In my first week in addiction treatment, my counselors told that there was only one thing that I needed to change: everything. I knew this was true, but nonetheless, my motto was: “You don’t understand.” I didn’t have a wall in front of me so much as a fortress. I had convinced myself that nobody could relate to me.
At the time, I didn’t know that this is what pretty much every person who needs recovery says. Later, we all learn the truth that a lot of what we experienced as addicts is a lot like what other addicts experienced. While there are many paths to recovery, many of those paths have much in common.
Two things I had in common with others struggling with drugs and alcohol were a complete lack of personal accountability (at the time, a foreign concept), and acceptance of the world as it is. These two ideas are central to the well-known Serenity Prayer:
Grant me the serenity To accept the things I cannot change; Courage to change the things I can; And wisdom to know the difference.
The word “accept” is used literally in the prayer, and the word “courage” has a second meaning: personal accountability. It takes courage to be accountable for your own actions, and not blame someone or something else for the troubles that resulted from them.
I learned – slowly – to be accountable for my actions. The head counselor at the recovery center was fond of this saying: “If you’re not the problem in any situation, then there is no solution.” That sounds crazy at first. But what this really means is the only power you have is over yourself. You are always at least part of the problem, and that’s the place to start solving it, even if all you do is change your attitude.
So that brings us to acceptance. When I’m “stuck” behind a driver doing 25mph in a 50 mph zone, or when the guy next to me at Starbucks is yammering on his cell phone - when I am just trying to enjoy my morning coffee - I must remind myself that I can find no serenity until I accept that some person, place, thing or situation is exactly the way it is supposed to be at that moment. To find serenity, I need to accept the world as it is. That frees me to concentrate not so much on what needs to be changed in the world, as on what needs to be changed in me. Acceptance and Accountability.
There’s something else that this counselor was fond of saying, and I am happy to pass it on. When he greeted all of us clients each morning, with a grin that stretched a mile wide, he would exclaim, “Good Morning! How are you guys doing today?” More often than not, we grumbled - in between puffs of something like our sixth cigarette of the morning - that we were “okay”.
Without skipping a beat, he would reply, “Are you better than you deserve to be?”
Better than we deserved to be? The answer was a resounding,“Yes!” Because, by the grace of God, the things we’d done had not landed us in prison, paralyzed us in a drunk-driving accident, or left us homeless or dead. We were much better than we deserved to be because we’d found acceptance, accountability, and ultimately, serenity.