How Trump Drove Me Back to the Serenity Prayer

How Trump Drove Me Back to the Serenity Prayer

By Michael M. 11/23/16

When I am disturbed, I say the Serenity Prayer. Pence disturbs me, Bannon disturbs me, Breitbart disturbs me...

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Donald Trump in front of an American flag

Not since I was in early sobriety have I had to rely so heavily on the Serenity Prayer. At five years going on six, it’s been a long time since I felt the need to repeat the Serenity Prayer over and over as a soothing mechanism to get me through the day. The looming new presidency has brought me back to that fragile place. 

I woke up to President-elect Trump feeling like I was back in rehab. I was bewildered. “How can this be happening?” 

I had to go through the stages of grief, starting with denial. “Please God let this be a nightmare.” Then came anger, casting blame. “It was the Democrats’ fault for nominating such a terrible candidate.” 

Before I went to rehab, I had run out of options. Yet my mind still tried to make plans. “Maybe I could become a poet or a troubadour, and travel America like Jack Kerouac.” But I had not written one poem nor song in my life. I had to face the facts. And when Trump was elected I toyed with the idea of moving to Canada. Same thing: this had never occurred to me before. My mind was just flailing about, refusing to accept.

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change …

I can accept that Trump was elected president. But I don’t have to condone fascism, racism, sexism, xenophobia, Islamophobia, or anti-semitism.

Trump’s victory was too much to take in at once. I had to break it down, absorb it in pieces, one day at a time. The Serenity Prayer helps me do that. It took me a long time to understand my new reality after I got sober. I had been living in fantasy for so long. In the same way, each new day brings a new story about the reality of the burgeoning new administration; one troubling person after another officially joins the most powerful inner circle in the world. 

My first year in sobriety was like that; slowly the picture got clearer. It wasn’t really until fall, after taking my last drink in spring, that it dawned on me how depressing my life had become. I no longer had booze to help me ignore things, to help me lie to myself, to help me live in denial. I was the best at spinning self-justifications, rationalizing, and distorting reality.

Before Election Day, the American electorate could do the same thing. It could tell itself, “Things will be OK, it’s no big deal that we nominated a reality TV star with no government experience who brags about abusing women (‘Grab them by the p***y’) to be our leader.”

Right.

Keep telling yourself that! Now it’s time to face the bitter truth. 

Getting sober must have been too much for me to handle. I must have been in shock. But then the shock wore off, and oh did the feelings come. For months I battled a severe depression. The difference between then and now is my experience, which has taught me that the sooner I accept whatever is going on, the sooner I can regain my equilibrium. I don’t like to live off-kilter.

When I am disturbed, as I have often been lately, I say the Serenity Prayer. Pence disturbs me, Bannon disturbs me, Breitbart disturbs me, General Flynn disturbs me. I could go on. The prayer says to accept, but it also says to have the courage to change.

“… the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

I can have courage by speaking up in a situation where someone says something bigoted. I can have courage by defending someone who is being bullied. I can live courageously by going on one day at a time without becoming disillusioned. I would be a coward if I said, “Oh, what the heck, I might as well give up and crawl into my hole. Things are too far gone.” I can have courage by not getting paralyzed and playing the victim or the martyr. 

The Serenity Prayer doesn’t let me off the hook. Nor does it tell me to be indifferent and uncaring about the world I live in. It challenges me to take ownership of those areas that I have power or control over. The Big Book says, “We do not tire so easily, for we are not burning up energy foolishly as we did when we were trying to arrange life to suit ourselves.”

The wisdom of the prayer is to redirect my energies to be of maximum usefulness. It helps me not waste my energy on things I have no control over. This allows me to spend my energy on productive things, if I have the wisdom to know the difference.

It takes courage to do what I know is right despite that old familiar voice, the one that says, “Why bother, who do you think you are, do you really think your actions can make a difference?” That undertow is always there, waiting for me to give in to self-pity.

What small actions can I take if I am to live in the solution? I care about journalism and the growing threat to a free press, so I took on a new subscription to the Washington Post. I am worried about the fair treatment of women and minorities, so I pledge to stand up to bullies and bigots. I care about global warming, and the fact that Trump calls it a “hoax invented by the Chinese” worries me. But what can one person do? I have started riding my bike and walking more, instead of taking taxis or driving. 

In these ways, the mind boggling presidency has driven me back to the Serenity Prayer, where I have clawed my way out of helplessness and despair and moved instead toward acceptance and courage.

Michael M. is a copy editor and fact checker. He is also a sober member of Alcoholics Anonymous.

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