We’ve all seen the movie parody of the classic Alcoholics Anonymous meeting: A bunch of people in drab clothes with hunched shoulders sitting around a church basement in metal folding chairs, sucking down coffee & chain smoking cigarettes while one of them sits upright & says, “Hi, my name is Joe, & I’m an alcoholic.”
“Hi, Joe,” the others intone in unison. There is nothing welcoming, nor warm in their voices. They are simply parroting what they have been told to say & do. These people are, after all, alcoholics & they don’t know much about living life, so they cling to the notion that they must circle the drain together.
Okay, that was my preconceived notion of what an AA meeting looked like, based on those TV & movie renditions that I saw. And while—when I finally admitted I needed help & couldn’t do it alone, swallowed my pride & went to my own first 12-Step Group meeting—I did see some similarities (the coffee & cigarettes made great legal substitutes; some people—especially we newbies—were depressed with hunched shoulders & a hangdog look in our eyes), I also saw & felt a lot of hope. And that’s what kept me coming back.
Personally, I do not attend AA meetings. I attend a different 12 Step Group for people who also used narcotics. I am a recovering pot head. And alcoholic. And “okay-my-drug-of-choice-is-not-here-so-I’ll-try-what’s-available” run-of-the-mill addict. Life in my mid-20s to early 30s got pretty bleak, I’m sorry to admit.
But one thing I always had, even during those rough “using years,” was faith. A relationship with a higher power. Trust in & communication with the god of my understanding.
It was actually in those years (I was a high-functioning alcoholic-addict) that I was introduced to the 12 Steps at a church program as a simple means of personal, spiritual & emotional evolution for non-addicts. And it was years before that—childhood, maybe?—that I first heard the ever-ubiquitous Serenity Prayer.
It goes like this: “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, & the wisdom to know the difference.”
Written by a Massachusetts reverend named Reinhold Neibuhr, it was popularized in magazine print, as well as Neibuhr’s sermons between the 1930s–50s. Later versions expound this nugget of wisdom with other principles also adopted by 12 Step Groups, principles like surrender & humility. That “wisdom to know the difference” seems to be the crux of the prayer, bringing the person who’s praying it into a special type of focus that separates self from other & resolves codependence. For that reason, it’s also been adopted by 12 Step Groups like Al-Anon & others that serve to help family members of alcoholics or addicts to do their own emotional work of separating the diseases of addiction or alcoholism from familial behaviors, good & bad.
I don’t have a lot of “clean time.” I do have more than I ever imagined I would have, having gone over 7 ½ years without relying on pot, pills or alcohol to change my mood, so that I didn’t have to do the emotional work of being personally, emotionally responsible. Today, I let myself grow & own up to my mistakes. I take ownership of my wrongdoings & make amends when they are owed. I also make sure to let go of other people’s stuff (see Blog Post #2 on my Star Pose anchor), so that I don’t convolute my own emotional issues whenever possible.
And a lot of that comes from what I’ve learned in my 12 Step Group. Working those 12 Steps, for me, consists of answering questions in a workbook written by recovering addicts who also had professional experience as drug counselors. Then I review my answers to those questions with my sponsor. Sponsorship is a term used in 12 Step Groups that the whole recovery process hinges on: One person who has joined the group & amassed some clean time through working steps, attending meetings & practicing the recovery principles then steps into the role of sponsor by forming a relationship with another member of the group, often a newcomer, to share their personal recovery experience & help encourage that newer person to grow in similar fashion. My own sponsor spent over 20 years as a drug counselor, & I benefit from her personal & professional wisdom both personally & professionally. In fact, I use a lot of the principles of recovery to aid my Communications Coaching clients in their own growth, even if addiction is not in their backgrounds. But don’t let me confuse you: People of every profession—or no profession—are welcome in this group to sponsor.
Today, I invited the members of my own sponsorship family over for a step-work study group of sorts. Not only do I have a sponsor of my own, but I also sponsor others in the program who came after me. We all have children & have been prioritizing parenting to the point that we don’t lately prioritize working on our step work. So, today, we sat around my living room & let our littles play while we alternated between writing out our step-work answers & making sort-of-car-shaped “cars” out of Play-Doh with the wee ones. It was a great way to get in a little emotional growth via healthy, but balanced introspection.
And it started with the Serenity Prayer. That was my mini-mindfulness moment of the day.
Whether I’m at a meeting, joining with my sponsees for a step-working study group or sitting in my car angry at traffic, quickly saying the Serenity Prayer is a reset button for me. Prayer in itself is a form of mindfulness. Just read some of the studies that show what it does to your brain.
The 12 Step Group I’m in touts itself as a “spiritual, not religious, program.” We’re taught that our own personal higher power can be anything we want, as long as it’s benevolent & greater than we are. I have personally learned far more tolerance for those who have differing religious or spiritual beliefs from my own, thanks to this program. But over & over, saying the Serenity Prayer alone or in a group gives me—& others I hear from both in & out of my 12 Step Group—the same centering feeling; in fact, an identical feeling to the one I get while in meditation. My sponsor once explained to me that I can consider prayer as a means of talk’ing to my higher power, & meditation as a form of listening. Saying the Serenity Prayer may be ritualistic (like responding with, “Hi, Joe,” when Joe introduces himself to talk at a meeting), but there is nothing rote or rehearsed about it for me. (Saying hi to Joe isn’t forced for me, either, but I’ll leave that to a different post for a different audience.)
What’s that feeling I’m talking about? Peace. Calm. Patience. You might even say, serenity.
Day 4 Mini-Mindfulness Tool:
The Serenity Prayer. Do you know this prayer? Have you used it? What does it mean to you & do for you?