“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.”
Living through this pandemic, in a time of overwhelming fear, presents all of us with significant challenges. We, in the recovery community, have the opportunity to be of service to the world outside of our rooms (which currently happen to be virtual rooms on “Zoom”). We share the blessings of practice, sometimes years of practice, in navigating fear. We learn tools in recovery to help us live “life on life’s terms,” as we like to say, which helps us to stay sober. These same lessons can be applied by anyone who feels overwhelming fear, and that is the whole world right now.
This writing isn’t to say that people in recovery no longer suffer from fear, or that we are immune to the same fear that others feel during this pandemic. Everyone is frightened right now — but, we have tools we can share with non-recovery folk, which may help get all of us to the other side.
Has there ever been a better time to live by the Serenity Prayer? The first part of the Serenity Prayer reminds us that we need to accept what we cannot change. We have to accept the uncertainty of this time, as we do not have any control over how the Covid19 pandemic will unfold. I’ll admit, this has been a struggle for me, mainly because I have been stuck in anger directed at (my perception of) the federal government’s mismanagement of this crisis. Whether or not you agree with my political position is not essential — the point is, I cannot get to a place of acceptance, of serenity, if I allow resentment to take center stage. If I’m not the problem, there is no solution. I have to work on letting go of this anger. For me, that means praying for the people in the governmental institutions I am furious at right now to detoxify myself.
For those of you who balk at the word “prayer,” let me assure you that I am not a religious person; I do, however, consider myself spiritual in that I believe there exists a power greater than myself. I’m an agnostic in recovery — and I know atheists, too — and I pray. Sometimes my prayer is as simple as please, give me the right words, or help X person do the right thing. I know from experience that prayer, over time, changes something in my brain. The circumstances that caused the resentment in the first place may not necessarily change, but I do. And that’s the name of the game: learning how to let go of overwhelming emotions that hinder your ability to not only cope with life, but to function.
The next part in the Serenity Prayer, “the courage to change the things I can,” makes living with fear and uncertainty bearable. I can’t change the fact of this pandemic, but I can do my part to change what I can. I can decrease the chance of getting Covid19 by following the recommendations of health experts: practice social distancing, wash my hands frequently (for 20 seconds!), and not touch my face. These actions, in turn, help everyone else in the community by limiting the spread. I’m experiencing intense fear around the lack of PPE’s for healthcare workers, as I am married to one and have many working nurse friends (I’m a retired nurse). What can I do? I wish I knew how to sew, but I know people who do. I’ve shared information on social media about how to connect with organizations that are making masks. I’ve encouraged anyone with a stash of masks to consider a donation to their local hospital or nursing home. (Not all of your masks, as I understand the desire to have some for yourself, but there is info online about how to reuse masks for non-healthcare workers safely). That’s all I can do about PPEs, but it’s something.
I can also be kind and loving within my own home, even though stress brings out the worst in all of us. I can apologize right away when I’ve said something hurtful and vow to myself to try to be better next time. It’s not about what other people say or do; it’s about what I say or do. I have control over my reactions in every interaction.
The final part of the Serenity Prayer, “and the wisdom to know the difference,” tells us to look at and reevaluate our current responses. If I can’t get close to serenity, I know that I am probably confusing what I cannot change with what I can. The distinction isn’t as crucial as it is for me to stay in action mode. How I feel does not have the same consequences as what I do with these feelings. We are all fearful right now. We can take care of ourselves by acknowledging our fear but also by taking action — be it through prayer, walking, calling a friend (or a therapist, if needed), or practicing acts of kindness in our own homes. When we take care of ourselves, it ripples out towards others.
Be safe, be well.