Faint, unnatural light flutters around me within confined white walls. I’ve stumbled upon the inexorable circumstances I must endure from day to day with no revisions in sight. Unbound drawers feature an array of draped wires providing no outward, plausible signs for rhyme or reason; all attached to superfluous heating devices. Flesh colored powder is bestrewed all over the counter tops in between a kaleidoscope of towers containing glamour products. Bottles of body spray and perfume are scattered about whereas toothpaste intermingled with long strands of dark hair lathers the lining of the sink; the room still exhibiting a combined minty, floral aroma. A heap of dirty clothes has become mushed into a corner, modestly conveying to me they belong somewhere else – somewhere more appropriate for recently worn attire. Shades of red collaboratively streak about the countertop while the mirror accentuates a chaotic collection of smudges yielded from a combination of warm breath and greasy hands. Below, the tiny wastebasket vigorously stands, boiling over the remnants of refuse it can no longer physically contain; spilling out like lava and sluggishly settling on the surface beneath; conceding to gravity as it bears witness to the conclusion of its balancing act. On and on the scene unfolds – and it’s undeniably making me more deranged and ballistic with each and every passing second. I hate this bathroom.
As I continue to forge ahead in my recovery and as a member of various twelve-step groups, I as well as others in my community quite often recite these words: “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.” This is commonly known as the serenity prayer and although it’s not the prayer in its entirety, the point and purpose adequately come across in the opening sentences. Pretty powerful stuff when its broken down into what the words truly mean as a whole and we avoid becoming desensitized to the constant repetition of saying them over and over again. For me, it’s important to remember this because, not long ago, I wasn’t so accepting of anything unless me, myself, and I were directly satisfied or the primary beneficiary. What I didn’t know then, I’m starting to clearly see now. Through acceptance of people, places and situations for what they are, rather than for what I want or think I want them to be, everybody benefits. It’s taken me thirty years to come to this conclusion for myself.
I’ll revert back to the scene in the bathroom that I shared with my wife in our former home. Whether or not I got worked up or deranged or even homicidal (kidding) about the state or condition of our bathroom, it was never going to change how she treated it; I could not change her just as equally as she could not change me; that’s how she was whether or not I believed it to be right or wrong. Those types of character changes can only come from within oneself – generally when things or situations reach the point where change is incumbent for survival, not merely for personal preference or comfort.
Accept the Things I Cannot Change: As for me, the wiser, more mature handling of the situation would have been accepting it for what it was, processing it in a proper and fair context, then moving on with my day without acting snarky, distant, or bitter. At least we had a bathroom to make a mess in because I can’t honestly say everyone in the world is so fortunate. Running tap water is a luxury in and of itself and one that we so often take for granted. My stress level would have most likely gone way down if I could have just accepted the situation for what it was and the tension between my wife and I may have been greatly reduced. Add up a bunch of similar situations and quite possibly there would have been little to no tension at all.
Courage to Change the Things I Can: What I always have control over is how I react to any given person or situation. My expectations were always set far too high and for all intents and purposes, became unreasonable and unrealistic. If I spent more time generating what was in the best interest of the entire family, rather than focusing on what I expected of everybody, our lives could have been relatively calm, cool, and collective; at least as calm as running a home with two small children could be, of course. Expectations are taxing and arduous while modeling reasonable reactions and temperaments can be motivating. It would have shown I could walk the walk, not just talk the talk – and that’s leading by example – not the “do as I say, not as I do” mentality.
Wisdom to Know the Difference: The difference, for me, is always in how I react – it’s pretty much that simple, not easy, but simple.
Personal growth is derived from living outside of our comfort zone. Nestled in my own living space, isolated from people and the outside world with bottle in hand was always my safe zone; now I share living space with a group of people that also search for new life and it’s helped me to form meaningful connections that are vital to thrive, not wither away alone in some dark corner of space and time. Giving up the unwinnable fight for control has been the key to accepting things for what they are and not as I would have them. It’s broadened the view of a man once suffering from extreme tunnel vision.
“Getting over a painful experience is much like crossing monkey bars. You have to let go at some point in order to move forward.” – C.S.Lewis