(This article was originally written for the newsletter at advocateweb.org in July, 2004. For more articles, written by a large number of advocates, see Advocate Web Archives )
Serenity to Accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to Change the things I can, and
Wisdom to Know the difference.”
Living the Serenity Prayer is not easy for any of us. Yet, it has truly been the most important guide for me, as I‘ve navigated through a cold world that has great difficulty comprehending and accepting my voice. However, taking the words at face value can be problematic. I’ve found that we usually have to work our way from the bottom of the prayer, up to the top.
WISDOM--The most difficult thing, for most of us, has been sorting out what we can change from what we cannot. Generally, both survivors and advocates start out with a lot of irrational beliefs, based on erroneous information, about what we can and cannot do to change things.
Some of us have erred on the side of believing, as I did, that people only need to HEAR the truth. We believe that justice will be a give, if we can just find the right actions and words. If you are still clinging to that belief, I hope you will save yourself a lot of energy. This can best be done by studying the problem of collusion, rather than focusing on abuse itself. Such a study will lead to a more realistic set of expectations, based on where we are in 2004. It will take into account how far we’ve come in the past twenty-five years, as well as help us to see that what we want to see will probably take generations.
Others have sunk into the depths of despair, saying that nothing can be changed. They apply this to every player and institution involved, including themselves. With energy totally depleted, they spiral down into deeper and deeper depression. Neither of these “ditches” are good places to be. Neither have to be permanent places to park.
COURAGE--To me, this is the missing element in the institutions that have frustrated us all! Even if we have given up on institutions, though, there is still so much that we can individually do to make a difference in our world and in ourselves. We can choose to see ourselves as healthy and full of life, rather than sick and injured people who will always be that way, despite the permanent changes that abuse and collusion has brought to our lives. We can look beyond our own lifetimes, working for the good of future generations in whatever we choose to do.
Courage and energy go hand in hand. You really can’t have one without the other. Sometimes one has to rest and wait for these to come along. Most of the time, though, one simply has to act as if they are already there.
Taken at face value, one would assume that we are all supposed to get involved in every good cause that we can, to bring about every change that we’d like to see in this entire world. In reality, we all have to make choices. As survivors, we need to be kind to ourselves and to one another on this point.
I am only one person. I cannot do all the things that I’d love to do. I often wish I had a dozen lives, so that I could! Life is too short. I have to take care of myself and my family, above all else. Then, I have to choose what causes I will join, as well as how much time and money I will invest in them.
Fighting the problems of abuse and collusion with professional sexual abuse is just one worthy cause. It’s one that is neglected greatly. We all know that. It is a cause in which I have chosen to invest much of my life and energy for almost two decades. Yet it is not one that I believe every survivor has to choose. There are many paths and many good choices. To help sort these out, see http://www.advocateweb.org/hope/itsneverok/options.asp
Choosing when to walk away from one’s personal case, when to stop beating one’s head against brick walls, is difficult. Yet, there comes a time in every case, when this is has to be done, even though the outcome has been far from acceptable. The time may be very early in the process. It may be years later.
Holding a perpetrator responsible is a very big burden for one person. It is the job of systems that, so often, do not do their job. Yet, to continue with the fight, really is a choice. It is okay to make that choice. It is also okay to walk away. Survivors are not to blame if their perpetrator abuses others. The perpetrator and the institution or profession is, even if they act irresponsibly.
Whether one chooses to fight, to speak, to be involved in the larger movement, there are boundaries to be set. How much energy, how much money, how much thought are you willing to invest? It takes courage to say “No!” to things that keep you from taking care of yourself and your family, just as much as it takes courage to get involved.
ACCEPTING--Too many of my patients, as well as my readers, seem to have equated “accepting something” with “being happy with the circumstances that have resulted.“ Happiness seems to be a Western “requirement” that got started in the second half of the twentieth century. It’s as if we are expected to be happy. If we are not, then there is something “wrong” with us.
Yet the world, throughout most of history, has not embraced the goal of happiness. Instead, the great philosophers talked a lot more about peace and tranquility. These inward qualities have more to do with how we feel about ourselves and the world that we are able to create within us. They require an internal locus of control, the belief that our well-being doesn’t have to depend on what others do or say or think.
Acceptance, then, means that we stop trying to un-do what was unacceptable. We cannot un-do it! Neither can we ever recover all of the losses. We can only learn from the past. The best revenge is finding ways to make the present and future as hopeful as possible. When we recognize this, we are able to move back through the prayer again, to find more courage and wisdom, allowing us to live lives that are meaningful. No matter what we choose. No matter what others do or say.
When this first step is tackled after the other two, it really is quite simple. It’s the courage and the wisdom that seem so complicated to me.
Dee Ann Miller
Return to Main Menu
www.takecourage.org by Dee Ann Miller, author of How Little We Knew: Collusion and Confusion with Sexual Misconduct and The Truth about Malarkey.