Grant Me the Serenity

They say acceptance is the final stage of grief. It is the goal, the endpoint, the last destination on the twisting journey you’re set upon when you’re in mourning. Our cultural understanding of grief has expanded far beyond death, divorce, and illness: it extends into loss of trust, loss of safety, loss of stability, loss of identity, loss of home, changes in relationships, changes in personal pursuits or passions, and even in positive (but ultimately overwhelming) changes like promotions, marriages, births, and retirement. Yes, this includes addiction and sobriety, as well. 

The grief cycle doesn’t always have to be so intense at it is with death or divorce. It can be set off by any number of things, which is confusing for some people. They might feel guilty for experiencing grief after a small or expected loss, or after a positive event like marriage.

Why? They might ask. Why do I feel confused/sad/resentful because of this change? I knew it was going to happen. I shouldn’t be feeling this way. What’s wrong with me?

The answer is almost always: nothing is wrong with you. Your life has changed, and things as you once knew them are no longer the same. Even if the change is positive or mostly symbolic, that change can stir our inner selves into a state of readjustment and reconciliation and, sometimes, a little bit of chaos.

For me, the process of getting sober over several years of starting and relapsing was one of those times that I felt frustrated by my own grief. I would quit drinking, and the mourn the loss of the booze. I knew that alcohol was doing awful things to my life. I knew I didn’t want any part of it. I knew I’d feel better, more in control, and better equipped to handle the world if I got sober.

And it’s been true, all of it. I feel better, more in control, and better equipped to handle the world.

But in the earliest days, I had this overwhelming feeling of sadness and regret. I was losing a friend. I gave up something that would give me easy passage into most social situations. I was choosing to steer my journey to the path less taken.

The loss of alcohol has set off a series of other losses that I only ever hypothesized about when I first got started.

I lost my drinker identity. I lost a creature comfort, a coping mechanism. I lost a pressure relief valve. I lost a long-term romantic relationship as the clarity I gained about my sober self illuminated how deeply unhappy I was. I lost an entire friend group when I lost that relationship. Along with that, I lost what visions I had for the future in the relationship.

Going back to school to become a therapist initiated a long chain of losses and gains, as well. In exchange for a vocation I’m passionate about, I lost (and continue to lose) time, money, and energy to my school work. Rather, I’ve chosen to pour those resources into my education, rather than into an unfulfilling life where I was most comfortable, professionally and personally. I lost many of my preconceived notions about the world, and I gained a deeper understanding of myself. I had to lose some ego. I had to gain more humility. It’s been an emotional, intellectual push-pull for 2.5 years, and I’m nearly to the end of this long haul. Just 9 more months to go.

My saving grace through many of these losses and gains has been my ability to “lean in” to the grief, rather than run from it. This got exponentially easier the longer I stayed sober, in part because the clarity I gained about my life and my values helped me solidify my own reasons to invest myself wholly in some things, while letting go of others. Learning how to set boundaries with others and myself has been vital. Recognizing that my emotions aren’t going to kill me has been a big one, too.

Part of leaning in to the pain, frustration and grief has been my drive to gain a deeper, more radical acceptance of my life as it is. Not as I think it could or should be. I’ve been pushing myself to accept that the life I envisioned for myself last year isn’t necessarily the life I will have a year from now. That the life I envisioned for myself at 30 when I was 24 and newly married is necessarily different from what it’s actually shaping up to be. Some of the people I thought I’d have around me forever are slowly starting to fade into the background of my life, while other, newer characters are slowly stepping in. My career has changed, my relationships have changed, my alcohol use has changed. These things are different. My life is different—so different. And for the most part, I am totally okay with it. In a lot of ways, I am happier for it, now more than I’ve ever been before.

I had such a hard time, for such a long time, with acceptance. Even for months after I got sober in 2016, I couldn’t help but feel like my life wasn’t what it “should” be. Nothing was as it should’ve been. How could I accept being such a screw up? I was divorced, living with my parents yet again, sober, and dating someone who clearly didn’t have a whole hell of a lot of drive to make things serious. Ugh.

