It took me about three decades to truly understand what the serenity prayer means. You know the one, "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". Having been adopted into 12 step and recovery programs, I saw that it made sense for those who were struggling with addiction but didn't quite internalize the core meaning. I couldn't see how I was addicted in my own ways. I didn't need to be an alcoholic to understand how people use all sorts of distractions to avoid being with pain. Maybe we use food. Sometimes it's people. Other times, it could be as inoccuous as busyness. Have you ever started to feel an uncomfortable emotion surface and automatically reach for your phone? In the moment, that small device saves us from anxiety, sadness, anger...insert feeling here. We have control. Or so we think. Somehow we convince ourselves that once we're out of an emotional state, it's gone and we're safe.
The reality is that the feelings will come back and our various coping methods provide temporary fixes. So why do we choose them over and over again? Because anything has to be better than prolonged vulnerability. The irony is when we reach for that fix, we end up doing exactly the opposite. The pain lives on and directs our lives. It's in the people we choose, the decisions we make, in our understanding of who we are in this world. The need to control everything external to us actually leave us without control in the only place we have any - within ourselves. Instead we're so busy doing whatever we can to avoid what's inside of us that we're not giving ourselves choices. If we can learn to surrender and stay, when we give up the need to control people and circumstances, freedom arrives.