The Serenity Prayer is attributable to the American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr (1892–1971). It is said at the end of every AA meeting, however I was familiar with it before I entered the Fellowship. Sometimes it’s embroidered on tea towels or hung up in picture frames in locations where visitors can wonder at what it means. Personally, it’s an essential part of my continuing recovery from alcoholism.
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change.
While the debate over whether an alcoholic is powerless over people, places and things continues, as it’s not mentioned in the first 164 pages of the Big Book, I think the point is being missed. I have accepted that I am an alcoholic and my life becomes unmanageable when I drink. This powerlessness over alcohol can be applied to people, places and things to represent the futility of trying to control them. Einstein’s definition of insanity; doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results, is relevant here. And so; Shakespeare said, “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.” He forgot to mention that I was the chief critic. I was always able to see the flaw in every person, every situation. And I was always glad to point it out, because I knew you wanted perfection, just as I did. A.A. and acceptance have taught me that there is a bit of good in the worst of us and a bit of bad in the best of us. (From page 417 of The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous). I find it beneficial to humbly accept I’m not perfect and that drinking alcohol and attempting to control every aspect of my life has been a calamitous experience that I have used to contrast with the next line of the prayer.
Courage to change the things I can.
I can change my perception through empathy. If I perceive the situation through the other person’s eyes, from their perspective, it opens an opportunity to engage and seek solutions through collaboration. I can react through forgiveness which I find to be a double edged sword. Forgiving somebody else’s actions and forgiving myself for making mistakes are two different things entirely. Perfectionism/procrastination, seeking approval and people pleasing are the axis of self seeking motives that exacerbate the potential triumph of forgiveness. I can defuse resentment through gratitude. Resentment is the number one offender in fucking up an alcoholics progress in recovery. The aforementioned people, places and things could be the subject of an impromptu gratitude list that could very well be the saving grace required to stave off relapse. Empathy, Forgiveness and Gratitude require initial courage, however the fruition of the prayer is at this pivotal juncture.
And wisdom to know the difference.
The cost of empathy is experience. This expense correlates with the severity of the disease. On occasion there are anomalies that occur. I’m referring to the individuals whom attend meetings and seem wise beyond their years. I’m of the variety of alcoholic that needs to put his hand in the fire to find out if it will burn me; instead of seeing the truth when all of the “yets” (as in, that hasn’t happened to me—yet) started happening, I just kept lowering my standards. (From page 328 of The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous). I recite the Serenity Prayer, I use it as a mantra to channel good intentions and thoughts throughout my day. I apply it logically in a whole host of settings to remain still, serene, contemplative, faithful, hopeful…recovered.