Category Archives: Serenity Prayer

Global Fears and the Alcoholic / Al-Anon

I’m a alcoholic who lives in Seattle, surrounded by the beautiful forested mountains that heal me on long hikes — which are currently going up in flames as never before.

Wildfires Increasing 17

What’s the big deal?  The graph to the right shows the nationwide trend of bigger, more numerous forest fires (in spite of more volunteers and better firefighting equipment).  This year, 2017, scores of wildfires consuming record acreage under “extreme” conditions of prolonged drought and heat have caused all northwestern states to declare emergencies, as has British Columbia.

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These super-fires incinerating our waning wildlife habitats are not part of the natural cycle: rather, they’re symptoms of climate change.  For many people, the loss may seem nothing major.  But for me, it’s personal. These forests are my church.  Wild creatures are my saints.

So when it “snowed” ash in Seattle this past Tuesday, our sickly yellow skies blanketing everything from Seattle to Portland with flakes of what had recently been verdant, living trees, I felt as though the bodies of dead loved ones were raining down as an omen: if we continue on as we’re going, our planet will die.

Witnessing this phenomenon, unprecedented in my 57 years of living here, has ravaged my serenity.  Also on my mind are the two record-breaking hurricanes striking from the south, which the US president, who does not “believe in” climate change, has eloquently described as follows: “It looks like it could be something that will be not good. Believe me, not good.”  More imminently, this incompetent megalomaniac controls the US nuclear arsenal while a godfather-like thug controls Russia’s — and a madman in North Korea has just announced that he, too, has a nuclear bomb.

What do you do?!  How do you live?!  I’ll tell you what not to do: what I’ve been doing.  I’ve been actively willing the world to change.  Haven’t you felt all the mental and emotional effort I’ve been pouring out, day after day, compelling everyone to see what I see and think what I think~?  Hasn’t Trump’s brain been affected by my constant mental criticism?

Nope.  Not a bit.  The only person impacted by my anguish… is me.  I’ve been carrying the world’s woes in my tightened throat, upset stomach, and continuous low-grade headache.  Today I, like so many Al-Anons, am sickening myself with fear and worry much as I once nearly killed myself with drugs and alcohol — believing again and again that I’ll somehow move closer to what I want using something I know does not work.

I fall again and again for the notion that I can control the world around me.  I forget I’m powerless over people, places, and things. But my inner addict never forgets the care-banishing, fukitol power of a drink or a drug.  “There’s an easy way,” it lobbies from the back of my mind, “to quit giving a shit about anything or anyone.”

What else can I do?  You guys have taught me, I always have access to three super-powers: a) meditation & prayer, b) program, and c) action.  I know, I know — they don’t sound real impressive, but they’re transformative, redirecting my path from a destructive to a constructive direction.

a) Meditation and prayer are, strangely enough, the antithesis of worry.  Sitting with eyes closed, I simply quiet my mind as I get to know the inner space of my consciousness.  It’s a lot like entering a dark room and waiting until your eyes adjust.  I can note how urgently or lackadaisically my thoughts enter; I can note my reactions to them, de-escalating from “Holy shit!  I just remembered this ultra-important thing!!” to “Yup… that’s us thinking again…”

At this point, I can begin to sense the inherent foolishness of my normal state of consciousness. I don’t blame myself for being foolish — I am, after all, just a person with squishy stuff in their skull.  I can see that I’m comically focused on my own world of thoughts, my own little “plans and designs.”  Why?  Because I’m scared shitless! I note the many ways I imagine I’m protecting what I love — my worries. For a few moments, I drop them all. I open to god instead and say, “This world is yours, not mine.  But I’m scared shitless.  Help me.”

NOW comes the point at which I can pray unselfishly, asking god to guide me to be useful beyond myself, and even to guide humanity to live on this planet less destructively.  Prayer, like mass meditation, does have an effect.

b) Program means that I go to extra meetings, talk with my sponsor or sponsees, and seek out ways to be useful to others. (Going to my homegroup tonight, I get to do all three!)  I can also write this blog to help you or maybe remind you to help others.

For instance, I was recently perusing this excellent book on not drinking which I’d forgotten I owned.  It’s kick-ass for folks in early sobriety.  I’m just gonna pass along the TOC here so you can recommend to newcomers either exploring one of these tactics (click to expand) or buying the whole damn book.

 

c) Action requires that when I say the Serenity Prayer, I be ready to actually change the things I can. I realized yesterday that, while my work used to require driving all over town to meet clients, now so many of them work at Amazon that on certain days I just drive downtown and back.  Guess what.  I live on a bus line. Rather than heroically taking out a huge loan to buy an electric car, I can simply get my lazy, germaphobic ass on the bus on those days to reduce my goddam carbon footprint.  (I promise to include a photo of me on the fucking bus in my next post.)

9/7/17: Record-breaking hurricanes to the south; record-breaking heat and drought to the west.  This isn’t the Olympics, guys.  This is our planet.

I must do what I can… or I’m a hypocrite.

And yes, I’ve already called my congresswomen to express my views, but I can also plant trees, attend protests, and campaign next time around for wiser a president.

When I took Step 3 all those years ago, I made a decision to live a good life, to seek good/god in all things, and to act on its guidance.  Today that means I don’t get to wallow in worry and panic any more than I do in self-pity and resentment.

There’s always a better way.  Seek and we’ll find it.

