I am privileged to be a staff sponsor at a state prison for the self-help, 12-step groups of AA and NA. A staff sponsor is different from a program sponsor. I am not a recovering alcoholic or addict who has a one-on-one relationship with another alcoholic or addict in order to facilitate working the 12 Steps. Rather, we staff sponsors are paid to get the keys, open the room, sign attendance sheets, verify certificates of achievement, make copies, organize fundraisers, order supplies, escort outside AA and NA volunteer-visitors in and out of the prison, supervise the smooth running of the meeting, and push the alarm button if things get out-of-hand. We also write the occasional letter of recommendation to the parole board or a future employer on behalf of an inmate.
So although I am not technically in recovery, I find that going to meetings twice a week seeps into my brain. I see how following the Steps can lead to a saner, more serene life for anyone, not just an addict or an alcoholic. Besides, we all have our addictions and shortcomings. “Keep coming back,” the men say in unison. “It works if you work it.” I can see how that would be true.
Recently I’d been struggling – and failing – to control a family decision regarding my mother’s care. When I went into the prison to work Monday night’s regular NA meeting, my heart was heavy with regret and resentment. I felt raw and defeated.
But sometimes God wears blue, and speaks with the blended voices of 80 inmates. “God grant me the serenity,” the men prayed as they began the meeting, “to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
The wisdom to know the difference. I suddenly heard it in italics, the wisdom to know the difference. It seemed a deep and profound arrangement of six words.
And I got it. I’d believed I could change a negative situation, and had tried to act courageously, which succeeded only in fracturing the family, and alienating me from some other family members. But I have lacked that precious wisdom: running with courage full-force into a reality that actually requires acceptance has been a bad idea. I have not known the difference. Which explains why serenity has eluded me.
Things aren’t better. But I have accepted that there are things I cannot change, things of which I am not in control. The wisdom is that courage and serenity can coexist in one heart. They don’t have to fight like siblings sharing a room. The serenity prayer is not, as I had framed it, a battlefield.
Maybe time in prison is rehabilitating me.