It Works for Everyone, Even the Non-Religious
First off, Happy New Year, readers! I know I have been MIA the whole month of December because I was writing my 6th book and busy with the holidays, but I am now back with a whole year of many good blog posts to share with you.
The title that you are probably more familiar with is the “Serenity Prayer.” If you are like me and do not have a specific religion, you can think of the Serenity Prayer as a formula for serene, peaceful living. I have been saying the Serenity Prayer since I was in fifth grade and started studying addictions, but I never understood or thought of the actual meaning of the words until I listened to an interview with Liz Murray, a daughter of drug addicted parents who went from being homeless on the streets of the Bronx to walking the halls of Harvard University. In the interview, she was talking about how the Serenity Prayer motivated her to go back to school as a homeless teenager. In the book Learn to Value Your Childhood, Vince DiPasquale, the author of the book and one of two of my wonderful counselors, has a whole chapter where he dissects the meaning of the Serenity Prayer. He states in the chapter that if you are not comfortable with formal prayer -like me- you can think of it as a formula because the concept behind it is much more important than who you are asking.
“God” Of Your Understanding
The first word in the formula is “God.” Keep in mind that “God” in the recovery programs means “Good Orderly Direction.” Spiritual freedom is the beauty of the recovery programs because you can develop the God/Higher Power of Your Understanding. From my experience, a god of love, not fear works for most people. We are not talking about any specific religion, but if your concept of god is from Christianity, Catholicism, Islam, Buddhism, etc., feel free to have that concept in mind as you ask. I, personally, do not feel comfortable with the word “God,” so I substitute it with the word “Universe.” Remember, it is all the same Higher Power, just different names and concepts. Other suggestions are you can use the words “Higher Power,” “Great Spirit,” or “Good Orderly Direction.” You can even ask the book of your recovery program. My counselor shared with me a story of a professed atheist who would ask the Big Book of AA for help every morning and thank the Big Book of AA every night before he went to bed.
“Grant Me the Serenity”
A quote that I always loved about serenity is “Serenity is not freedom from the storm, but peace amid the storm.” As family members of people who suffer from addiction or have some other form of dysfunction, it is tempting to try to fix and change them so we can be in peace. However, a universal truth is that the only person we can change or control is ourselves. Many of us may not want to or cannot sever a relationship with a person. Remember, the whole theme of Al-Anon and Nar-Anon is “to find joy and even happiness whether the alcoholic/addict is still drinking/using or not.” The same concept can apply to a dealing with a person who has any other form of dysfunction (e.g. other mental illness, control issues, extreme beliefs and way of living, types of codependency, incest, etc.).
Since you cannot change another person and will only go insane by trying, your best option will be to detach yourself from the issue. Detachment is not amputation; it is being able to step back, make a safe distance between you and the undesirable behavior, and look at it objectively without feeling the need to interfere. For example, if you live with a parent who is in active alcoholism and you cannot move out because you are not old enough or do not have the resources, you can detach by not initiating or aggravating arguments (especially when your parent is drunk), throwing out liquor or searching the house for bottles, going to a safe place (e.g. friend’s house, library, café, etc.) when your parent is getting violent or the fighting in the house gets intense, and not obsessing over whether he or she is drinking or not because that is the normal of an alcoholic.
“To Accept the Things I Cannot Change”
My counselor says, “Acceptance is 95% of recovery.” From my experience, I know that this is true. I spent years trying to wish away the traumas in my life. I also spent a lot of time wishing that parts about my life were different and my family members were different and made different choices. When I dove into the meaning of the Serenity Formula, I realized that I cannot change what happened in my drug addicted cousins’ house, my dad’s alcoholism, my mom’s codependency issues, my one cousin making bad decisions and using drugs again after being in prison for over 6 years, and my dysfunctional extended family’s mental illness and other issues. Once I came to terms with the facts that what happened in my life happened, the past is the past, and the people in my life are who they are, I was able to be honest about the situations and my feelings in counseling and take actions to help myself.
“Courage to Change the Things I Can”
Though I cannot change what happened in the past and the choices of other people, even if those choices affect me, I was able to take action to help myself. For example, my dad’s alcoholism has progressed to the point that he cannot keep be depended on to keep a job. If he loses another job, I will lose my health insurance, which has happened before. After I accepted that fact, I enrolled in medical insurance at the university that I will be starting in January and vision and dental insurance with the temp agency that work for as a substitute paraprofessional. Another example is I always knew that I did not want to live the type of life that my cousins lived as a result of drug use and untreated mental illness (working a part-time, minimum-wage job in their late twenties), so I worked hard in middle and high school, got good grades, graduated high school with honors, enrolled in college, and plan to put in maximum effort when I start next week. I have recently accepted the fact my mom may never leave my dad, even if he never stops drinking. The only thing that I can do is do the best than I can in college, obtain a degree, and get a full-time, well-paying job so I can move out in the next five or six years.
In the movie The Glass Castle, the prime example of this the scene where the four little kids get together after their alcoholic father and mentally ill mother get into an intense physical fight where their mother almost fell out of an upstairs window. They come to the conclusion that they cannot change their parents and their only choice is to go to school to get jobs and move out when they are old enough.
“Wisdom to Know the Difference”
Here is where it gets a bit tricky. I have concluded that the two things I cannot control are other people and the past. However, it is a lot easier said than done, especially in times of doubt and indecision. I believe that no one is born into this world with the “wisdom to know the difference.” That is why most of us are codependents to some degree. If we were born with that wisdom, we would have a lot less frustration and arguments in the world. Through reading the program literature, using the phone list in ambiguous times, and attending meetings with your mind, body, and spirit, and a lot of trial and error, you will gain the tools to know the difference.
You can close however you like. You may say “Amen,” which means “I believe.” I say “In the spirit of the Steps, I ask.” You can even have no formal closing at all like they do in the self-help meetings. The key is to find out and do what works for you.
Bria Riley is a published author, recovering codependent and adult child of an alcoholic, who is active in several recovery programs. She knows the turmoil and heartbreak of growing up in an addiction-stricken family and wants to help others who have also been affected by addiction through her writing.