Acceptance acceptance acceptance. For me it was so often in high-demand, but so sparsely available. It’s been getting better, though.

I wrote just yesterday about how I’m almost entirely certain that my current relationship is officially on a countdown clock, destined to end sooner rather than later. I don’t think either of us want it to end, but the nature of the relationship has always been that of uncertainty and change. He has a teenage son who lives 3 states away, and it’s becoming harder and harder for him to justify living at a distance for much longer. He’s missed enough time with his son as it is. It’s just a matter of him making the call and starting his plans to head back down that highway to home.

I knew there was a chance of him moving away from the moment we got together in December of 2017. It’s been part of the conversation for 9 months. I knew it then, I’ve known it all along, and I know it now.

Recent developments have given me reason to believe that him leaving is more likely than him staying.

Right now, I’m caught in a loop of feeling intimately connected with him while facing a strong desire to detach myself in order to spare my heart. I feel myself wanting to accept the end of the relationship before it’s even been established that it’s actually going to end. I am prepping myself for the day I have to say goodbye, not even knowing when that will be.

It’s not a very productive place to be.

So I am trying, instead, to come to an acceptance of the fact that things have changed, there’s still uncertainty, and that what I’ve been hoping for isn’t going to be the likely outcome. I’m trying to focus my acceptance on a general uncertainty about the future. I don’t want to harden myself from him, but I do want to let my logical brain step in and protect my heart from getting shattered, rather than just bruised.

Acceptance is hard, especially when you’re not entirely sure what you’re trying to accept in the first place. It’s a task that inevitably brings to mind the first few sentences of the serenity prayer, recited with heart and sincerity at every 12-Step meeting in the country:

God grant us the serenity to accept the things we cannot change,
the courage to change the things we can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.

I’ve always loved the message of this prayer. It dives deep into something that we ALL struggle with, some of us more than others: the need to accept our lives as they are and the need to change what we can. It’s often hard to differentiate between what we can control, and what we cannot. We seek outside wisdom and guidance to help, when it’s often available to us in our own hearts.

For me, I cannot change the fact that my boyfriend is feeling pulled back toward his son. I cannot change his life trajectory. I cannot change the nature of his situation, or the decisions he is going to make for himself and his son. I cannot change how his son communicates to him about the distance between them. I cannot change the fact that I entered his life when he was already in turmoil about what to do and where to go next. I cannot change the fact that I am not—and never will be—his first priority.

What I can change, however, is how I approach this next stage of our time together. I can change how I create and set boundaries with him. I can change how I communicate my feelings to him. I can change my desire to concede the future of the relationship to his situation—that is, I can stay or leave just as easily as he can. And I can change my expectations of how this relationship is “supposed to” go in the long-term. Because I don’t have any idea of how it’s supposed to go. That information hasn’t been revealed to me yet.

But, it’s okay. That’s all okay. As with most of the other losses I’ve incurred and endured as a result of this new, sober life of mine, I am okay with them and I know that both he and I will survive. There’s a beauty in times like these, and relationships like these, where you can fully enjoy the experience of the other person without a lot of external pressure. There’s something really surreal about loving someone when you can’t ever be sure that they’ll be there the next day. There’s something wonderful about being able to appreciate what we have while knowing there’s no knowing what’s next.

I suppose that’s the beauty and the pain of all relationships. I suppose that’s a better reason than any to be kind, honest, and true to yourself and to others. There’s no real saying when the opportunity to be kind, honest, and true will cease to exist.

It’s all good. I accept it. And I’m ready to accept wherever life takes me next.

What a gift of serenity I’ve been given with that.


Full disclosure: I consider myself to be agnostic. I don’t really have my own personal “higher power,” as it were, unless you count spirituality and nature. I am not part of any 12-Step program. I haven’t ever really gotten into it, though I’ve tried, and I don’t believe it is a tool that is necessary for my sobriety. I love what it does for others, though, and would never discourage a soul from working the program if it is helpful to them in their recovery. One of my best friends has maintained over 6 years of sobriety, and she credits AA with much of her success. I can only express positive feelings about it as it relates to those lives it has helped transform.


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