Is serenity the absence of hardship, turmoil, loud neighbors, petty annoyances and bad hair days? Do you need to live in a place where you can access quiet places of natural beauty? What about relatives–do you need to have the perfect family to have serenity? Is serenity only available to people of privilege who are born into money and never have to worry about how they will pay their bills?
This post is about what serenity means to and for me, a person in long-term recovery from alcoholism and living with chronic PTSD.
I had a hard-to-shake-off nightmare early this morning. Although I have nightmares on a regular basis despite years of therapy, usually once awake the psychological aspects that seemed scary can be shrugged off because I’m aware it was “just a dream.” (I put quotes around that because anyone who suffers from chronic nightmares knows how destructive it can be. The physical toll of the loss of quality, peaceful sleep is real.) I don’t like the remnants of horror tainting my morning.However, a road/deep hole I no longer go down is: If only I didn’t have those &^%$# nightmares. If only I didn’t experience ______________.
I learned early on in recovery that serenity isn’t the absence of problems.
I bought this wallet-sized card with the opening of the Serenity Prayer in 1994 and it has been with me ever since. I rarely leave home without it in my wallet or head. For the first few years I’d repeat it over and over and over, often out loud. I sometimes added my own personal touches I won’t repeat here.
I slowly learned to not trouble myself about trouble that is beyond my control. I developed a deep faith during the times I had no faith that faith would return. I stopped feeling sad about feeling sad.
But how did I accomplish that?
My alcoholism was fueled by my PTSD. If I got drunk enough before going to sleep, I’d pass out and wake up forgetful. If I drank during the day I could drown out the memories.
When I admitted that I was powerless over my drinking and that my life had become unmanageable, I was left with a sober, unmanageable brain. Oh yeah!
I prayed. HARD. Often.
Did praying take away my nightmares? No, but I felt connected to my understanding of God, and I knew God cared about me.
Did I pray to not drink? No, because the compulsion and desire to drink left me July 9th, 1994 and never returned after I completely surrendered it to God without abandon.
Did I pray for the strength and guidance to live sober? YES!!!
Did I do that in seclusion up high on a mountain top, or in an Instagrammable cottage in the woods? Well, no and yes. First of all it was 1994, so I was still living in a world free of curated online feeds of perfect-looking people. I was in grad school living in a humble tiny in-law house behind my landlord’s home in Vermont. I was poor so I subsided on popcorn, rice pasta and occasional take-out.
Those simple days were incredibly serene! There were spiders in that house that freaked me out. It was not perfect!
For me serenity means accepting what I can’t change in the moment. It’s not bliss. It’s brutal honesty amidst natural beauty complete with spiders. It’s being with God in the moment so that I’m never alone with whatever that moment brings.
Maintaining my sobriety one day at a time has brought me a peace I never thought possible. Back to my opening questions, I don’t need a perfect life with the absence of nightmares, plus-sized bills (like my health insurance!) and metaphorical spiders. I do need to connect to nature and feel the presence of God. I have found that here in New England and in church! Also, that hard to shake dream? In the past hour it was replaced by my feelings of gratitude for finding the courage to write this post and hit “publish” in a few minutes.
You don’t need to answer this aloud, but what are your “spiders” that keep you from embracing the moment? What conditions do you find unacceptable that are beyond your control? What steps can you take, actual or mental, to change simply coping into living comfortably in the moment with your life as it is right this moment?