When we first began on series on fulfilling the Twelve Promises, we mentioned that there are technically only eleven if you read them in Chapter 6 of the Big Book. This is because one of the sentences that makes up that section is cut in half. The first half of that sentence has been turned into the Third Promise, and is the focus for our March installment of this series. And while it may only be half of a longer sentence, it is actually one of the most important promises provided by AA.
This is not to say that the rest of the Ninth Step Promises are unimportant by comparison. The First Promise speaks to the freedom we will encounter when no longer suffering under the lashes of addiction and alcoholism. The Second Promise speaks to our need to reconcile with our past rather than shutting it out due to guilt. And in many ways, the Third Promise is an extension of these two, for it promises that we will eventually come to a time and place where we will understand what those in recovery mean when they refer to “serenity.”
While the Twelve Promises are meant to be experienced once we begin undertaking Step Nine, there are many who will begin to understand the Third Promise long before they have gotten this far. In fact, some may start to experience it to one degree or another when they are but days into the program. This is rare, but it is not unfathomed. But if it takes a little longer for you, do not be dismayed. The Third Promise is one that hits us all at different times, and in very different ways. But we’ll get to that in a minute.
Fulfilling the Third Promise
The sentence that originally included the Third Promise is as follows:
“We will comprehend the word serenity and we will know peace.”
After this was cut in half, we were left with the Third Promise as it stands today:
“We will comprehend the word serenity.”
It may seem a bit strange that this sentence was ever dissected, as peace and serenity appear to be very closely related concepts. Yet you should note that our comprehension of serenity is not a guarantee that we will experience it right away. So while the two halves of the sentence are most definitely related, they can easily be seen as distinct concepts from one another. As far as the Twelve Promises state, we will likely understand what it means to have serenity long before we have actually gotten there.
For many of us, this will start to sink in around Step Four or Step Five. This is around the time that many of us will begin to let go of our resentments, and we will often find that the mounting anger we have felt toward others for so long has finally begun to slip away from us. At this point, both the First and Third Promises will begin to gain a bit of meaning for us. And even if some of our resentments may still linger on for a time, the moments in which we are able to forget about them will do much for our comprehension of serenity. For even if serenity has not yet become a way of life, we will have at least gained some insight into how it might feel to live serenely every day.
This is all we really need if we are to gain a basic comprehension of the word serenity. The serene lifestyle is one of faith and spirituality, a life in which we are able to get away from the hustle and bustle of life and learn who we are when separated from our problems. If we have true faith, then we will experience far fewer upsets to this sense of tranquility, for we will come to realize that no bad feeling lasts forever unless we give it the power to remain. The true fulfillment of the Third Promise may therefore take a little bit of time, for we will have to work at putting our doubts and fears aside. Once we get there, however, we will learn an entirely new form of bliss.
Comprehending the Word
The word “serenity” is defined as “the state of being calm, peaceful, and untroubled.” So right off the bat, you’ll notice that we cannot experience full serenity until we have fulfilled the next promise on our list. But calmness and a lack of worry will enter into our lives from time to time after we enter recovery, and it is through these moments that we will learn to understand and embrace the Third Promise as it is written. For in those moments, no matter how short-lived some of them may be, we will most definitely know peace.
That sense of calm is where spirituality comes into play. Prayer and meditation can help deliver some relief from the stresses of everyday life. And with faith, we will be able to remain untroubled through our ability to remember that there is always some Higher Power working to bring things into balance. If we have taken Step Three, we will already have a pretty strong sense of this. It will also help if we follow the First Tradition, as we will be able to share our burdens with trusted friends in our recovery support network, adding a sense of unity and fellowship to our lives that will help us feel more at ease.
It’s worth noting that there is also a secondary definition of “serenity,” although it is not technically the one presented by the Third Promise. This definition denotes “serenity” as a title of honor, used to show respect or reverence. And while this title is generally reserved for the likes of princes and dignitaries, this is not to say that we may not achieve something similar through our work in recovery. And while we may not be given a title for it, anyone who has truly embraced the principles of AA or NA will not require one.
What we are describing is something that will begin to take a lot of shape once we have begun Step Nine. People will see that we are no longer leading lives of utter selfishness and stubbornness, that we are able to admit our wrongs and humble ourselves in order to make amends. Once people see how sobriety has changed us, we will gain far more respect than we ever had when we were in active addiction. This is true even for those of us who were the most functional addicts on the planet. However much respect we believed we had before, we will start to see it in a much truer sense than ever. And this, in addition to everything else, will help add to our serenity.
Seeing Serenity in Others
One of the other primary ways in which we come to comprehend serenity is through our interactions with other people in recovery. Those with long-term sobriety will often seem so calm and untroubled that we have trouble picturing what they would have been like in active addiction. We cannot fathom that these men and women ever hit rock bottom, for we cannot imagine them committing any transgressions that might have yielded negative consequences.
These people will become inspirations to us, in that regardless of how recent or distant their sobriety date may have been, they have gained something that we will soon find we want for ourselves. And according to the Third Promise, we will soon learn the very nature of the serenity for which we now yearn. We will see it in their actions, hear it in their words. As long as we permit them to do so, they will teach us how to live and truly make the most of our sobriety.
Upon this realization, we will come to understand that serenity cannot exist without a sense of gratitude. Not only will we be grateful for these inspiring men and women, but we will also come to appreciate that the twisted lives we used to lead have somehow brought us into the fold to discover something greater, something far more powerful than we could ever have imagined. The Third Promise may not directly state these men and women to be responsible for our newfound comprehension of serenity, but those of us who have previously encountered our own spiritual awakenings are well aware of the part that such individuals have played.
Anyone who tries to recover on their own will likely struggle, and the Third Promise may elude them for quite some time—if not forever. We must learn how to rely on the guidance of others, be they our sponsors or simply people for whom we find we have gained a lot of respect since meeting them in the program. If we can do this, then it likely will not take quite as long for the Third Promise to be fulfilled. And once we have learned to comprehend serenity, we can continue working our program until we finally know peace in a way we might never have imagined possible.