“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change.” That’s the first line of the Serenity Prayer, so I guess it’s pretty important. Acceptance of the things I cannot change. For example, I cannot change or control what other people say or do, but I can choose my response to it. I’ve heard it said that God exists in the pause between when someone else says or does something, and when I reply. It helps for me to pause, take a breath, and remember that the things people say to me are more often a reflection of them than they are of me. In The Four Agreements, Don Miguel Ruiz reminds us not to take anything personally. That includes both compliments and insults. Ideally I have my own sense of self-worth that isn’t dependent on external feedback, so I don’t rollercoaster emotionally with high praise or harsh condemnation from those around me. As a recovering codependent, my goal is to respond, not react. Reacting implies something childish, emotional and impulsive, whereas responding implies something mature, evolved, and thoughtful.
I love the saying, “If I’m hysterical, it’s historical.” One of the ways I can maintain my serenity is by identifying and healing my open wounds. If I have no open wounds, then no one can hurt me by throwing salt. If someone came up to me on the sidewalk and said, “You’re a fat, bald murderer!” I wouldn’t get triggered, because I know none of that is true. But if someone said, “You should be on that show Hoarders!” I would probably get defensive, because cluttering has been an issue in my life for decades. I’ve hired professional organizers, discussed it in therapy, and made huge progress, but it’s far from being handled.
If a recovering alcoholic’s number one priority is sobriety, then a recovering codependent’s number one priority is serenity. It’s tricky to be in a program where falling off the wagon is so nebulous. With alcoholics or drug addicts, sobriety means you don’t drink or do drugs, and if you do, you’ve fallen off the wagon. What constitutes falling off the wagon for a recovering codependent? If it’s defined as slipping away from serenity, then I fall off the wagon regularly. But I see how being in acceptance can help me get back on track. It’s counterproductive for me to rail against the present moment.
My boyfriend Jeff and I just moved into a new house. Well, the house was built in 1946, but it’s new to us. I sold the house I owned for the past twelve years, and we’re renting this house together. We are surrounded by boxes, and our lives have become a 24/7 game show entitled, Where Is That Thing I Need Right Now? The idea of unpacking, decluttering, and getting settled into this house is beyond overwhelming. And when I’m overwhelmed, I can get paralyzed.
Author Anne Lamott has a great story about her brother. When he was ten years old, he was writing a book report on birds that he had been putting off for months, and it was due the next day. He was at the kitchen table freaking out and close to crying, surrounded by blank paper and pencils and many different books on birds, paralyzed by the gargantuan task he faced. Her father came and sat beside him, put his arm around her brother, and said, “Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.”
Last week, I was in the middle of freaking out about packing for the move, when Jeff reminded me of this story. He just smiled and said, “Bird by bird.” Ah, yes. Acceptance for me right now means that I must accept the current chaotic condition of the house. I will not dig my head in the sand. I will let my gratitude list for this new place surpass my task list. Just for today I can do this, one box at a time. Progress, not perfection. Lao Tzu said, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” So today, I will take a few steps. I will be gentle with myself. I will remember that moving is considered one of the most stressful things a human can experience, and that I’m doing great. I’m so thankful to have a wonderful house to live in, and a boyfriend who makes me laugh every day. And since we have a beautiful front porch, I can take a break and enjoy a cup of tea whenever I want. I can bask in the beautiful rose bushes that grace our yard. And I can feel serene. Until I can’t find the dress I want to wear tonight, and I’m running around the house naked, screaming, “OH COME ON! WHERE IS IT?!”