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?
As we immersed ourselves in the program, we gained a lot of knowledge. We began to understand the reasons behind our drinking, drugging or food binging. A lot of tools were picked up which helped us maintain our sobriety. We might even have begun practices like journaling and meditation. All of these contributed to our sobriety. But the reality is that no matter how many meetings we made; no matter how many times we called our sponsor; no matter how much we planned out our day; unexpected challenges were still going to take place. When that happened we had an opportunity to tap into tools like meditation, reading from 12 step literature or an outreach call. What many of us have found to be most helpful when we have a startle in life is to immediately turn to our Higher Power. We can ask for an attribute of restraint like patience or one of action like courage. Perhaps the most evolved course is to ask our Higher Power what would He have us do in the next moment. When we clear our mind and make a space for an answer it often comes. Sometimes we also gain understanding us to why the “blessed event” occurred in the first place.
Personal Reflection: How do I react to unexpected challenges?
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?
People in the program are like anyone else. We too on a daily basis must face life’s problems. Once we have established our goals; we also expend great effort to achieve them. This is usually the point where we part company with those who are not in the program. As long as we’ve done our part to our best effort; we let go of expectations.
At its core, twelve step program is spiritual in nature. We place our trust in our Higher Power to determine the results. In the past we spent a lot of time worrying and fearful about the outcome of our efforts. By doing so we burnt up a lot of emotional energy. Today, we are able to experience serenity. Since we know that our Higher Power is in charge, much of our fear has been lifted. The more we accept that G-d is running the show, the less concern we have for the ultimate outcome of events. Since we have put in effort and right work, we are confident in the outcome, no matter what it might be. The only time we end emotionally stressed is when we forget who is truly in charge.
Personal Reflection: Have I remembered to turn it over today?
The memories of our childhood are often not vey good ones. Many of us grew up in households where there was a lot of fighting taking place between our parents. It seemed like almost everything became an argument. As we lay in bed listening to our parents fight, we vowed that we would never be like them. Yet as adults we found ourselves often involved in volatile relationships. It seemed as if we were carrying on the legacy from our parents. Fueled by alcohol and drugs, even those of us who came from healthier homes, ended up in screaming matches while under the influence. We felt almost compelled to prove ourselves “right”.
In sobriety, we now understood that we do not have to engage in verbal sparring with others. It is certainly appropriate for us to disagree with others. It is not appropriate for us to convince anyone else that they are wrong. We had tried this in the past and discovered that it only created animosity. Winning arguments was not our job. When this was what we focused on, it was an empty victory at best. Over time we have learned to walk away from arguments. We are more interested in maintaining our serenity.
Personal Reflection: Do I get hooked into arguments?
Over the past decade there has been a proliferation of retreat centers. People go to these centers to practice meditation and prayer in silence. Much time is also spent in personal reflection while there. After a week of healthy food and body and mind work, they feel quite serene as they reenter the world. Yet, as they’re driving down the highway heading for home and they see police lights flashing in their rear view mirror; and a voice ordering them to pull over, that state of serenity is quickly broken. How is that possible? They just spent 10 hours a day in deep prayer and mediation. They had such a sense of calm and peace when they left the retreat center. Yet now, all those feelings of fear, blame and resentment come flooding back over the possibility of a speeding ticket.
In recovery, we have come to understand that true serenity is defined by how we respond to the trials of life; both big and small. When we are on retreat, of course we gain a type of serenity. It is the serenity of secluded spiritual practice. The very nature of retreat facilitates it. In recovery, we gain practical serenity. That is the calm of not responding negatively in the face of adversity. It is actually of a much more profound genus.
Personal Reflection: How can I improve my response to conflict?
Recently, two people who had just come out of their yoga class had a small fender bender in the parking lot. Right after the accident they began to yell at each other at the top of their lungs. Both had spent an hour doing deep stretches in class and ended their session in deep meditation. Yet now, just a few minutes later, they had left the serenity of the class far behind. So, the question is where did a spiritual experience take place that morning? Many would say that their hour long session of yoga and meditation qualified as spiritual. We in the program look at life a little differently. We believe the true spiritual experience took place when they lost it with one another in the parking lot. Yes, the yoga class was very nice and relaxing. But, it was when they were yelling at each other that they had the greater opportunity for spiritual growth. If they had chosen to examine their actions, they would have discovered opportunities to work on anger, pride, self righteousness, arrogance and a host of other defects of character. The real spiritual “work” takes place when we see those darker parts of ourselves and have the capacity to own up to them. If one of them had stopped yelling and said “forgive me for hitting your car”, that would have been a spiritual home run.
Personal Reflection: What was my last rude awakening?
Every day we face a new set of challenges. If we allow it to happen, we can quickly become overwhelmed. This often occurs because we are unable to say no to people. After years of self-centered behavior, many recovering people feel they need to make up for lost time. Whenever they are called upon for help, they immediately say yes. The problem with this approach is that it can cause us to overload our circuits. As we attempt to squeeze more and more into the day, we begin to see some of our old behaviors returning. Before we know it, we have lost our serenity and are full of fear, anger and resentment. What also happens is that as we fill up our day with so many commitments, we begin to neglect our program. We end up skipping meetings and failing to call our sponsor because we have spread ourselves too thin. Part of sobriety is maintaining a healthy balance between service and self-care.
Sometimes we even need to say no to ourselves. Perhaps we need to stay home when we’re feeling tired and read a book instead of going to the gym for a late night workout.
Personal Reflection: How close are you to overwhelm today?
Denial comes in many flavors. For the addict, it often took the form of lying. We lied in order to minimize an action or its associated results. One of the most frequent lies was how much we used each day. “But honey, I don’t understand why you’re so upset. I only had a couple”. Then there was the lie to escape the consequences of an action. “Honest officer I didn’t know I was going 50 miles per hour in a 25 mile per hour zone”. We told these lies so frequently that we began to believe them. When caught in our lies, we vehemently denied that we were not telling the truth. Our voices were often raised for good measure.Some of us also liked to inflate our actions and accomplishments to hide our own inadequacies and failings. This often increased over time as our sense of grandiosity expanded.
When we finally entered the program, we came face to face with a concept that had alluded us while we were active. We discovered the serenity of telling the truth and never having to look back or cover ourselves ever again.
Personal Reflection: Are we truly honest in all of our daily dealings?