Most people will experience life as being full of ups and downs. They may have periods where things are going good, but this will tend to be followed by harder times. Even during the best of days the average person will still have fears that niggle at them. They never quite manage to experience complete peace. There are other people who have managed to reach an emotional state known as serenity. Such individuals feel at peace most of the time. Life may continue to be full of ups and downs, but they no longer feel the bumps quite so hard. It is a highly desirable goal for people recovering from addiction to reach this state of equanimity. This is the state they once dreamed of achieving when they first turned to substance abuse.
Serenity can be defined as a feeling of being calm and tranquil. When people feel serene they are untroubled by the normal daily niggles that make life uncomfortable. They feel free of worry and are confident in their ability to face any challenges that will come their way. To be serene does not mean that the individual will be bursting with joy; it just means that they are at peace with themselves. This is a desirable mental state to experience. It is the goal of most humans to achieve such inner peace. Some people will experience episodic period of serenity, but there are other individuals who manage to feel this way most of the time.
The words serenity and sobriety are often used interchangeably, but there is a difference between the two. It can be helpful to think of sobriety as the path and serenity as the final goal. It is not possible for people in recovery to achieve serenity without sobriety. This is also more to it than just being sober. Sobriety means that the individual is doing all the right things to achieve good mental health. In most instances the individual will need to put plenty of time and effort into their sobriety before they achieve serenity – it can take decades. They will likely get glimpses of the final goal long before they arrive.
Serenity always involves a high degree of equanimity. This is an emotional state where the individual is fully accepting of what is going on at that moment. When people experience equanimity they are able to keep their composure no matter what is happening externally. If life does become rough they are able to manage things calmly and without experiencing a too much suffering. This does not mean that the individual no longer feels anything; it just means that the individual is no longer a slave to their emotions.
Recovery fellowships such as Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous follow a program called the 12 steps. It is the goal of these steps to lead people to a life where they will experience serenity most of the time. There is a section in the Big Book of AA that outlines the benefits of following the 12 Step program. These promises provide a good idea of what a life full of serenity will actually be like and includes:
* The individual will intuitively know how to handle any situation that arises
* An end to financial worries
* No more self-pity
* A feeling of usefulness and the ability to help others
* No more regrets about what happened in the past
* Less selfishness
* An end of fear about people, places, and things
* A much improved outlook on life
While the 12 Step program may help some members to achieve serenity this program has no monopoly over it. There are many recovering addicts who have experienced the same degree of peace and happiness in life without the help of a recovery fellowship. It seems likely that serenity is a reward for anyone who makes an honest and determined effort to live life in the best way they can. Some people will achieve serenity by following some type of spiritual program while others will develop this state through a process of trial and error.
It is often claimed that pain is the touchstone of recovery. What this means is that it is often only by pain that people are forced into a position where they have to make positive changes to their life. In recovery the individual will be faced with many challenges. Once they find a means to overcome this challenge they will find it easier to deal with in the future. If the individual is persistent at overcoming these obstacles they will reach a point where they feel comfortable dealing with almost anything that comes their way. They will have reached a high level of serenity.
The way that people learn to overcome challenges in life is by developing effective coping strategies. When people first become sober their ability to cope with life will be limited. This is because their old coping strategies will be ineffective. They can no longer turn to drugs or alcohol as a means to escape their problems. As people meet the challenges of life in recovery they develop new coping strategies. The metaphor of collecting tools to put in a toolbox describes this process well. Eventually the individual will have enough items in their toolbox that they can cope with any situation.
The goal of people in addiction recovery will be to achieve a good degree of serenity in their life. This is something that the vast majority of humans aspire to. There are a number of things that people can do to achieve this state including:
* If people can change their attitude towards problems it can help them enormously. Rather than viewing challenges as some type of punishment they can instead see it as an opportunity to grow. It is unfortunate, but humans tend to learn very little when times are good. It is only through experiencing pain that they can really reach their potential. If people view challenges more positively it will increase their ability to deal with them.
* It is vital that the individual makes an effort to face life and does not try to hide from discomfort. Even when people become sober they can continue their attempts to escape reality. They may substitute addictions by becoming obsessed with work or even exercise. Serenity can only be achieved if people are committed fully to sobriety. This means facing life on life’s terms.
* The main reason for why people experience long-term unhappiness in recovery is that they become stuck. They are faced with a challenge and for some reason they feel unable to get past it. They then try to ignore the problem, but this only leads to further pain. Things can become so bad that the individual returns to their alcohol or drug addiction. If people are experiencing too much discomfort in recovery they need to establish the cause and rectify the situation.
* Many people find that the 12 Step program is an effective path to serenity. It does provide a framework for sobriety and many people do claim to have achieved serenity by following this path. The 12 Steps is not a program that appeals to everyone; many object to the religious undertones. It is certainly something that is worth considering. Travelling the road to serenity as part of a fellowship can be a highly rewarding experience.
* Dogmatism can hinder people from achieving serenity. This occurs when people become so caught up in a set of beliefs that they hinder their personal development. It is vital that people keep an open mind if they want to escape the tyranny of their emotions. Sometimes the most helpful advice and guidance will come from the most unlikely sources; people will miss this if they are too dogmatic.
* Having realistic expectations is another key element of achieving sobriety. When people first become sober they will experience significant changes in their life. After a few months the pace of change slows down, and there can be long periods where there seems to be no improvement at all. It can take many years before the individual develops a high degree of serenity. If they expect too much too soon they will only end up feeling disappointed.
* It can be helpful if people keep a spiritual journal. This is where they can chart their progress and record any new discoveries along the way. Putting things on paper (or on a computer screen) makes them clearer. It also makes it easier to spot changes that would have otherwise been missed.