The Serenity Prayer may serve as a reminder of what steps you need to take to live a happier life. While the term “prayer” may turn some people off, I encourage you to think about it more as a plan. The first part talks about staying focused on your end goal. The second part talks about learning how to accept that some things are out of your control. The third part reminds you that there are some things you can change, but change requires effort and hard work. Finally, the fourth part points out that in order to effectively make choices, you have to be mindful and wisely choose your actions.
Serenity Prayer (Plan)
Written by Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971)…modified to be more secular…
Good Orderly Direction/God will give 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.
Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardship as the pathway to peace.
Recovery is a journey. Good Orderly Direction is your roadmap. It helps keep you from getting lost. It helps you resist taking uncharted detours or “shortcuts.” Some people call it direction or long-term goals. Some call it God. Some call it conscience. Whatever it is for you, it helps you stay the course. This is your wise mind.
Example: In one year, I will be clean, have a full-time job, be able to move into my own place, will own a car, have a license and will get my kids back. Complete the statement: In one year I will…
Now that you know the destination, how do you get there? Google maps cannot tell you—I tried. There is a Rock Bottom (incidentally it is a brewery) in Arlington, VA. There is also a place called Recovery Place in Ambler, PA. Have you ever noticed on Google Maps that it charts the fastest route based on general information? If you drag the route line, it will replot the course, but it usually takes a lot longer. And if you do not give it an end point, it randomly picks one, usually across the world. The same is true for recovery. You need to know the starting point, your destination and get some guidance on, in general, the best way to get there. If you start monkeying with the route, it will take you a lot longer to reach your destination. In early recovery there are usually four major causes for detours. 1) Trying to change things you cannot change, 2) Thinking you know a “short cut” 3) Making major (unnecessary) changes along the way, or 4) Plain and simply acting impulsively. (Squirrel!)
Serenity is a state of calm and acceptance, including acceptance of the fact that you do not have control over everything all of the time. To continue the metaphor, serenity is the ability to deal with traffic jams along your route. If you have felt victimized, used, rejected or simply hopeless and helpless, you may have developed an overwhelming desire to be in control—all the time. Serenity is when you can accept that something “is” and that you do not have any control over it. What you do have control over is your reaction to it and how much energy you choose to invest in a losing battle. Does revving your engine when traffic is at a complete stop get you anywhere? No, it just burns up your gas. Same is true for trying to change things you have no control over. (This includes other people)
Feelings are natural. They serve a purpose. However, when you feel overwhelmed by negative emotions, you may be trying to change something over which you have no control. When you find yourself in this situation, try telling yourself something like: “It stinks that ___________________. However, there is nothing I can do about it. Instead of wasting my energy by continuing to feel ______________ and trying to _____________ I choose to ___________”
Example: It stinks that I am stuck in a traffic jam with no exit for miles. There is nothing I can do about it. Instead of staying angry, I will use this time to call a few friends I have not talked with in a while.
List 5 things that you have no control over that cause you to feel stressed. Now, notice I didn’t give you anything to do with that. There is nothing. I want you to just sit with it and accept it. It is what it is.
While you probably like control, you also do not like discomfort. Sometimes the right thing is not the easiest or most comfortable thing. It takes a lot of courage to admit when you are wrong, take responsibility for your actions (instead of blaming someone else), or make other changes. Identify how you can change 5 things that you which cause you stress.
What does courage mean to you?
Have you ever met one of those people that sees every glass as half-full? You may find it irritating, because they do not share your point of view or because they have something you do not—contentment. Identify 4 things that irritate you or cause you stress, and write a positive reframe of for each of them.
- Irritant: My boss is an unreasonable jerk
- Positive Reframe: At least I have a job for now, and I am looking for another one
- Irritant: Long lines and slow cashiers
- Positive Reframe: At least I can read the tabloids while I wait. This may be the best he/she can do.
You are back to that whole control thing. Most of the time, you probably know what you can and cannot control, but you choose to fight a losing battle anyway. (If you are feeling irritated that I said that, then your addicted, control-freak mind is rearing its head.) Think of your emotions like a tornado. Right now, when you feel an emotion (especially a negative one), the emotion takes over, like being sucked into the tornado. This is called emotional dysregulation. In order to make wise choices, you need to learn how to feel feelings without having to immediately act on them. Just because you are angry doesn’t mean you have to hit a wall, drink or throw a hissy fit. Actually none of those behaviors is probably effective. Wisdom is one part impulse control (thinking before you act), and one part knowledge.
- Start by asking yourself “Why do I feel _________”
- Follow up with “Is this something I can control, and is it worth my energy?”
- If not, then let it go. Move on. If it is, then the fourth and fifth questions are “What do I want to be different, and how can I make that happen?”
Too often people stop at “What do I want to be different?” It’s as if they think they can wish for it, and magically it will happen. This is just not the case. When something is wrong, you need to either change it or accept it. For example, I had plans to go hiking today. However, the forecasters completely missed the HUGE storm that was coming this way. I could get mad about it, but if I stop and think (impulse control), I will realize it is not worth the energy of getting angry, because I cannot change the weather.
- How can you help yourself stop and think before you act or react?
- How do you know the difference between which things to accept and things to change?
You may get “stressed out” and “anxious” because you are so busy worrying about and trying to plan for the future or dwelling in regrets and resentments from the past. Don’t get me wrong, a little planning for Good Orderly Direction and learning from the past is wonderful, but living in the future or the past sets you up to miss today. What is it that is awesome about right now?
Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery. Today is a present.
- In what ways do you get yourself caught up living in the future?
- In what ways do you get yourself caught up living in the past?
- How can you help yourself stay grounded (and grateful) in the present? (Examples: Journaling, gratitude list, daily meditation…)
- What are some things you are grateful for right now?
There will always be challenges. Peace comes from accepting these challenges and dealing with life on life’s terms. It requires just as much strength to accept those things you cannot change, as it does to change the things you can. Sometimes hardship can make you realize how grateful you are for what you have, and how strong you really are. There are a lot of songs that speak to this. Lori Morgan’s “I Didn’t Know My Own Strength,” Britney Spears’ “Stronger,” Kelly Clarkson’s “What Doesn’t Kill You, “ and Christina Aguilera’s “Fighter.” What hardships have you already dealt with?
What else needs to happen so you can be at peace with these things?
How can mindfulness and purposeful action benefit your recovery process?
What can you do to start learning to be more mindful of your wants, needs and feelings? (Remember to consider learning style such as journaling if you are a visual person, or checking in with a sponsor or coach if you are an listener or do-er; and temperament— it is important to be mindful of both your preferences, but also those things you tend to overlook.)
What have you learned about yourself and recovery that you can use to improve your quality of life?
Learn more about mindfulness HERE