The Great Debate: Serenity Versus Willingness to Change in Recovery

The Great Debate: Serenity Versus Willingness to Change in Recovery


To some extent there is a constant choice in your recovery journey between two conflicting principles: The desire for self acceptance and serenity in the moment, versus the drive and the push for self improvement and your willingness to change.

In other words, you can either accept yourself and everything in your universe as it is right now, or you can get fired up to try to create significant changes in your life.

But you cannot really do both at the same time, can you? You cannot fully accept this moment and everything in it while also getting fired up enough to try to create massive change. It has to be one or the other.

The problem is that so much of the recovery that we hear talks about the need for acceptance in order to experience serenity. If you want to at peace then you need to accept the current moment as it exists right now and just let everything go. Accept what is and stop resisting it.

The issue that I have with that is that when we practice “total acceptance” in our lives, we tend to get a bit lazy in terms of personal growth. Why work hard at changing things that are difficult when it is far easier to simply accept them as is?

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The infamous serenity prayer obviously speaks to this idea, and tells us to pray for the wisdom to know what we should strive to change versus what we should just simply accept.

So one of my number one suggestions for this is that you should seek outside help and insight from a sponsor, a therapist, or a mentor. In other words, you should not carry the full burden of figuring out what you should be working on to change in your life. You should instead be consulting with people who are either successful in recovery or trained professionals (therapists) to help you figure out what your next personal growth project should be.

If you attempt to figure all of this out by yourself then you will be seriously limiting your potential in recovery. The better path would be to talk with a therapist on a weekly basis so that you can get insight and advice for how to deal with your life.

For example, if there is something that needs to be accepted in your life then a therapist can help you to identify what is and tell you how to go about processing that acceptance. In some cases they may have to coach you through the process of forgiveness and give you some tips as to how you can forgive someone.

On the other hand, a therapist may identify a potential area for growth instead. They may see an opportunity for you to make serious changes in order to overcome an obstacle or a weakness in your life. The therapist can then point out resources for you to pursue that path in your recovery.

The thing is, if you start to work aggressively towards personal growth in your recovery then, in the beginning, you honestly will not notice much of a difference. The hard work that you are doing will only slightly offset the stress that this additional effort adds to your life.

The real benefit of this approach kicks in later, when you are reaping the rewards of your hard work. For the most part, significant changes that we make during our recovery journey do not really happen right away. In order to fully realize the holistic health benefits of recovery you have to dedicate yourself to personal growth for an extended period of time. This is why they push the concept of faith and hope in early recovery situations, because there is definitely a delay between when you do the hard work of recovery and when you reap the rewards. In order to fully realize those rewards you are going to need to be patient.

Part of the serenity that we are building through this hard work has to do with our own personal character defects. For example, when I was in early recovery one of my main character flaws was that I would engage in self pity. I had all of this drama in my head and it was all “victim talk” about how the world had done me wrong. I had resentments against others and I used that as an excuse to feel sorry for myself.

Why was I doing that? Simple: To justify my drinking and drug use. My brain had the process down to a science: Just find something to feel victimized by, then you can drink and take drugs without feeling guilty! It was working for me perfectly during my addiction.

The problem was that in early recovery my brain did not know that this rationalization and justifying of drug and alcohol use was no longer necessary. So my mind just kept right on playing the victim role as often as it could, even though I no longer wanted to justify drinking.

Was this a character defect? It doesn’t really matter what label we put on it, the fact was that this loop, or this pattern that my brain kept engaging in was edging me closer and closer to relapse. Self pity and playing the victim role could never help me in my sobriety efforts and it could only hurt me.

Now here is the kicker: For the first few months of my recovery journey, I did not even know about this issue! I had no idea it was even a problem. So in order for me to get healthier in my recovery, I first had to be able to identify this as a character defect that needed to be purged from my life.

So that is why I urge you to do more, to go to AA and NA, to go to inpatient rehab, but also to follow up with both sponsorship and professional therapy or counseling. You need to do it all if you want to give yourself a chance at real recovery.

We all have issues similar to my own self pity and tendency to play the victim role. Some people have resentments, some people have fear, some people have anger issues, some people are racked with guilt and shame, and so on. Those are all just patterns that eventually lead back to relapse. So it is up to us to identify those patterns and seek out the help that we need in order to be able to figure out the path of growth and then to get on with it.

This has to be an active process. You have to go out and actively seek out recovery and personal growth. You have to be willing to become vulnerable in order to share with others who can help you to pinpoint your specific issues. Once you know those issues you can then make a plan of action to fix those defects.

This has very little to do with self acceptance and it has everything to do with personal growth.

Do not make the mistake of choosing a passive path in early recovery. You need to get active and pursue your next personal growth breakthrough if you want to succeed.

This is the path that has worked for me, and I see many people struggle in recovery who are far too passive (while also preaching self acceptance at times).

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