A common motive for falling into substance abuse is an inability to cope with the vicissitudes of life. The individual feels overwhelmed by the problems that life is throwing at them, and desperation means that they will consider any means of escape. In the beginning alcohol and drugs do feel like the perfect solution. It gives the individual a break from their problems and the reality of day to day living. The problem is that as the individual becomes to rely on these substances it has a devastating impact on their life. It is a classic example of the cure being worse than the disease. The answer to life’s problems is not to be found by using mind altering substances. The ability to deal with life is something that the individual can develop, but it is serenity that they need for this and not intoxication.
One way of defining serenity is to say that it is a feeling of being calm and tranquil. In recovery this word is often used to describe a state of being where people are untroubled by the ups and downs in life. It means that whatever is happening in the individual’s life they can rely on an inner sense of calm. Many would say that this way of being is the goal of recovery. It may even have been the search for such inner peace that drove the individual into addiction in the first place – they find what they are looking for in sobriety.
Thomas Szasz provides another way of looking at serenity with his words:
> Boredom is the feeling that everything is a waste of time; serenity, that nothing is.
The serenity prayer was created in 1937 by a theologian called Karl Paul Reinhold Niebuhr. The original text for this prayer was:
> Father, give us courage to change what must be altered, serenity to accept what cannot be helped, and the insight to know the one from the other.
A slightly different version of the prayer has been adopted by 12 Step Groups:
> God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can change, and wisdom to know the difference.
Serenity Prayer for Non Believers
The word God and prayer can make non believers feel uncomfortable. This might lead them to conclude that the serenity prayer has nothing to offer them. In fact there is a great deal that these words can offer the non believer without them needing to adopt any religious ideas. They can view God as nature or their own inner wisdom. The important thing here is not the actual words used but the sentiment which each individual can interpret in their own way.
Here are 10 reasons why the serenity prayer can benefit everyone in recovery.
The serenity prayer reminds the individual of the importance of acceptance. Humans have the ability to exert an influence on the world, but there are many things that they have no power over. For example, there may be very little that a person can do to alter the way other people think. This inability to change some aspects of life can leave people feeling frustrated and full of self pity. The individual may have used to justification that life is not fair to justify their alcohol or drug abuse. Trying to fight against the way things are is a waste of energy and it can only ever lead to suffering. People find happiness by just accepting and working with those things that they cannot change.
When people give up an addiction it doesn’t mean that they will get a free ride in life going forward. The sober person still has to face day to day reality, and this means dealing with the bad times as well as the good. When times are hard the individual can begin to question things. They may even begin to wonder if staying sober is worth the effort. By thinking about the serenity prayer the individual can find inner strength. They can accept the current situation as what they have to work with and take it from there.
Developing faith in recovery does not mean that the individual is expected to adopt any particular religious ideas. It is referring to confidence in the idea that when people do the right things it will mean the right things will happen to them. There will be a great deal in life that the individual has no control over, but the fact that they are now trying to live a better life should mean that their life will get better. It is only by developing this faith in recovery that the individual is able to begin developing some serenity.
The reason why so many people settle for a less than perfect life is fear. There is comfort in the familiarity even when the individual is experiencing suffering. Change means taking a step into the unknown, and not everyone will be prepared to take this step. In order for the individual to escape the misery of addiction they will need to be brave. They will also need courage to keep on making the needed changes that will lead them to a better life in sobriety.
In Alcoholics Anonymous the members will sometimes talk about how their best thinking got them drunk. This is pointing out the reality that despite a tendency to arrogance addicts do not tend to have much wisdom. This does not mean that they are lacking intelligence, but their behavior does suggest that they have lost the ability to make good decision. When people first become sober they can still fall victim to illogical thinking. In recovery they can develop enough wisdom to be able to make better decisions.
Carl Yung once suggested that:
> Even a happy life cannot be without a measure of darkness, and the word happy would lose its meaning if it were not balanced by sadness. It is far better take things as they come along with patience and equanimity.
Equanimity can be defined as mental or emotional stability from a deep awareness and acceptance of the present moment. It is closely related to serenity, and if an individual has developed serenity they will almost certainly also have developed equanimity. Spiritual seekers will often use techniques such as meditation to help them develop equanimity. It means that they deliberately focus their attention on the present moment without passing judgment on it. The development of equanimity is of particular importance to Buddhists and Hindus.
The words in this prayer are not only about acceptance but also about empowerment. It reminds the individual that there are many things that they will be able to change, and that they should take action when such actions will improve their life. The serenity prayer redirects the individual’s energies away from things out of their control and towards those things that they can control.
Many people do view recovery as a spiritual path. This prayer reminds them that they are not taking this journey alone – they can rely on a higher force if they just have faith. When the individual hands over those things that are beyond them to a higher power it lightens their load significantly. This means that they can go forward with their journey feeling supported. The individual may not have the strength to overcome every obstacle in life, but their higher power will have this strength.
There is a great deal of positivity contained within the few short lines of the serenity prayer. It suggests that the individual can have a positive impact on their future. It also points to the idea that higher forces are at work. Those things that the individual recognizes as beyond their control may actually lead them to great things if they just learn to accept. There is a great deal of evidence to suggest that thinking positively puts the individual in a position where they are more likely to find success in life. Negative thinking (also known as stinking thinking) should be avoided in recovery because it can easily lead to relapse.
Saint Augustine advised:
> Do you wish to rise? Begin by descending. You plan a tower that will pierce the clouds? Lay first the foundation of humility.
In order for people to find success in recovery it is vital that they develop some humility. This means that they have developed the ability to accept their own limitations and weaknesses. Humility is the opposite of arrogance. The individual makes the amazing discovery that by accepting their own weaknesses they become stronger. This is because when people are arrogant they are unable to learn anything new, and they regularly end up out of their depth because they have overestimated their abilities. There is nothing wrong with admitting weakness – in reality it is the key to success.