Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12 step organizations use several different readings and sayings that help members.
Some of these sayings are best known at meetings, others in the literature.
Perhaps the best-known of these is a prayer, commonly referred to as the serenity prayer. It may be one of the first things someone learns in rehab
There is a full version of the prayer, but AA tends to use a shortened version of it that reads as follows.
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.
This prayer is sometimes used at the beginning of meetings and sometimes used to close meetings at the end.
Also, it has become a common prayer that many people use in times of difficulty. It is particularly easy prey for people to remember and get used to.
Like any prayer, its meaning depends to a large extent depends upon the person who is using it.
Their interpretation of what it says to them and how it makes them feel is important. Any prayer should in effect make the person think, what is this saying to me about me.
For many people in AA, the serenity prayer can be a bit of a mantra.
People are often advised simply to repeat it over and over again.
This can be done when people are new, or at any time in their recovery. The simplicity of the prayer and the fact that it is regularly used at meetings makes it much more accessible for many people.
There are three basic elements to the structure of the prayer. People find these different and helpful.
The first element is about asking for acceptance of things that you cannot change. This is acknowledging some degree of powerlessness over events outside your control.
The second element is about asking for the power to change the things that you can control, and the third element is asking for help in knowing the difference between the two.
The value of the structure is that it embodies one of the most important principles in AA recovery. Acknowledging the difference between the things you can change, and the things you cannot is not simply a matter of semantics.
It is about reinforcing your real sense of power and control over your own life.
This is done by focusing energies on things that are within your control, and not outside of it.
This is particularly important for members of AA. Many of them have grown up in what is known as an alcoholic home. One of the key effects of growing up in such a home is that you reverse this whole principle.
Most alcoholics have a strong sense of feeling responsible for things that are outside of their control and at the same time little control over their own lives.
This is one factor in their understanding of their alcoholism. For many active alcoholics, alcohol seems to give them this sense of control. Although it is an illusion, it is often preferable to their reality.
The serenity prayer is not the main way that people tend to change or reverse this sense of responsibility. That is a much longer process and simply saying a prayer.
In many ways, the whole nature of 12 step recovery is about this process. The value of the serenity prayer is that it embodies this process in a few simple words.
It can be used as a stop-gap and a very important way to buy yourself some time.