How to Understand the Serenity Prayer
And Accept the Decisions of Others!
If you have ever attended a meeting of any 12 Step group, such as Alcoholics Anonymous or Alanon, you have probably heard the members recite the Serenity Prayer. The first few words of this powerful prayer are "God, Grant me the Serenity to Accept the Things I Cannot Change."
These words can be frightening. There could be many things going on in your life that you really want to change. In fact, if you are like most people, there are almost certainly things going that you believe really need to be changed. When you hear people recite platitudes like the Serenity Prayer, your first thought may be that no one can possibly understand the situation you are in.
Questions may go rushing through your mind. What does it mean to accept the things we cannot change? How can we simply accept behavior that we believe is unacceptable? Why shouldn't we work to change the behavior of other people? Why should we simply accept that there are the things we cannot change? Isn't it our responsibility to try to help others improve their lives? And, finally, how in the world can we find serenity in our lives, when everything seems out of our control?
Accepting That We Are Powerless Over Others
There is a reason that members of Alanon and Alcoholics Anonymous recite the Serenity Prayer. It is because the members of these organizations have learned that we really can't change anyone except ourselves. They have learned that we are powerless to change other people, places, or things. Wow! That's disappointing, isn't it?
Most of us have been trying for years to get other people to change their behavior. It is painful to watch other people destroy their lives by abusing drugs and alcohol. It is heartbreaking to see them lose jobs, get tickets for driving under the influence, or rack up huge debts because of their irresponsible behavior. You know that they are basically good people. If only THEY would change, then YOUR life would be better. Maybe, however, it is still possible for you to have a good life, whether they ever change or not.
By reading Alanon books and literature, I have learned so much about how to bring serenity to my life. You'll see a couple of my favorites advertised at the end of this article.
Accepting Responsibility for Our Own Happiness
So, if we can't change the people and situations surrounding us, what should we do? Gradually, we come to realize that the only person you can change is yourself, and even that is not going to be easy. We have to stop focusing on the behavior of others, and start improving our own lives. In short, we need to accept responsibility for our own happiness, and learn how to live a full life that is not dependent on the good behavior of another person.
We are only responsible for the path that we choose to take in our own life and not for someone else's. If you joined Alanon or Alcoholics Anonymous because you blame other people for your problems, then learning acceptance is especially important. It's essential to accept responsibility for your own actions, to accept that you can't make other people do what you want, to accept that you can't control the world around you, and to accept that you can only control your own beliefs, ideas and behavior. There is no point in continuing to waste time and energy blaming our own unhappiness on our parents, our children or our spouses.
For example, we come to accept that we are powerless over someone else's drinking, drug use, or other self-destructive behavior. The first step in both Alanon and Alcoholics Anonymous is "admitted we were powerless over alcohol," Another way to put it, if you are in Alanon, is that we are powerless over alcoholics, or drug addicts, or anyone else who has a behavior that upsets us. We just can't make other people behave the way we think they should!
Acceptance Improves Our Relationship with Others
Part of acceptance means realizing that other people have the right to live the life they want, even if it is a self-destructive life. They have the right to drink, use drugs, or hurt themselves in other ways. However, we have the right not to watch. We have the right to not support their behavior. We have the right to avoid spending time with them. Acceptance does not mean approval. Acceptance also does not mean that you have to become a doormat and submit to people who are abusing you physically, emotionally or financially.
You may be surprised how much it will improve your relationship with the people you care about when you stop nagging them to change. You may also be surprised at how much more relaxed they will be around you, when you become more relaxed around them. Simply learn to enjoy the positive aspects of your relationship, while detaching from the negative aspects. If this means that the only ways you communicate is through a friendly phone call or text, then accept the level of communication that you have.
Sometimes, when I have been overwhelmed or consumed with anxiety about talking to the alcoholics in my life, I have read Alanon books and pamphlets until I felt calm enough to deal with them. I selected a couple of my favorites to have advertised at the end of this article. If you click on the blue product names for them, you will be taken to their Amazon page where you can read more about them or search for similar books.
Whatever it takes, it is important to learn how to protect your own serenity, especially if the alcoholic in your life continues to disrupt your life.
Acceptance Improves Our Own Life
If we are powerless over others, what should we do with our lives? We've been so busy trying to improve others, we may have stopped taking care of ourselves. The best thing we can do for ourselves is to take our focus off of other people. This may seem uncomfortable and even selfish, at first. However, as we learn to accept that they have the right to live their own lives, then we also learn to accept that we have the right to live our own lives. Consequently, even if they won't take care of themselves, at least we can take care of ourselves!
What does it mean to take care of ourselves? We slowly discover that it is perfectly OK to have a good, happy life, no matter what others choose to do. There is no reason for us to feel guilty or think we ought to do more for them. In fact, we can drop the word "ought" from our vocabulary. We can learn to stop nagging and complaining about someone else's behavior. In short, we can learn that it is possible to choose to be joyous and free, regardless of the chaos that others try to inflict on us! We are entitled to enjoy our own lives.
Acceptance Helps Us Avoid Resentments
Of course, there will be times when we will want to pick up the responsibility for someone else once again. Sometimes, we start to believe that if we just fix this one little problem, everything will be better. We begin to have expectations of them, and expectations almost always lead to disappointment. In fact, there is a saying in Alanon that "expectations are premeditated resentments!" And, as we all know, few things are more destructive to a relationship than carrying around resentments towards the other person.
This is why it so helpful to go to meetings of Alanon, especially if there is an alcoholic or drug addict in your life, and you are tempted to try to fix them. At these meetings, you will find the loving support of other people who are struggling with similar issues and see how they have learned to take care of themselves. We can develop valuable life skills, and get encouragement at Alanon meetings.
Soon you'll discover that acceptance of others makes you feel free. It takes away any sense of guilt that you might feel because you choose to be happy. It reduces our resentments. Acceptance is a wonderful way to live your life, and enjoy the other people in it.
If you are interested in reading more about 12 Steps programs and how they can improve your life, you might be interested in some of the articles listed below:
Al-Anon Books Can Help You So Much!
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(price as of Aug 2, 2016)
These Daily Meditations Will Help You Cope!
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(price as of Aug 2, 2016)