Most people who are just getting clean and sober in their recovery journey hear a lot about the idea of “finding serenity” or of “getting more serenity” in their life. But how exactly do you go about doing this?
How do we achieve serenity in a world full of chaos? How do we maintain our balance in recovery when there are so many ups and downs along the way?
Let’s take a closer look and see what we can learn.
Starting from scratch in sobriety with zero serenity
Everyone starts from a baseline in recovery. This is ground zero. You have no serenity in your life at this point, none at all.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing though, because starting from this point is important. Without being at rock bottom, it is unlikely that you will take enough action or make the tough decisions that are required to get you through to a better life in recovery.
In other words, we all have to start out at rock bottom if we want to succeed at addiction recovery. That’s just how it works.
And part of being at rock bottom is that you are likely to be very miserable, you are likely to be stressed out, and you won’t have much serenity to speak of.
This is the starting point. It can only get better from here, right?
And it does get better. So long as you reach that point of surrender, things start to slowly get better and your life begins to transform.
Are you instantly filled with serenity the next day? Do you have nothing but peace and calm in your life one week after deciding to sober up?
Of course not! This is a journey, and it is going to take time.
Therefore you should heed this bit of wisdom that is often spoken at AA meetings: “Give yourself a break.”
What does that even mean though, to give yourself a break? It means that you need to give yourself a chance to get to that better life that awaits you in sobriety. It is going to take some time and effort to get there. You have been beating yourself up for far too long in your addiction.
Everyone does this. Every alcoholic and drug addict beats themselves up for being addicted, for resorting to self medication. You have to stop doing that. You have to give yourself a break so that you can have a chance at sobriety. If you never give yourself this break then you won’t allow yourself to do the work that is necessary to transform your life.
If you never give yourself a break then you will never get to the point where you can enjoy serenity and peace in the future.
So when you find yourself at rock bottom, the path forward is pretty simple: Ask for help. And then listen. Do what you are told to do. Do what is suggested to you by other people. They have the answers; you don’t. It is that simple. If you want to transform your life then you need to grab on to other people’s ideas. Not your ideas, those did not work out. You need new input. You need to give yourself a chance to use these new ideas in your life. And this is the foundation that will eventually lead to serenity and peace in your life.
Are you going to enjoy peace and serenity tomorrow, right after starting this journey? Probably not yet. Let’s be realistic. You have been living in chaos for a long time. It takes time to heal a life. And this is why you have to give yourself a break, and give yourself time, and give recovery a chance to work in your life.
You have to give recovery a chance to work in your life today. That takes time. It doesn’t happen overnight.
Nobody wants to hear that. Nobody wants to hear the truth, nobody wants to be told that they have to work hard and be patient in order to reach their goal. But that is the path of sobriety. If it were easy, then everyone would do it and alcoholism and addiction would not be such major problems in this world. They would not be the huge obstacles that they are. They would not be so challenging. Treatment centers would have 95 percent success rates rather than the fairly dismal numbers you hear right now (usually 10 percent or even less).
The truth is, it is tough to beat an addiction, it is tough to transform your life, and it requires a whole lot of work. If you want serenity and peace in your life then you are going to have to work for it.
Let me put it like this: Recovery is entirely pass/fail. Some people don’t know that, I am afraid.
So when you are searching for peace and serenity in recovery, you have to look at your foundation. Are you clean and sober today? And, are you doing the work to improve your life and become a healthier person today? If the answer to either of those is “no,” then you can forget about peace and serenity.
On the other hand, if you have a foundation of sobriety that you are building one day at a time, and if you are doing the work to transform your life, then you can expect peace and serenity to become more and more prevalent in your life.
The question is, how do you build a foundation, and how do you “do the work?”
Let’s find out.
How to build a foundation of serenity in early sobriety
So how do you build a foundation in early recovery?
I can tell you two things here: What I have done in my own life, and what I observe in other people’s journey.
In other words, what happened to me, and what I observe in others.
So what happened to me is this:
I surrendered and went to rehab. Period.
That transformed my life. Now keep in mind that I went to rehab two times before this moment, and obviously those did not lead me to serenity or sobriety. The problem those times was that I had not yet surrendered to my disease.
I wasn’t ready.
