Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Serenity, Change, and What's up With This GOD Stuff?

Every year I look back on the events of the past 12 months and think, “Wow. Did that REALLY happen?” It seems that like so many others, God has read my list of best-laid plans and, like the consummate editor he is, made his own revisions – to everything - my work, my relationships, my children, my life.

This used to really piss me off. Still does, sometimes. Because then it’s just more dirty items on my laundry list of “Things I Have to Fix”. Shoot, God. I thought that job was going to work out. Dammit, God, I thought he was the one. For God’s sake, God, I thought my kid was out of the woods. All right, God, can you just give me a break here? I can’t manage all this. It’s too much. I’m losing control.
Exactly. That's not necessarily a bad thing, losing control.
Certain support and recovery groups use the Serenity Prayer as their mantra, but you can find it on posters and coffee mugs and internet memes all over, so it’s pretty universal. Come on, say it with me:
“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
It’s easy to say that and not realize what you’re saying. So let’s break it down.

First of all, the God thing. For those of you who don’t believe in God, look at it this way. GOD can stand for a lot of things: Good Orderly Direction, Gift Of Desperation, whatever it is that you look up to when you’re down. In recovery circles, they refer to this as your Higher Power. Your Higher Power is whatever you see that’s stronger than you, that you can rely on, that you can talk to in a time of crisis. It can be a deity, or a person, or a group – wherever you find your strength to move through this life. And you don’t even have to call it a prayer. Consider it more of a mantra, which is the cool thing nowadays anyway given all the mindfulness and meditation that is so prevalent - and effective - in our culture.

No, no no. That's not right.
Grant me the serenity …
You’re not asking to be given serenity. By definition, “grant” means to bestow or agree to, as in “grant a request”. It also means to admit or concede, so right there you’re kind of letting go and admitting you need something else – a power greater than yourself – to grant you this characteristic. Grant also means to transfer, which makes sense, because a Higher Power has what you need, and is willing to bestow it upon you if you ask. And what you’re asking for is serenity – calm. Peace of mind. Repose. This doesn’t mean you’re asking for everything to be FIXED, or GO AWAY. You’re asking that YOU be given the placidity to move through it all.

To accept the things I cannot change …
Whoa. What? You give me the hardest line right out of the gate. What do you mean “accept the things I can’t change”? Doesn’t that mean – gasp – letting go of CONTROL???? How am I supposed to change anything if I just sit back and say, “Well, there’s nothing I can do about that!”
Because there are some things – some situations – some people – in this world you can’t change. Especially if they’re not YOU – and most of them aren’t. Maybe you think if you could just say the right words to your friend she’d leave her abusive husband. You’ll even risk your friendship trying to convince her of something she doesn’t yet believe. Maybe you think if you put stiff restrictions on your teenager and monitor his every move he won’t keep doing drugs or abusing alcohol. But if he wants to do it, he’s going to find a way regardless of your rules. Maybe you don’t agree with a lifestyle choice a family member has made and you take every chance you get to let him know, and your relationship with him suffers as a result. You didn't change them anyway, you just pissed them off. It's not up to you. It’s up to THEM to find THEIR Higher Power and say the next line of the mantra for THEMSELVES, which is …

The courage to change the things I can …
See, you need courage, because the things you can change are right there in the mirror. You. That’s the only change you have even some semblance of control over, and that change can be as hard as shit on a cold day. It's realizing you're judging others and making “recommendations” on how they could better themselves or their situations. STOP IT. Unless you’re a therapist or they’re asking directly for your help and advice, zip it up and concentrate on yourself.
No, this isn’t being selfish, and in some cases, it will improve your relationship with those people you are trying so hard to change. Because here’s the deal. There are lots of ways you can learn how to better communicate with, better process and better understand those around you, and that’s by learning and listening. That can be sitting with a despondent friend who just needs someone to talk to and NOT telling them to “cheer up” or "go for a walk and you'll feel better." It's reading books or finding support groups to educate yourself on addiction in order to understand to some extent what someone struggling with the disease is facing, and realizing that your advice and restrictions are only fueling their fire because the addiction is not YOURS, it is THEIRS, and no one but THEM will ever be the deciding factor to get help.

In many cases, it will be deciding to change how you interact with or react to these people. Maybe you "love and let be", and accept the issues you have with them. Maybe you can no longer be their friend, or engage in a discussion about a certain topic. Maybe you realize it's unhealthy for them to remain in your home or be financially dependent on you. Maybe, for the sake of your own serenity, you need to make changes to relationships that are incredibly tough but also necessary for your own self-preservation. It isn’t selfish, especially if you find that those relationships are having a negative impact on you and your life.

And the wisdom to know the difference.
It’s a tall order, asking for serenity AND wisdom. But there is sometimes a fine line between knowing what you can and can’t change. The rule of thumb is that basically you can change yourself; others you can only love. You can get a new job, move to a new town, decide to enter or exit a relationship, dress a certain way, eat certain foods, take care of your body positively or negatively. That’s all on you.
You can’t do all that for someone else, and telling them what they need to do to change whatever it is you want them to change is an exercise in futility. Again, if they ask you for help, that’s one thing. If they want to change and they need guidance, that’s a different story. But you have to stop thinking – even though you may think you KNOW what is best and good and right – that you have the power to change someone else. You don’t – only they do. The sooner you know the difference, the sooner you can start bettering yourself and stop bashing your head against the wall.

One more thing …
Sometimes, two little words are added to this saying that make all the difference in the world. For today. Not for this week, or this year, or this lifetime. Just for today. Because as I eluded to earlier, “You plan and God laughs.” You don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow, or the next day or the next. So don’t ask for serenity for those days until they’re here. Focus on today. Focus on now, and how you can accept what you can’t change, change what you can, and become smart enough to know the difference.