God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.
It’s not surprising that the serenity prayer is used in conjunction with addiction healing. Addictions usually come from people trying to escape pain; however, addictions only keep people in painful situations. The serenity prayer helps people to look at their pain as a teacher, rather than as a punishment. Pain teaches us where our weaknesses, triggers, and insecurities are, where we need to grow and develop so we can be who we were created to be.
I won’t pretend that pain doesn’t still bring me to my knees. I cry; I feel the tightness in my chest and throat when someone hurts me. I get angry when something goes awry, regardless of cause. I’m sad when people I love are hurting. I feel shame when I screw up. I’m scared when I can’t control the things that happen in my life.
However, I don’t stop there. I feel all the emotions and then evaluate what I have done, can do, and will do because of those painful emotions. I own what belongs to me, seek the courage to change what I can, and let go of the rest.
I can’t tell you how many times in my life, especially the past four years, I’ve experienced an ache in my chest, tightness in my throat, and tears dangerously close to overflowing at a moment’s notice. But instead of being weakened by these things, they only made me stronger.
I have allowed myself to feel pain in all of its uncomfortableness: the fear of losing loved ones, the anger of being betrayed by people I’ve trusted, the ache of questioning my self-worth. I feel these things so I can fix what I can and forgive the rest. Just like a burn teaches us to stay away from fire, the fear of losing a child has taught me to love my children more deeply; trusting the wrong people has taught me to trust myself more; questioning my self-worth has taught me to be a person who makes a difference in this world.
I have known people who avoid pain their entire lives, at all costs. Instead of embracing life and all the joy and pain it has to offer, people avoid situations that may cause pain; therefore, limiting the amount of joy they can experience and give back to the world.
These people look at pain as their enemy, rather than their teacher. We see it all around us: People who self-medicate with all types of addictions–food, drugs, alcohol, TV, pornography, sex–anything rather than feel the pain.
What do they feel instead of pain? Mostly, anger. Some people would rather be furious than patch up the wound; they’d rather let the bitter infection slowly shrivel their hearts, than forgive, let go, and move on. They protect their hearts with what they think is an impenetrable wall; they pretend to be tough; they act like nothing gets to them. However, that wall also hinders them from experiencing the beauty around them. Without pain, we are not living, not really.
These people think there is strength in staying angry, but it only weakens them. Every painful situation becomes emotional baggage they carry around with them, whether they realize it or not. They can never move forward; they can never experience the joy of a life lived with self-confidence and purpose.
I know from experience that this is a beautiful way to live. No, I’m not joyful all the time, but through the acceptance of pain in my life, joy always surrounds me.
How did I get there?
I started with forgiveness (Blessing 21). If I didn’t forgive, I would only be another victim who is defined by my pain; forgiveness allows me to drop the pain that tries to consume me and become the woman I was created to be–who I was when I was a child, before I tried to please everyone around me. I wanted to reclaim the person I lost along the way; the person who didn’t have to prove herself; the person who didn’t have fear of rejection; the person who was open to the love in the world before she let people in who were too lost and confused to recognize that love and value it. Forgiveness helped me burn away the negativity and become my authentic self.
Forgiveness has also allowed me to see that other people have their own triggers and insecurities, for their own reasons. Embracing my pain has also allowed me to understand that I can’t fix other people. I can’t take their pain away or make them choose a different path. I have had to put people who struggle with emotional baggage in two categories: “Those who have to be in my life” and “Those I don’t need in my life.” The people who have to be in my life–like family, colleagues, and students–I accept, encourage, show kindness to, but most importantly, I clearly distinguish between what is their baggage and what I’m responsible for. Those I don’t need in my life, I cut loose. I’m thankful for the lessons I learned from those people, wish them well, and move on. I hope they find their own healing path, but I don’t need to subject myself to their emotional baggage anymore.
In conjunction with forgiveness, I had to let go of my stories—the stories of being a victim, of how people have hurt me, of blaming the people and circumstances in my life that filled me with self-righteous indignation. These stories had power over my life; the longer I held onto them, the longer I was imprisoned by them. The stories made me concentrate on the negative things in my life—things that couldn’t be changed or bring me happiness—like people who did not love me and material things that didn’t improve my life. By letting go of the stories, I figured out what work I had to do in my life to become all that I was created to be. Being a victim elevated my insecurities, which then dictated my choices based on my weaknesses, not my strengths. Letting go of my stories made me stronger and more determined to fight for what is mine, what is purely me.
Through this course of action–forgiveness and letting go of my stories–I’ve reclaimed who I’ve wanted to be, who I was created to be—a writer, a mother, a teacher—bringing joy and love and encouragement to those who are in my life.
Embracing and figuring out how to heal my pain was difficult. It’s also a road I had to walk by myself. No one else can heal my pain. For a long time I looked for someone or something to heal me—to complete me. But that only happens in movies. Through embracing the pain in my life, I learned how to become the person I was created to be.