When I was finally at the point of true surrender, when I was finally “sick and tired of being sick and tired,” it was then that I was able to go to treatment and turn my life around.
Now how exactly do you build a foundation while in treatment?
A couple of things. One, when you are at an inpatient treatment center, you don’t use drugs or alcohol. That’s kind of the point and it is also a very simple principle. Nevertheless it is an important idea in sobriety. You need to disrupt your addiction somehow, and checking into a rehab center does exactly that. You stop using drugs and alcohol because there is none available to you while in rehab. Simple and effective.
So if you really want to transform your life then I suggest you start with the basics. Go check into rehab. Stay at in inpatient rehab center for 28 days. When you leave, guess what? You now have a month of sobriety under your belt. This is a foundation. Are you peaceful and serene yet? Not quite–there is still more work to be done. But at least you have a chance. At least you have a fighting chance at doing the work, because you went to treatment and built this foundation.
Now there are lots of excuses as to why you can’t go to a 28 day inpatient rehab.
Take those excuses you have in your head and throw them out the window. They are all garbage.
Do you know how ridiculous those excuses sound when you compare them to the consequences of your addiction?
Think about it. “I don’t want to go to treatment because I work as a pizza delivery driver and I don’t want to lose my job, I need that money to live.”
And then a few months later the person is drinking while at their job and they cause a fatal accident and do time in prison as a result. And yet they tried to argue that they could not leave their job for a mere 28 days in order to fix their life? This is ridiculous!
But that’s what denial is–we cannot see how ridiculous our excuses are when we are stuck in addiction.
And it is all about the fear. Of course people make excuses as to why they cannot go to rehab. They are afraid.
No one wants to admit that they are afraid. No one wants to admit that they are afraid of treatment, that they are afraid of sobriety. That they are afraid to face the world clean and sober, without their drug of choice. No one wants to admit to this fear.
And yet this is the fear that keeps people from getting the help that they need.
Now you might hear other excuses, or you might make other excuses, such as: “I don’t have insurance.” Or “I don’t have the money for treatment.” Again, these are just excuses that mean nothing when compared to the severity and the heavy consequences of addiction.
It’s simple. You ask for help, you get on the phone, and you start calling up treatment centers. You become desperate to get help. When you do this, doors open up to you. It doesn’t matter what you have or whether you have good insurance or not. You may qualify for funding or treatment programs that you don’t know about, that you have never heard of before. This happened to me on at least 2 different levels when I finally surrendered. Doors opened up and I did not think that I deserved the help that I was given. But the help was there simply because I was willing.
The government estimates that most alcoholics and drug addicts never seek help at all–roughly 8 out of 10 who struggle with addiction will never go to rehab. What do you think happens to this group of 8 out of 10? Do you think they ever achieve peace and serenity in their lives? Of course not. They continue to struggle and the final outcomes are always the same: Jails, institutions, and death. Only those who take action and try to help themselves ever get a chance to try to transform their lives.
So the first step towards real peace is to build this foundation. My suggestion is that you do that by going to inpatient rehab. There are probably other ways to build a foundation, but I don’t have any experience with them. This is how I built a foundation for myself, this is how I started slowly building peace back into my own life. I had to start from ground zero, I had to ask for help, I had to go to rehab and do what I was told to do. It was only in following those simple directions that I was finally able to start enjoying my life again in recovery. And when I followed this simple direction I suddenly realized one day that I was happy again, I was content, and yet I wasn’t on drugs or alcohol any more! It was amazing. And I still remember having that revelation, that moment of realization, that I was finally free from the clutches of addiction.
Building a moat around your serenity–how is it done?
So once you get clean and sober and build this foundation in early recovery, you start to get some real peace in your life again.
Now that you have that peace, though, how do you go about keeping it?
There is a balance, I think, in recovery. Everyone has to find their own path when it comes to this stuff. We all want to peace and contentment, right?
But on the other hand, do you really want to climb up the side of a mountain, live in a tiny cave, and just sit there and meditate all day without any interaction with others?
Of course not. We could all live in caves and isolate ourselves and “be content,” but we don’t want that life. We want to have a real life, we want to have real relationships, and we want to reach out and help others. In doing this we have to interact with the world. We have to take risks. We have to expose ourselves to drama.
