In my experience, two of the most difficult recovery concepts are acceptance and surrender. So I’m going to try to tackle these two in this and the next blog post.
This week I’m going to start with acceptance.
Many of us are very familiar with the quote in the Big Book: “And acceptance is the answer to all my problems today. When I am disturbed, it is because I find some person, place, thing, or situation – some fact of my life – unacceptable to me, and I can find no serenity until I accept that person, place, thing or situation as being exactly the way it is supposed to be at this moment.”
While I love the beautiful truth of this quote, I’ve found the daily lived experience of coming to accept things in my life to be a little messier.
I’ve had a lot to accept. I suspect you have, too. Since I just finished reading Tara Brach’s Radical Acceptance, I thought I’d share with you what I’ve come to consider four fundamental truths about acceptance.
So, without further ado, here they are:
One: Acceptance f-ing sucks.
It requires you to walk through, and yes, ACCEPT, some downright shitty feelings.
Uppermost among these is fear. Fear that my loved one might never recover. Fear they may die. Fear I may die. Fear my loved one will lose their job, and then we might lose our house. Or fear that I might lose my job because I’m so obsessed and so stressed.
Second to fear is grief. Grief over not getting what we want, the relationship we want, the life we want, the dreams we had for ourselves, the dreams we had for our loved one.
All these downright shitty feelings that acceptance requires us to feel only beg the question: Why, then, would we do it?
How can this possibly be the “answer to all my problems?”
Well, because the things we do to avoid acceptance are always self-destructive and often harmful to others, too.
They’re the things that land us in the rooms of 12-Step recovery to begin with. The drinking, the drugs, the eating, the spending, the inappropriate sex, the gambling. These are all numbing behaviors.
The things we do to avoid acceptance are also sources of immense shame. In fact, I think shame is one of the worst prices we pay for not accepting what is.
That said, I don’t think we can even experience the following three truths, if we do not first acknowledge this one. At best, we’re setting ourselves up for disappointment, and at worst, failure.
At least in the beginning, acceptance is going to feel like shit. And yeah, we have to accept that acceptance sucks, too.
Which leads me right into number two: Acceptance requires support.
Time to cut yourself some serious slack here. Because essentially what this fundamental truth is saying is that, if we had the wherewith all to feel the incredibly painful feelings around what we’re struggling to accept on our own, we’d have done it already.
We need support in order to be able to accept. We’re not supposed to do this alone. Even if we have the support of our Higher Power, our Higher Power often supports us through other people.
This is another reason why we can’t ignore that the first word of the Steps is “we.”
Not to mention, this support is essential if we hope to climb out the shame.
One thing I’ve had to accept is that my mother will not change. Without support, I tended to interpret this reality as my own personal failure. In other words, I felt like I wasn’t worth changing for.
With support, I can just grieve what is without internalizing any limiting messages.
Number three: Acceptance is the path to freedom.
Acceptance allows us to redirect our energy in productive ways. It allows us to change the things we can.
There’s a reason the Serenity Prayer starts with acceptance first. I must accept before I can change. And I go nuts if I can’t figure out the difference between the two.
When I accepted my mother wouldn’t change, I got to grapple with forgiveness. While this has been a process, the deeper I go with it, the freer I get.
And with forgiveness, I got the clarity I needed to make healthy decisions about that relationship.
The other huge piece of freedom that comes with acceptance is that acceptance gets us out of transactional, conditional, and therefore toxic relationship patterns.
You know the ones: “If I do this, you’ll love me.” Or “If you do/don’t do that, I’ll be OK.”
When we live in these kinds of relationships, we live in constant psychological fear that one or the other party is going to mess up these often unspoken conditions.
This means we live in a prison of our own making.
But when we, for example, accept that certain people are never going to love us no matter what we do, we may grieve, but we’re also free to build relationships with other people who will love us.
So, on to the last, and in my opinion, most important fundamental truth about acceptance:
Four: Acceptance bears gifts, if we’re willing to surrender to it.
These gifts are nothing less than your own spiritual and personal unfolding, your ability to show up in all the glory of the person your Higher Power put you here to be.
Yes, we have to walk through some shit to get here, but you’ll never know how amazing the gifts of acceptance are until you do it.
But hear this: your ability to show up in this world completely differently, and quite effectively, and totally yourself, is, in my humble opinion, a beautiful representation of the spiritual awakening and the principle of service revealed in Step 12.
Why? Because this is where we truly make a difference to others.
It’s also what allows us to welcome, and ACCEPT, the good in our lives. If you were like me, accepting the good was sometimes harder than accepting the bad.
Does it get any better than that?
In two weeks, I’m going to share with you five signs I’ve found that demonstrate you’ve truly surrendered.
In the meantime, I’d like to hear from you. What are some of the gifts you’ve experienced through acceptance? Are there things in your life you still struggle to accept? What are the feelings you’re avoiding feeling if you accept? What is that costing you?
Share your experience, strength, and hope in the comments. I read every one.