Rediscovering AA’s Serenity Prayer in the COVID-19 Pandemic
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.
Change is never easy, and change on a scale like we’re seeing from the coronavirus is beyond difficult. For many of us, our lives were smooth-sailing until the COVID-19 virus made its way across the globe and caused a huge disruption.
Some of us are suddenly working and trying to school our children at the same time. Some of us are now unemployed. Some of us have contracted the coronavirus and are worried about what it will do to our health or the health of those with whom we’ve come into contact.
The entire world has seen abrupt changes to normal daily life in a matter of weeks. Normally in situations where life deals us a bad hand, we could visit friends or family for hugs and support. But in this situation, we don’t have that option. It’s difficult, and many of us are feeling isolated, lonely, and scared.
In a time with so many unknowns, we can learn a great deal from the teachings of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). Recovery from addiction is nothing if not a difficult journey full of both change and uncertainty. Some of the ways that AA helps its members with the bumps in the road that are so common to recovery can help all of us in navigating the unfamiliar territory of the coronavirus pandemic.
First, AA’s serenity prayer tells us to accept things we cannot change. In this time, that is a lot, but making attempts to come to peace with what has changed can save us from a lot of emotional turmoil. Coming to terms with the ways our lives have changed for the moment gives us the space to move forward. It may take time and effort to make peace with these changes. You can try journaling, meditating, making time to pray, or even reaching out to a therapist remotely. Teletherapy apps are a great option when leaving your home isn’t. If you’re in recovery, you can join 12-Step meetings remotely for much-needed support.
Accepting that things are different—at least for now—doesn’t mean giving up your power. The other side of the serenity prayer is having the courage to change what can be changed. Yes, your ability to go to your office, visit family, even purchase toilet paper may have been disrupted, but you can make positive changes even when much is out of your control. For example, you may not be able to control the fact that your children are out of school, but you can make your life easier by researching educational activities for them to do during the day or committing your lunch time to spend quality time with them that you wouldn’t have had before. You might not be able to control that you’re now working from home, but you can commit to creating a healthy routine such as getting up early, exercising before you begin, and showering.
Most importantly, you can still control how much connection you have to the people you love; it just might look a little different than it used to. If you can’t make it to your brother’s weekly Saturday dinners, you can dine together over Zoom or Facetime. If you can’t watch a movie with your best friend, you can have a virtual viewing party. If you can’t take care of your parents in the way you used to, you can still help them from a distance such as by ordering groceries for them and having them delivered to their house. It might not feel like it now, but there is a lot in your control.
The last part of the serenity prayer is having the wisdom to know the difference between what you can change and what you can’t. The coronavirus pandemic is evolving quickly, and there’s a lot of news that can be overwhelming to even sort through, much less process. Reading every bit of news and obsessing over every development won’t change the reality of the situation; it will only make you feel worse. Take a step back, take a deep breath, and focus on the areas where you can make a difference. Maybe it means organizing a volunteer effort or simply taking care of the family you have at home. Connecting in whatever ways you can and putting your efforts into helping others can bring you a sense of joy and meaning and renew your spirit. This is one reason that AA works so well for people in recovery. It puts a major focus on both social connection and service to others.
AA also encourages participants to take their recovery one day at a time. During this crisis, we encourage you to do the same. We’re all in this together, moving forward each day and doing the best we can. If today you feel anxious and overwhelmed, it’s normal. Let it go. Tomorrow is another day to practice serenity.