 

 

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Filed under AA, Addiction, Faith, fear, Recovery, Serenity Prayer, Sobriety, Spirituality

The Serenity Prayer

The word prayer repulsed me in early sobriety, and in some ways it’s still glitchy. It can call to mind a penitent worshiper hunched over clasped hands in some austere setting – and for the non-religious, that just ain’t us! So I’ve come up with ways to make prayer real to me – since fortunately, religion has no monopoly on access to god.

It’s amazing how many people assume it does – that spiritual DSC03916seeking and religion are inseparable.  That’s like claiming I-5 is the only way to get from Seattle into Canada.  Not true.  Recently, hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, I jumped in and out of Canada about five times in few seconds, just for fun.  You can always find your own pathway to god; the important thing is that you seek it with your deepest sincerity.

So instead of prayer, I just frickin’ talk to god. I may gab away and cuss and laugh, or I may get on my knees and weep, depending on how I feel. I may address my lost sister, or guardian angel, or the font of all that lives. Whatever works.

But what do I say?
Fear-based prayers are an extension of self – and a very natural one. All day, from the moment we wake, we’re responsible for meeting our own material needs. We engage our brains and bodies to make shit happen. I want a bagel so I open the fridge and get one. I want it toasted, so I get a knife to slice it and then pop that baby in the toaster. By applying skills, I get what I want.

Problems arise when we apply this approach to spiritual life: I feel restless, irritable, and discontent, so I gulp down some booze and get what I want – relief.  Great!  But fast-forward to the point where that survival tactic has quit working, so I’ve suffered agony at the level of emotional disembowelment, finally become willing, and – with god’s help – gotten sober.

Now I need new ways to fix those old pains, but I don’t know it. So it’s only natural that I try a skills approach: I identify the external problems I think are responsible – the people, places, and things I perceive as fucking up my happiness – and try to manage them to suit my needs.

It doesn’t work.  Dammit!  So I try harder.   Still, no dice.

Now I’m freaking out.  Will I ever get X?  Oh my god, does this mean I’ll always be stuck with this crappy Y?  What’s that I’m hearing in the rooms?  Ask god for help?

Okay… I turn to prayer: “God, please put this damn life-bagel in the goal-toaster for me. It should be toasted.  Surely you can see this. Thank you!  Your child, Louisa.”

Anxious prayerI may think of it as supplication rather than giving god orders. Still, however respectful I may be, I’m backseat-driving the universe. And it doesn’t work!  Yes, god may make some related good of my prayers (especially if they’re for others), but it won’t involve my specific bagel.  The great danger here is that I can feel ignored and get pissed… and turn my back on god.

True prayer, as Richard Rohr and others have written, is not about managing the world. It’s about changing ourselves. It’s about strengthening our relationship to god and accessing the power that god can channel into our lives.

Bagle

Enter, Serenity Prayer

Thank you, Reinhold Niebuhr, for writing this gorgeous prayer for a Sunday service in Heath, MA, in 1943.* You could not have imagined the role it would play in so many lives today.

“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.”

The prayer asks god to change us, to help us grow beyond whatever we ourselves can muster. We can say it over and over, thinking about what it means, how it moves us.   At different times it takes on different nuances.

Here, unpacked and named, is some of what this prayer can mean for me:  God,

grant me = help me, because I can’t seem to do this myself; I need your love, your guidance, your gifts
the serenity = to fricking calm the fuck down about this stuff, to quit panicking, to quit judging, to let go this urgency
to accept = to allow into my reality, to acknowledge as what is, to give up shoulding on and just let it be true – because it already is
the things I cannot change, = the past, what’s happening, how this person is, what they won’t do, everything I don’t like and wish were different… that isn’t me
the courage = a conviction, faith stronger than my fears, a power drawn from my inmost heart, a little spark of you
to change = to take action, to re-see, to step out into empty space, to quit procrastinating, to dare, to just do it !
the things I can = attitudes & assumptions & habits that don’t bring goodness, cycles I’m stuck in, people I hang out with, my default defects.  Reluctance to begin those baby steps of action I’ve been too afraid or proud to take
and the wisdom = god-inspired honesty, open-mindedness, faith, harvest from the experiences you’ve already given me
to know the difference = to intuit what’s my business and what’s yours

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Good thing it’s a lot shorter, eh?  But for me it still carries all that meaning.

Resistance
I don’t know that I’ve ever, in 20 years of saying this shit, had a problem instantly vanish.  With bigger issues, sometimes the best I can hope for is for me to shed a layer of denial or feel a little less pain.

But the courage part has been literal and concrete. This prayer has emboldened me to act where I’ve been scared and reluctant: I’ve made phone calls, shown up at events, applied for jobs, thrown parties, forgiven rosietheriveterpeople, entered dance studios, climbed volcanoes, started a business, and walked into the mountains alone – all deeds inspired by this little prayer.  And those actions do transform my reality incrementally, with a cumulative effect beyond anything I could envision or orchestrate.

Ultimately, the Serenity Prayer condenses into twenty-seven words the essence of all 12 Steps: surrendering of self and the willingness to collaborate with god to cultivate meaning and integrity in our lives.

Never underestimate it, no matter how many cutesy places you see it embroidered!  It’s a compact tool we can carry in our back pockets like a humble but priceless compass.

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*http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/05/15/serenity-prayer-origin_n_5331924.html

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Filed under AA, Al-Anon, Alcoholism, Faith, Recovery, Serenity Prayer, Sobriety, Spirituality, Twelve Steps