September is National Recovery Month, a time to acknowledge the stake our community has in prevention, treatment, and recovery from substance abuse and mental health disorders while recognizing the courage of friends, family members, and others who’ve done the heavy lifting of recovery.
By recognizing their recovery, we recognize prevention, treatment, and recovery works. The place to begin is with the “Serenity Prayer,” used to bolster the recovery efforts of those who attend AA and other 12-step meetings.
In her book “The Serenity Prayer: Faith and Politics in Times of Peace and War,” Elisabeth Sifton attributes the prayer to her father, theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, quoting the original.
God, give us grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed, courage to change the things that should be changed, and the Wisdom to distinguish the one from the other.
That version differs from the form used in most 12-step meetings. “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change’ courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.”
She saw a difference in the second clause. Niebuhr’s prayer asks for the “courage to change the things that should be changed.” The contemporary version seeks the “courage to change the things I can.”
Sifton saw that as an important distinction. As we think about National Recovery Month and the celebration of prevention, treatment, and recovery services, consider a partial list of what Niebuhr called “the things that should be challenged.”
Atop that list is stigma. Stigma is a judgment, usually a negative judgment made in ignorance of facts. Despite the science demonstrating addiction and mental illness are diseases of the brain, many still make judgments about those suffering from one or both. Those judgments aren’t without harm. The stigma results in barriers to effective treatment, being barred from jobs and housing. Stigma impacts a person’s ability to attain an adequate education and healthcare.
Education cures stigma. Educate yourself about addiction.
Another “thing that should be changed” is the extent to which there is an unhealthy imbalance between what Wyoming spends on treatment as opposed to recovery services, which are the “red-headed stepchild” in the family. (By way of full disclosure, I was a “red-headed stepchild” and my wife is chair of the board of Recover Wyoming).
Organizations like Recover Wyoming and Oxford Houses are denied even the scraps of public funding while millions are channeled into treatment. Treatment should be well funded but unless recovery services are adequately funded, treatment is not nearly so successful as we’d like.
Recovery encompasses an individual’s whole life, mind, body, spirit, inclusive of self-care practices, housing, employment, education, clinical treatment and other healthcare, as well as matters of spirituality, social networks, transportation, and community involvement.
The array of supports should be balanced and integrated. Too often, in Wyoming, they are not. If that doesn’t change, we ‘ll lose the critical work of Recover Wyoming and similar recovery support groups.
Another “thing that should be changed” is the criminal justice system. Every court should use the effective practices used in DUI and drug courts. No court-based practice has been subjected to so much research. These courts have consistently proved effective in moving addicts into recovery. These courts reduce the costs of government and make communities safer. Why don’t most courts use their power to “persuade” people in need of recovery to go there? That needs to change.
The goal of Recovery Month should be to consider the differences between Niebuhr’s version of the Serenity Prayer and the contemporary version. One urges us to change the things that “should be changed.” The other asks that we change the things we can.
Considering the resolve, commitment, and strength of people in recovery, there isn’t really a lot of difference between the two versions of the Serenity Prayer. The recovering community can and do change the things that should be changed. Their families, as well as ours, and the entire community are all better for their work.