"Serenity is achieved through being in sync with life, but don't expect to be in sync often."

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Episode 32 -- August 3, 2020

Believing that Life Should be Easy (And What the Reality Is)

What is the role of acceptance during the coronavirus pandemic? When we're anxious or isolated, serenity can feel even more distant than usual. In 12 Stupid Things That Mess Up Recovery, Dr. Allen Berger gently but firmly roots us in the reality that life is hard and always will be. We get to control only what we can: our response to this reality. Dr. Berger uses the term "stupid" to describe self-destructive thought patterns and actions that can undercut our health and sanity and derail recovery. Dealing with painful experiences and anxiety is hard -- even in the best of times, and we are setting ourselves up for disappointment if we expect it to be easy.

This excerpt is from 12 Stupid Things That Mess Up Recovery by Dr. Allen Berger and has been edited for brevity.

The idea that life should be easy is one of the myths or attitudes that set us up for addiction. Our obsession with this notion is fertile ground for us to turn toward alcohol and other drugs for a quick fix to our pain, regardless of whether it is caused by depression, anxiety, fear, insecurities, stress, relationship problems, low self-esteem, an abusive relationship, or childhood trauma. Dealing with painful experiences and anxiety is not easy, and we are setting ourselves up if we expect it to be easy. I have seen many patients drop out of therapy or stop attending meetings because things got worse before they got better.

The truth is that this is exactly what is supposed to happen. As we begin to get more honest with ourselves, we see things that we don't like about ourselves and confront things that we have been hiding from ourselves. Growing up requires the ability to support ourselves in our growth with an unfailing commitment. Most people are unwilling to make this kind of a commitment unless their backs are up against the wall.

A culture based on the easy way is doomed to fail. It cultivates neither wisdom nor spirituality and perpetuates emotional immaturity. Finding the easy way is an infantile wish that often persists into adulthood. This curse permeates every level of our society, and yet we buy into it wholeheartedly. The results are reflected in our personal behavior and in the state of our institutions: a husband gets enraged because his wife won't give in to his emotional blackmail; an employee demands a raise even though the quality of his work doesn't warrant such recognition; an institution of higher education drops the requirement of mastering a second language from their doctoral programs because it is too hard; a school drops its grading standards to make it easier for children to get good grades; an athletic program deemphasizes competition to ensure that all kids will play; when a teacher is being hard on a child, the parents protect their child instead of working with their child to address the problems. Many people in recovery don't work the Fourth Step because "it's too hard."

If we accept that a moderate amount of difficulty is life's baseline, then we are not seduced by the idea that all our days will be good ones and that the easiest path is something one should expect. We accept good days for what they are. We accept difficult days in the same spirit. We do not look for the quick or easy fix; we take life as it is rather than trying to turn it into something it is not. We don't fight life or complain about our lot--we accept life on its terms, not ours. Isn't this the message from most spiritual teachers?

The resistance to using this solution in life is that acceptance is not embraced in our society. It is too passive, which is not valued in our society. We are a "can do" nation. Our nation's motto seems to be "We can do or achieve anything we want if we just put our mind to it." This is a partial truth, not the whole truth. The remainder of the truth is that we need to learn how to accept the things we cannot change as well as act on the things we can. Sorting out these differences is a challenge and requires wisdom gained from life experiences. This is the powerful message behind the Serenity Prayer: "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." Discerning whether action or acceptance is the best response is a hallmark of wisdom. When we correctly assess a situation and respond appropriately, we are in sync with life; we are not at cross-purposes. When we inaccurately assess a situation and try to force a change or control the outcome, we create tension and struggle. This type of struggle contaminates the emotional climate of our entire life.

Serenity is achieved through being in sync with life, but don't expect to be in sync often. Research has demonstrated that we are not in sync with life more than one third of the time. Yet we expect that?we should be most of the time, and when our expectations do not fit, we get mad, depressed, or withdrawn. Instead of meeting these situations with the "of course" response we learned about in the last chapter, we try to force our loved ones, our employer or employees, even life itself to live up to our expectations, and when they don't, we feel defeated. We take their responses personally and we are off to visit?Miseryville, which lies just south of Self-Loathing Hills.

When we accept life for what it is, we will see tremendous benefits. We stop judging. Judgment is irrelevant because life is what it is. We don't need to control or change our partner, our life, or our friends. We accept them the way they are, and if we don't like it, then we dig into the meaning of our reaction instead of trying to make others feel bad about who they are. Once we stop manipulating people, places, and things, we free up all of that energy and put it to work on our own personal development, which is where it is best focused in the first place.

Read more about how acceptance can help us right here, right now in 12 Stupid Things That Mess Up Recovery by Dr. Allen Berger.

About the Author:
Allen Berger, Ph.D., is in private practice. He is also the author of Love Secrets Revealed, a book about making relationships work. For the past thirty-six years, Dr. Berger has been on his own personal?journey in recovery while helping thousands of men and women discover a new way of life, free from addiction and its insanity. You can learn more about Dr. Berger and his work at www.abphd.com

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