What is acceptance?
Acceptance is facing and coming to terms with what is. As a recovering person, learning acceptance is an important part of your Twelve Step recovery. When you learn acceptance, you’ll let go of judgments that block you from seeing and coming to terms with an honest view of yourself and others.
Daily you face the opportunity to accept or reject the reality of that particular day, with all the good and bad moments it will bring. Your present circumstances include who you are, your work, where you live, your responsibilities, what you do for fun, the family and friends that you surround yourself with, and many other situations and choices.
On some days, things go great: your co-workers respect you, you get a phone call from a good friend, a teacher lets you know that your children are doing well in school, your spouse or partner makes a special effort to cook you a great dinner. On other days, your car breaks down, your children come home after curfew, there’s been a restructuring at work and your job is changing suddenly, and, on top of everything else, your spouse or partner tells you he or she is not satisfied with the relationship. You might instinctively respond to tough situations by denying or resisting the change, problem, or loss. You probably want the problem resolved quickly and want to go back to those days when everything seemed nearly perfect.
Even your newfound recovery brings changes that you are struggling with. You don’t know what to expect, and you may feel continually off balance at first. There will be losses and problems. Perhaps you are just realizing that your child’s grades are falling, that the car has needed fixing for months, and that your spouse may have a few of his or her own problems. These losses may come snowballing down in the next few weeks, or they may reveal themselves slowly over the next few years. Problems may stabilize briefly and then resurface. Facing all these realities may seem more than you can bear, and yet it’s essential that you come to terms with what is.
While this act of acceptance has much to do with acknowledging and accepting your present circumstances, it doesn’t mean tolerating any form of abuse. While you accept others for who they are without judgment, don’t allow them to abuse you, emotionally or physically.
What are some barriers to acceptance?
Some people, especially those who belong to Twelve Step groups, sometimes talk about addiction as a combination of two problems: the using problem and the thinking problem. While the using problem refers specifically to physical and medical issues resulting from substance use disorders, the thinking problem focuses on areas that are roadblocks to acceptance: irrational thoughts, unmanageable feelings, and self-defeating behaviors that bring on substance use as well as result from it.
Major barriers to acceptance include:
- Conflict. You have conflicts with those who do not think, act, or feel as you might wish.
- Self-pity. You feel sorry for yourself due to your circumstances, which you consider unfair.
- Expectations. You expect others to live up to your standards. When they don’t, you often become angry and resentful.
- Loss. You may blame others, become fearful, or become lonely when you suffer the loss of a dream, an important relationship, or something else that does not turn out as you had hoped for.
- Relapse. You don’t heal your old wounds, which can lead to relapse.
How do you overcome these barriers and achieve acceptance?
By letting go of character defects that hold you back, you come to accept your powerlessness over others and realize you can only change yourself.
The following are definitions of acceptance that are frequently heard among those who have transformed their lives in recovery:
- “Acceptance is gratitude.”
- “Acceptance is love.”
- “Acceptance means forgiveness.”
- “When I accept something, I receive it willingly.”
- “Acceptance means being at peace with something that once deeply troubled me.”
- “Acceptance is the answer to all of my problems.”
Theologian Reinhold Niebuhr expressed the essential meaning of acceptance in the well-known Serenity Prayer: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
In these few but powerful words, nearly everything necessary for finding true acceptance—letting go, tolerance, powerlessness, surrender, and faith in a Higher Power’s guidance—is conveyed with a poetic eloquence that has lived throughout modern times.
According to the Serenity Prayer, you ask your Higher Power to give you the ability to accept people and things as they are; you cannot be the master of anyone or anything but yourself. Wisdom comes from making and acting on that distinction.
What are the rewards of acceptance?
According to the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, you will know a new freedom and a new happiness; you will not regret the past nor wish to block it out through shame and guilt. Despite your addiction and the pain you may have caused others and yourself, you can know serenity and peace through acceptance.