Part of recovery is the principle that is found in step 12 of AA, that principle of reaching out and helping others to recover. If you are not doing that sort of work in any capacity then it will make your recovery much more difficult to maintain. Why? Because that is one of the strongest ways to “build a moat around your sobriety”–working with other alcoholics. If you are willing to help others to recover then it strengthens your own recovery a great deal. It works so well, in fact, that neglecting this aspect of recovery is dangerous.
But therein lies the danger–when you work with others in recovery, you expose yourself to “drama.” It can be toxic. Alcoholics and drug addicts lie, manipulate, deceive. And so that can be tough to deal with, and it can certainly compromise your serenity. And yet, in order to remain clean and sober, we believe that we should all strive to do some of this work in our lives, to reach out and help others who struggle. Yet when we reach out to help them, we compromise our own serenity.
And so you need to find a balance. You need to practice healthy boundaries. One of the tips that you don’t hear very often is to go to Al-anon meetings. So you are an alcoholic or a drug addict and you are in recovery now and you want more peace and serenity in your life. What do you do? One solution is to start attending Al-anon meetings.
“But” you protest, “I thought those were for the friends and families of struggling alcoholics.”
Yes, that is true. But those people at Al-anon are experts at setting healthy boundaries. That is the whole point, they have to learn how to take care of themselves in light of the toxic relationships that are in their lives.
And this is the struggle that we all may have some day–we have toxic people around us in our lives, and that compromises our serenity. How do we deal with it? By setting healthy boundaries. By reaching out and helping only so much as the person is willing to help themselves. By protecting our serenity while also putting ourselves out there, taking some risks, and allowing ourselves to help others. It is a fine line and a delicate balance and this is what people in Al-anon have had to learn how to do. They are learning how to take care of themselves even as the alcoholic in their lives continues to create chaos.
You need to learn how to do this in your own recovery. You have to learn how to take care of yourself first and foremost, every single day, in many different areas of your life.
Now what does that mean, to take care of yourself in different areas of your life?
It means that you are always trying to improve your life spiritually, by practicing gratitude every day and by building a relationship with a higher power.
It means that you try to improve your life physically, by quitting addictions, by eating healthy, by getting enough sleep, by exercising regularly.
It means that you try to improve your life socially, by setting healthy boundaries, by eliminating toxic relationships, by focusing your time on the winners, by building relationships with others in recovery.
It means that you try to improve your life emotionally, by maintaining balance, by eliminating stress, by seeking peace.
It means that you try to improve your life mentally, by brainstorming ideas, by pushing yourself to write out 50 things on a gratitude list, by training your brain to focus on the positive, by embracing recovery principles, reading literature, even though it is a whole lot of work.
We need to take care of ourselves every day in all of these ways and more. Recovery is a holistic effort. If you neglect any of these areas for too long then your life will fall apart, your serenity will be compromised, and your sobriety itself will be threatened.
This is what it means to “do the work” in recovery. It is a lot more than just working through the 12 steps of AA, for example. Real recovery is a holistic effort. For example, if you get sick in recovery, what do the 12 steps say to do about that? Nothing, they don’t address this holistic viewpoint, they only address the spiritual path (with some social elements thrown in as well). So you have to cover these extra bases. You have to do the work. You have to take care of your whole self, your entire life, every aspect of it. And when you do this work and continue to do this work, your world becomes more peaceful.
Protecting your serenity in long term sobriety on a daily basis
Think about it, when and how is your serenity compromised? It happens when bad things pop up, when chaos happens in your life, when drama occurs.
Sometimes this drama is your fault, and other times it just happens, completely out of your control.
So how you react is important. You can choose to become sucked in to the chaos, or you can rise above the drama.
And if you are actively “doing the work,” if you are taking care of yourself and working on gratitude, working on good health, working on healthy relationships and eliminating toxic ones, working on emotional balance and reducing stress–then you have a foundation from which you can better deal with the chaos, that you can better rise above the drama.
And if you are not taking care of yourself, if you are not doing this work every day, then the drama and the chaos will suck you in.
And that is how you achieve serenity. It takes work. It takes consistent effort. A daily practice, of taking care of yourself every day, in all of these different ways.
Have you achieved serenity in your own life? What is your own daily practice like? Let us know in the discussion forums. It only takes a second to register!