Acceptance is the answer to all my problems today.
I’ve used the phrase “That’s unacceptable!” about elevendy thousand times in the 50 years I’ve been roaming this planet. It’s my go-to phrase when some person, place, thing, or situation isn’t behaving exactly the way that I, in all my highly evolved wisdom, thinks it should be. Sometimes it’s the big stuff – My mom died after a horrific 6-week nightmare of bile acid eroding her intestines after a botched gallbladder removal. My sponsee relapsed again and got a DUI this time. Trump (‘nuff said). Why, God, why?
Sometimes I fret over medium stuff – My ex can’t manage to pay a single child-related bill without the threat of bodily harm, and even after 20 years of hitting replay on the same insanity, I still think that periodically turning into a psycho is going to change things. The environment at my last job was so toxic that I routinely fantasized about being the lone survivor of an Ebola epidemic contained to our office suite. And beach houses are super expensive, so I’ll probably never realize my dream of owning one.
Then there’s the daily struggle with all the pint-sized stuff – Despite a remarkable IQ, my daughter can’t figure out the mechanics of a toilet paper holder. My dog prefers to relieve herself on the white rug in my living room instead of on the acres of grass at her disposal. The food groups I enjoy the most – pepperoni pizza and triple chocolate cupcakes slathered in buttercream frosting – have an alarming number of calories, and I have a hard time balancing my need for empty carbs with my desire not to weigh 400 lbs. Unacceptable! All of it. Or is it…?
Acceptance is one of the basic building blocks of a 12-step program. We routinely read the Acceptance passage from page 417 of the personal story section of the Big Book at my home group meeting:
“And acceptance is the answer to all my problems today.
When I am disturbed,
It is because I find some person, place, thing, 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.
Nothing, absolutely nothing happens in God’s world by mistake.
Until I could accept my alcoholism, I could not stay sober;
Unless I accept life completely on life’s terms,
I cannot be happy.
I need to concentrate not so much
On what needs to be changed in the world
As on what needs to be changed in me and in my attitudes.”
When I was first introduced to it, I immediately thought “Aw hells nah! Are you telling me that I’m just supposed to be like ‘oh wow, this really icky thing is happening in my life right now and I just need to slap on a smile and nod like a Stepford wife and accept it?’” Eventually I came to understand that acceptance is not about submission. It’s not “My husband beats me, so I guess that’s just the way it is. I’ll just live with a perpetual fat lip and buy better concealer.” Or happily skipping through a field of daisies singing “Tra-la-la, my son might die of a drug overdose!” It’s about acknowledging the facts of a situation, so we are in a better position to do something about it. When we unpack the simple facts – that this person, place, thing, or situation merely exists, just as it is, and drop the drama surrounding it – we open ourselves to finding a way of dealing it with that brings us back to serenity.
The fact is that whatever’s got you in a twist IS happening, so by default, it IS acceptable as just a thing that’s going on in the universe, no different than air flowing in and out of your nostrils, or nickels being silver. It just IS, no matter how you feel about it. Finding peace and serenity is about modifying something within yourself so that the bothersome situation no longer has control over you and drives you to a drink or drug.
The feelings that we fight the hardest have the biggest stranglehold on our peace of mind. We get so focused on wanting a person or situation to change to meet our standards, that we miss out on the opportunity to examine why it’s tweaking us so much and do something to fix that. When my ex-husband failed to pay my daughter’s tuition bill again, it tipped off a chain reaction involving her calling me at 6am in a national-disaster-scale panic, missing out on the classes she needs to graduate on time, and my having to redirect the nine grand I had reserved for Uncle Sam to the Bursar at Temple University. I immediately saw stars and shot off a text filled with unkind words and a patent THIS IS UNACCEPTABLE! And then it hit me. He apparently found this situation perfectly acceptable, or he’d have played his hand differently. I was the only one in that moment contemplating a hate crime. While his failing to meet a commitment was irresponsible and disappointing, the fact is that it happened, and I needed to decide to accept it if I didn’t want to end up in the ER or the back of a police cruiser. Accepting it gave me the freedom to breathe, take care of business, and redirect my attention to things that bring me joy before I wound up shopping the vodka aisle.
For forever and a day I rallied hard against the notion that I had a drinking problem. “My life is so stressful. All the moms drink like this. You’re just a lightweight. If you had the day I did, you’d need four martinis before dinner too. I just didn’t eat enough. It won’t happen again. Really, I enjoy my blood pressure being over 200.” Ad infinitum. When I accepted that I was simply a garden variety alcoholic and there was nothing exceptional about the line of horse manure I’d been feeding everyone, I was able to look at it objectively and formulate an action plan. For me to discover the release I was searching for at the bottom of a bottle, my job didn’t need to get easier. My kid didn’t need to start cleaning her room with the zeal of an interior decorator. My husband didn’t need to stop telling me that we don’t need any more dogs. The only thing that needed to change was me and my attitude.
The notion of acceptance doesn’t only apply to my addiction, but it’s a pretty solid way of ensuring that I don’t fall back into patterns of thinking that buzz kill my serenity and make a drink look like a shrewd decision. Today I make a concerted effort to examine the feeling beneath my agitation and find a way to reframe my attitude toward it.
I still get disturbed, and there are still whole days that I allow myself to wallow in resentment and self-pity until I decide that the feeling stinks like boiled brussels sprouts and I’d rather be happy than right. It’s always the better choice and getting to the bottom of why I’m tweaked allows me to grow and not be a cranky old fart to everyone around me. I’ve found that people seem to appreciate that, and since being a people pleaser is also on the list of things I’m working on, it’s a win-win. Hey, I’m a work in progress.