As I witness the tragedy of Mayor Rob Ford’s life play out on the political stage, I can’t help thinking about my own struggles with addiction and how my life today in no way resembles what it once was when I was in the throws of an active addiction. I thought about what advice I would offer Mayor Ford if I had the opportunity to sit down with him. For me, my strength, hope, and recovery can be distilled into one simple little prayer that is recited in 12-step meetings around the world. Reinhold Niebuhr, a Protestant theologian, penned the Serenity Prayer, and later, this beautiful little prayer became the life-preserver that many a recovering addict has grasped onto to weather the storm of addiction recovery. “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.”
When I entered a treatment program for the first time, I was beaten, lacked self-confidence, and most importantly, viewed myself as terminally unique. My first year of sobriety fluctuated from the euphoria of finally stopping the hemorrhaging in my personal life to the wallows of depression as I began to realize the amount of work that was still left to do to make my life better. During this period, I recited the Serenity Prayer throughout the day to help me learn to “sit with the discomfort” of finally dealing with all those emotions I suppressed with drugs and alcohol. Today, 16 years later, I say the Serenity Prayer every morning while I’m out on one of my training runs. This is the time of the day when my "monkey brain" is most dormant, and when I take the time to give thanks for where I’ve been and ask for guidance for where I’m going.
I thought it might be interesting to dissect the Serenity Prayer and parse out its meaning. Regardless of whether or not you believe in God, the opening of the prayer lays the foundation that “serenity”, or peace of mind, is something that is “granted" to me; it is not something that I can simply “take”. What I’ve come to realize, and in effect internalize, is that serenity is only “granted” to me when I’m firmly grounded in gratitude. In fact, I had the word “gratitude” tattooed on my arm to serve as a constant reminder.
The middle of the prayer deals with the internal battle and deciphering between what things “I can change” and what things I need to “accept” as immutable. Whenever my life feels out of balance, it’s usually directly attributed to my inability to “accept” something that can’t be changed. Inevitably, this mentality leads to “stuckness” and blinds me to being “solution-oriented”. If I learn to direct my energies to changing the things that can be changed in my life, my actions become more aligned with empowerment rather than with self-blame.
A critical part of this equation that I was unaware of for the first few years of my sobriety was that an awareness of “what can be changed” only manifests when I operate from a place of “integrity”. Being truthful with myself allows me to turn the lens inward and make an honest assessment of how, and why, I need to change. If you look at what’s unfolding in the Mayor Ford saga, and in every other person with an untreated addiction, all you hear is a constant barrage of “I’m sorry” and “I promise I will change.” The addict really does believe this is true, but until we look at ourselves honestly through integrity, these promises will remain empty and worthless.
The end of the Serenity Prayer speaks of “wisdom”, and it’s this part of the prayer that comforts me most today in my recovery. What a lot of addicts struggle with early in the recovery process is that we need to do the “do things” before this “wisdom” is granted to us. I invite you to bring the Serenity Prayer into your days as both a beacon of hope and a pillar of strength.