MANY OF MY earliest memories are of trying very hard, with a small child’s limited resources, to change the people, places, and things in my little life that were unacceptable to me. In fact, it seems that all my life I have pitted my strength and ingenuity against unacceptable situations, trying to change them into situations I could accept. The less they budged, the more frustrated I felt.
Even after I discovered alcohol’s ability to erase situations unacceptable to me when sober–or to change my mood to fit into them–I was still faced with the hassle of having to sober up to struggle through unacceptable situations at home and at work. I became addicted to alcohol and to its illusion of power. It was the only agent of change I had. I also developed the stomach problems, backaches, tension headaches, and generally tense attitudes that define your basic Type A tilter at windmills.
I finally ran to the end of my own endurance and asked for help. My answer was Alcoholics Anonymous. I became free from alcohol but was faced once again with my old enemy, powerlessness over life. I repeatedly heard and read in AA that we have to ask God for the serenity to accept the things we cannot change. I did, and would like to share the growth in acceptance that God has given me.
First, I learned that I do not have to like something to accept it. I had assumed that in order to accept something, I had to condone it, agree with it, or otherwise change my attitude to conform with the position of the person, place, or thing. I found this unnecessary. It would not be growth for me to change to conform with some of the attitudes I encounter. It is growth, however, when I try to understand other people by listening to them, whether I agree with them or not. It is also growth when I admit to myself that I cannot change something or someone, and ask God for the courage to turn my thinking toward something I can change.
I have also learned that I do not have to choose something to accept it. I had come to believe that in order to accept something, I had to continue to allow it to be a part of my life. I’ve learned this is not true, either. I can accept certain people, places, or things exactly as they are, but choose not to affiliate myself with them. I believe God does guide our choices when we turn our lives and our wills over to him. I also believe that the power to choose is the only power I have.
I look at life now as if it were a cafeteria. I do not assume, when I get in line at a cafeteria, that everything offered there is for me. I am expected to make my choices from the selection offered. Do I criticize the roast beef simply because I’m in the mood for fish that day, or because my cholesterol is high and my physician recommends I avoid red meat? Perhaps, the pie is unfitting for me because of obesity or diabetes, but do I have the right to say that pie is wrong for my friend who needs to add twenty pounds to her weight for her health’s sake? By the same token, the career, life-style, or mate that may not be right for me may be perfect for the person sitting to my left at my next meeting.
Looking at things this way has freed me from having to justify to myself and to others my reasons for making certain choices. It forces me to be honest with myself about my priorities. Most of all, it comforts me with the knowledge that God cares for me and my life and that, one day at a time, he is restoring me to sanity by granting me the serenity to accept those things I cannot change (but need not choose).