is just no way that I’m an addict. You people had me under your sway and I admitted to something that just wasn’t true. How could I be an addict? I’m a successful businessman or businesswomen. I have advanced degrees from college. No one in many family ever drank or used drugs”
To you we say, “take a deep breath”. All you’ve done is admit that you have a problem. If you choose not to do anything about it, that is your choice. We are members of a program of attraction rather than promotion. If you want to go out there and test the waters again that is your prerogative. What we do know is that it took you a long time to get here and finally admit you were powerless and your life was unmanageable. Why don’t you stick around, have a cup of coffee and hear what we have to say.
Personal Reflection: Do you fully and completely accept your admission?
See page 449
At one time or another almost all newcomers have experienced the following. They found themselves talking to their sponsor. At some point in the conversation they began to complain about some aspect of their lives. In the middle of a sentence their sponsor interrupted them and said, “Go get your copy of the Big Book and turned to page 449”. Upon opening to that page, the newcomer reads one of the most important passages from the book. That passage is about acceptance. It says in part, “I can find no serenity until I accept that person, place, or thing, or situation as being exactly the way it is supposed to be at this moment”. Even after reading it, many newcomers still don’t get it. They continue complaining about some aspect of their life. Their sponsor then tells them to reread the passage and meditate or journal on it. At some point, a light bulb goes off and the newcomer (or sometimes even an old timer) gets it. They come to understand that placing blame on others is a total and absolute waste of time. From a spiritual perspective, we believe that our Higher Power has sent us whatever we are going through and that we can grow through the process of dealing with it.
Personal Reflection: Do I need to read page 449 today?