Begin at the Beginning

Al Anon meetings were my after-school activities as a child, the place we went as a family to see friends, race around the old couches, drink soda from the can and eat cookies while the adults talked. Each of my siblings and I had scouts or sports but none lasted with the dedication of Al Anon, none involved full family participation. We were a family that knew alcoholism, we excelled in drinking and enabling and secret fights and covering up. I learned early the language of “elephant in the room” and “just for today.” I remember holding sweaty hands with other kids who attended, playtime drawn to a close as we rejoined our parents or grandparents and formed a circle to recite the Serenity Prayer. Knowing those words were important, help some special meaning to everyone in the room, I learned them early, I spoke with determination. Only later as I became a parent of an addict myself have I come to discover the true power and puzzle in these words.

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. 

Twenty-seven words, my own mission statement. While friends tell of a favorite hymn, wistful eyes recalling Sundays at church singing with the whole family filling the pew, I have this prayer. Like a lullaby sung to send me off to slumber, this is my song. I have signs and plaques around my house in case I ever forget, I guess.  Still, the meaning escapes me, I can’t live it out on a daily basis. How can something so fixed into my DNA still be such a conundrum?

In moments of great distress, I recall these words easier than my own name, clarity and truth abound. I see what I can change, I find courage, I gain wisdom. Having the crises that come with an addicted child, opportunities are unfortunately frequent to establish what is his to fix, what is mine. Knowing I cannot make my child not want to use drugs anymore than he can make me okay with it means we just have some boundaries to work out, some accepting to do.  Walking away from your kid when they are begging to go home, promising to never use again, leaving the rehab, listening to that locked door click, this is the stuff of courage. Figuring out when the problem is his and when I am able to help and that help is really helpful and not saving him from his own stuff, that is wisdom. I have grown skilled at applying this prayer to this limited situation. But what about the other 99% of my life? What about when the crisis is over?  Why didn’t we recite the prayer over dinner or talk about it when we weren’t in that meeting hall? Like holiday lights that shine brightly only one season a year, these words glow when in use but then collect dust in my soul attic, packed away until needed.

What if I began each morning pouring my coffee and praying for serenity, for courage, for wisdom? Would I struggle less, would I understand more? Maybe the words make no sense because I am stuck in my own wisdom, determined to solve my puzzles first. Bottom up rather than top down, who starts a puzzle that way? Using what works with all the sudoku, all the crosswords, I can’t choose the last clue, the middle. Begin at the beginning, serenity.


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