One of the most wonderful things about recovery is learning about yourself. After you’ve detoxed, formed a solid network of support, and learned the ropes of getting sober, you start to wake up in away. You start to learn about who are now, who you were when you were drinking, and who you were as a child. You begin to see that you needed certain defense mechanisms, coping tools, and psychological strategies in order to live.
But with sobriety, friends, and goals in life, you might begin to feel safer in life. You may slowly learn that you can let go of some those old ways of coping with the world. Of course, this takes time. And there will continue to be circumstances and situations in which you find yourself reacting in old and familiar ways.
This slow letting go in the recovery process is likely why the Serenity Prayer is so widely used among the Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) community. The prayer was written by American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr and goes like this:
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.
Although these are actually the first three lines of a longer prayer, these lines are packed with meaning. And for the recovering alcoholic or addict, it speaks right to the heart of the ailments that come with the disease – the need to control, powerlessness, and lacking self-awareness. Diving into these words in meditation or saying them when in difficult situations can facilitate letting go even more.
There are many reasons why men and women find themselves wanting to control a situation or wanting to control the ways that their lives unfold. Fear, feeling unsafe, feeling unloved, and a long pattern of not getting your needs met can lead to coping in controlling ways. One form of this is perfectionism. Perfectionism is a person’s striving for flawlessness and setting excessively high performance standards. Perfectionists tend to compulsively reach for their goals and measure their self-worth by productivity, accomplishment, and the quality of their work. For those who are in recovery, learning to let go comes with learning to let go of being perfect. As they often say in the AA community, “Progress, not perfection.”
And it’s that kind of focus on progress and process versus product and perfectionism that facilitates letting go.
Letting go is also a kind of acceptance. And it applies not only to what you might be experiencing in the moment, but also to the past, and even to the future. Many times, drinking or drug use begins by not being able to cope with the moment, or even with a past event. For instance, many men and women begin substance use when there is a death in the family, such as a spouse or a parent. Continuing to drink or use drugs is, in a way, staying stuck in the past and not letting go of what’s occurred. Finally accepting this loss certainly takes time, and moving out of the past might only be able to happen when you stop drinking or using drugs. However, with that acceptance is a letting go – a feeling of ease with the way things are. And with this is an acceptance of the future as well – a future without your loved one, a future that will require your courage.
Letting go isn’t easy. It does feel good though. There is less anxiety, less fear, and less of a need to control. Yet, letting go might feel counterintuitive if you’re used to controlling coping mechanisms to get by. Over time, as you surrender to recovery, learn more and more about yourself, and develop healthy relationships, you may find yourself letting go more and more.
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