What Is the Serenity Prayer and How Can It Help People Struggling with Alcohol Abuse?

Alcohol abuse is a form of substance abuse. Most alcoholics are not addicted to the taste of the drink but rather the numbing quality of alcohol. It grants them a needed escape from their worries and problems. But the reprieve doesn’t last forever and when the effect wears off after a couple of hours, they come back to earth with a resounding crash.

Twelve-step programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous have adopted the serenity prayer as a vital tool in dealing with this addiction and loss of self-control.

The Serenity Prayer – a Simple All-time Classic

The famed prayer was written by Reinhold Niebuhr in the early 1930s and later adopted by Bill Wilson, the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, to be faithfully recited at every meeting. It reads:

“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.”

Let’s examine these four simple lines and learn exactly how they help in dealing with alcohol abuse and addiction.

“God, grant me the serenity…”

Even though the serenity prayer is not a religious prayer, it still brings one to the awareness that there is a higher power, a mysterious being playing a role in one’s life. Be it fate, Mother Nature, God or a universal force, reciting this line reminds you that you are not alone.

To be serene means to be tranquil and composed; to have a significant measure of peace. In this line, you are asking that, even when you’re in one of the storms of life, you have the ability to remain calm and confident that everything will be fine in the end. By saying this prayer, you reaffirm your choice to neither worry nor find comfort and solace in the bottom of a bottle.

“…To accept the things I cannot change…”

While the serenity prayer might seem optimistic, the beauty of it is that it’s also very realistic. No matter how much we might wish it, we are not in control of everything. Despite sophisticated strategies and elaborate planning, we can’t control everything. The attitudes and actions of others, the weather, the stock prices…there is much we can’t control.

Sometimes, you find yourself unable to prevent bad things from happening. But remember, it’s perfectly okay to not be in control. Examining an event and accepting that nothing you can or will do will change the situation, makes it easier to move on and focus on the things you actually can change. This acceptance means you won’t end up banging your head against a brick wall and sinking into depression because of your perceived failure.

“…The courage to change the things I can…”

You can only control you; your response to events and your reactions to others’ actions. Alcoholics live in denial of their ability to change. Feelings of inadequacy lead them to shuffle responsibility onto others and absolve themselves of blame.

Granted, it can be hard to change. This line of the serenity prayer helps you ask for the boldness to do what needs to be done, rather than existing in an alcohol-induced daze. It helps you accept that you’re not perfect, that you do have unhealthy behaviors and it helps you strive to change. You can choose to be sober. It is within your power to do so.

“…And the wisdom to know the difference.”

It is one thing to know you can’t control everything and it’s another to know when to apply this knowledge. You need wisdom to determine when it is time to act to seek change and when it’s time to remain calm and accepting of what is.

Final words

The serenity prayer is very powerful because it tackles not just the behavioral symptoms of alcohol abuse but also its root causes: stress, depression, worry, fear, and denial. Reciting this prayer in private or in a group gives you a measure of peace. And little by little, you begin to gain control over your addiction and not the other way around.

Contact New Connections Counseling Center for help.

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