“We will comprehend the word serenity, and we will know peace” (Promises of Alcoholics Anonymous).
Life is to be enjoyed to the fullest. But of course, it has ups and downs. Whilst we have periods where things are going well, sometimes we feel we are pushing against the grain.
We experience fears, and even the most balanced of individuals will tell you that they too can feel overwhelmed. It is fair to raise the questions “Is there such thing as peace? is it fleeting and does long-term serenity exist?”.
The modern world is increasingly rigged for us to crave more. With are bombarded daily via advertising on media with messages that tell us that we are missing out or falling behind if we don’t have the latest product or technology.
This notion conflicts with our teachings from the 12 Step fellowships like AA (Alcoholics Anonymous). Many believe that if sobriety is the starting point for recovery, then serenity is the ultimate destination.
But exactly how do we achieve this?
What is Serenity?
Before we find serenity, we must understand what serenity is. Perhaps it’s easier to describe what it is not. Serenity is not a state of constant happiness; it is not a place of haven where nothing goes wrong in life.
Life will continue, times will still be challenging, and sometimes what the universe wants is not what you want. However, serenity will affect the way we respond to life. Tranquillity and peace are by-products of acceptance and surrender.
Have you ever noticed that some people seem to enjoy life effortlessly? Their lives will be as busy and as full of challenges as yours, but they calmly accept the good and the bad.
They do not get drawn into the drama, they do not make mountains out of molehills, and they do not take every challenge as some form of personal attack. This is how I would describe a state of serenity.
I am perhaps selling serenity short. It is more than this, but this description provides a good starting point for understanding and guiding us on our journey.
Acceptance is key — To enjoy life, we must first accept the good and the bad. Life has its twists; it has ups and downs. Whilst most of us get this, many of us fail to admit we are powerless in this.
So many of us find ourselves going through tough times and instead of accepting that as the course of that moment, we try to change the way we feel or change the scenario.
During these times, we often reach outside of ourselves for a solution, be it material or in the form of behaviour. In these instances, maybe we should be looking internally for the answer. What is life teaching us, what are we discovering about ourselves and what mistakes from the past can I avoid today?
When we are invested in trying to change the way we feel, we are not accepting of our current state of flux. As addicts in recovery, we can still see some of our old patterns and behaviours returning to the fore. We must adopt the principals found in recovery, and acceptance is one we learn about early.
In 12 Step fellowships, we repeat the Serenity Prayer in almost every meeting. We can often say it so often we do not notice it is a recipe, so to speak, for serenity.
“Accept the things we cannot change” — What falls into this category?
First, ourselves to some extent. If you are small in stature you cannot automatically become big and if you are old you cannot become young. So much of what we do today — vigorous exercise regimes, cosmetic surgeries and crash dieting — is because we are not accepting ourselves as we are and wish to change the way we appear.
Secondly, we cannot change someone else. Think about that for a moment. How much time do we spend over our lifetimes trying to change how others feel or behave?
When we genuinely recognise that we are powerless over others in our life, it comes as a relief. It awards us with more time to be invested in more worthwhile pursuits — our relationship with ourselves.
Finally, we cannot change our past. Guilt and shame are the companions of early recovery.
If you ask anyone in long-term recovery, how they resolved their guilt and shame they will tell you it was the acceptance of themselves, of their journey, of their addiction and of the responsibility they applied when making amends.
No one has undone the past. However, what they have done is learned from it and used those lessons today.
“The Courage to change the things we can” — Now we can explore this line of the prayer. What can we change?
The word courage in the Cambridge dictionary is described as “the ability to control fear in a dangerous or difficult situation”. Courage is exhibited when we confront our fears, when we keep moving forward and learn to adapt.
Courage is taken from the Latin word “Cor” to mean heart. Original definitions of courage are “to speak one’s mind by telling all in one’s heart“. Rather than thinking of courage as some act of heroism, I like to think of it as the ability, to be honest, and being open with who we are. Speaking truthfully from the heart is what I define as courage.
Another factor open to change is our mindset. Instead of seeing responsibilities as chores, we can see them as an opportunity to show our best. Instead of seeing hardships as a personal attack, we can view them as learning opportunities. We can find gratitude in place of negativity, and comfort when focusing on what we have gained instead of what we have lost.
Our mindset and outlook can be changed by being open-minded. Sometimes it takes another’s perspective to help shift the point of view. For that, we have sponsors and therapists.
Education for developing new skills is something else we can change, rather than fixing insecurities with material substances to manage our fears and insecurities. We invest in education, a recovery program, or training to level the playing field.
There is a good dose of courage needed, especially when facing exams or situations in employment or with family. However, through perseverance and acceptance of help, we understand that we can do things that we once thought were beyond us. It just takes courage and not deflection.
Many lessons are learned from situations that anger us. Anger carries energy; you may have felt it after walking into a room where a row has just unfurled. If undealt, anger will remain in our body and clouds our judgement. It will lead to resentment and feelings of bitterness. Forgiveness is the cure for anger and a necessary stop on the journey to serenity.
Forgiveness is not merely something we must show to others, but we must also apply to ourselves. Many of us have high expectations of ourselves, and we can be self-punishing when we do not meet these expectations. We can wish we did things differently and blame ourselves when we make mistakes.
Examples like this mean that serenity is an impossible destination to find. We must learn to show compassion toward others and ourselves. We must learn to let go of excuses we have maintained for our behaviour and those resentments we sometimes refuse to come clean about.
The 4th Step of the AA program is often of immediate focus. Still, it is Step 5 that follows where we experience the healing power derived from forgiveness. When share our Step 4 inventory with our sponsor or therapist during working the Step 5, we experience a feeling of lightness as the burden is lifted. A problem shared is a problem halved.
By disclosing and talking through our fears, resentments and harms done to others, we are guided into a direction for growth. None of this would be possible without forgiveness.
The therapeutic value of sharing our experiences allows us to communicate and bring things out into the open. Once in the open, we can examine them in detail and only then can we move forward, with forgiveness at the core. This is the courage the Serenity Prayer speaks about. When looking at the definition from the Latin word “Cor” during step 4 and 5, we speak from the heart with honesty. We reveal our most inner secrets and are rewarded with a more straightforward path to serenity.
The wisdom to know the difference” — How do we acquire wisdom? Through being reachable and teachable? By being open-minded and willing?
Humility is vital when learning. No one is an expert in life; however, many have lessons to teach if we are willing to accept them. Usually, we will find it is a predetermined judgement that prevents us from obtaining wisdom.
We can learn lessons from anyone, even if they are younger than us or even if we think their life bears no resemblance to ours. By being non-judgemental, we are maximising the opportunities for where wisdom can be found.
Sponsors and others in recovery are a great source of wisdom. It would seem a futile venture to go to a group because we need help, and then ignore all lessons that they then teach us. By remembering why we go to our support groups, we remain open to directions when there.
Others in recovery may point out when we have to accept a situation. They can give us their experience, strength and hope to allow us to see when we need to have the courage to change.
It is in these 12 Step fellowship meetings where we find the wisdom that is spoken about in the Serenity Prayer.
Examining the AA promise; “We will comprehend the word serenity and we will know peace”. We find that this promise is fulfilled by our participation in 12 Steps recovery programs.
Serenity is not something that is acquired through osmosis; simply being sober will not bring long-term, long-lasting tranquillity.
If soberness is the starting point, and serenity the ultimate aim, we have discovered that the 12 Steps is the map.
Serenity is acquired by practising this program, through teachings from others, and in the discovery of our true selves. As another AA phrase goes “to my own self be true”.
Just for today, let’s apply the serenity prayer and you to will know peace.