Religion is extremely important to the great majority of people on this planet. It gives them reasonably coherent systems of ethics and moral guidance, community, support in hard times, and hope for a better life. In many cases, it gives their lives structure and meaning.
I am not a religious person myself, instead thinking of myself as spiritual. I don’t believe the two concepts are by any means one and the same. That’s a discussion beyond where I want to go here, but it’s a necessary observation in order for the following to make sense.
Many of us in recovery — especially early recovery — have difficulty with what we see as the “religious” aspects of the 12 Step fellowships. Again, without getting into a discussion about religion versus spirituality, it has been my experience that those who are able to put such prejudices behind them, take from “the program” what fits for them, and allow others the same privilege, are the ones who are most likely to succeed. Personal problems with concepts of gods and higher powers notwithstanding, it is quite possible to be a part of the 12 Step experience and not delve into religion at all.
Spirituality, however, is an absolute must, and certain concepts that have come to be expressed in terms of prayers and similar ideas are also critical to success. Again, we need to read between the lines of those things and take from them the underlying thoughts and wisdom. Sometimes we even need to show a bit of humility and go along with customs such as prayers at the beginning and end of meetings, understanding that those things are important for many people, and that participating does us no real harm at all.
One prayer that we need to take absolutely to heart is the Serenity Prayer:
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change
Courage to change the things I can
And the wisdom to know the difference.
The ideas embodied in this simple verse are essential to recovery. The Serenity Prayer reminds us to be humble, and helps us organize the things on which we need to be working in order to get and stay sober. If we spend some time thinking about it, in fact, we may discover that it embodies an entire philosophy of life. It reminds us
- That we are not in charge of anyone or anything but ourselves;
- That we cannot in fact change anything but ourselves and the way we look at and live our lives;
- And that if we don’t figure this out and apply the knowledge, we’ll be back in the same controlling frenzy that we just came out of — for what is a life of addiction if not one of trying to control our lives and feelings with chemicals?
Control issues, in fact, are major relapse triggers — and wonderful excuses: “If she’d just do what I want, everything would be fine!” We forget, sometimes, that “she” is a human being with her own rights and needs, that there are two sides to every situation, and that it is the responsibility of an adult to be able to arrive at solutions that are fair to everyone concerned. You can probably think of similar examples. Maybe you’ve even used a few of them.
The “wisdom to know the difference” has been a major key to my recovery. Other people have their own wants and needs, and they will do what they believe they need to do — just as I do. The only thing I can change is me. When I figured that out, and begin living my life that way, I was soon able to relax and stop running the world. It was so exhausting!
So I say my own version of the Serenity Prayer several times a day, and have been doing so for a long time — actually longer than I spent in my active addictions. I say “May I learn” to accept the things I cannot change…. I don’t put the weight on god’s shoulders. It isn’t god’s job, it’s mine. I try to live my life remembering just how much power I don’t have. I change the things I can, and try to understand the difference. I don’t let personal ideas about religion get in the way of my recovery. My opinions don’t mean a thing if I die, so why take them so seriously when I’m trying to stay alive?
Try something: sit quietly for five minutes and really think about the meaning of that simple little set of verses. Five minutes. It could change your life as it did mine.