“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.”
These words written down in one of the stories in the back of Alcoholics Anonymous reveal one of the great truths of life, yet living out their wisdom is not always easy.
When I first started seeking services and got sober I, like many other alcoholics and addicts, was faced with the ultimate test of acceptance. I had to accept to my innermost self that I suffered from alcoholism and this meant that I could no longer drink or drug like a normal person. I had abused this luxury because of the illness I had and so a life of abstinence was the only way I could move forward with my life. This required me to leave behind many thoughts, beliefs, and actions that I engaged in for years, and the proposition of this was uncomfortable. However, as uncomfortable as accepting these things were, the process of doing it was not particularly difficult once I surrendered to the idea.
Once I fully accepted my alcoholism and all of its ramifications I was able to move into a life of sobriety with relative ease. At times it was difficult, but overall the process went smoothly and within a year I felt like a completely different person. My whole life changed and all of it stemmed from my initial ability to accept my alcoholism.
Fast forward a couple of years and my life looks nothing like the one I left behind in active alcoholism. The scared and broken person I was when I entered rehab is all but gone, and I feel as if I have been given a new lease on life. Although, as much as things have changed for the better, I am currently experiencing a situation that I am finding almost impossible to accept.
After a few years of living in South Florida, I moved back to Virginia in order to be with my children. My expectations of what this would be like have not matched up with the reality of the situation and whereas I had hoped that I would have more than just a visitation schedule with my kids, this has not been the case. Accepting this fact and not getting angry or sad about this is proving to be very difficult, which is what got me thinking about the nature of acceptance and what it means in sobriety.
The question arose for me, why was it so easy for me to accept my alcoholism and other things in my early sobriety but as I have stayed sober for longer there are certain that I find very difficult to accept?
The answer that I have come up with after some reflection is that acceptance is relative and that I often overestimate my ability to accept things. For instance, I find that I will sometimes go into a situation thinking that I will handle it with grace and poise and then I come to find out that this is not the case. When this happens I usually beat myself up for not handling it better, because I look back on times in early sobriety and believe that if I could only accept with such utter faith as I did back then, then everything would be better. This however is not true and the piece of information that I am missing is that it actually took years for me to finally accept my alcoholism and all of the struggles in active addiction are a testament to this.
What I mean by this is that accepting my alcoholism was the result of years of pain and when the pain finally got great enough I was finally able to accept what I needed to. In early sobriety I was riding a crest of willingness and faith due to the inordinate amount of pain I was experiencing and so accepting things felt like they were easier.
As I’ve stayed sober longer the things that I need to accept often do not cause me the same amount of pain that my drinking did and so finding the acceptance necessary to move past them is often a struggle. It does not happen over night, and as I am a human being I need to wrestle with things that I cannot accept until I reach a place of peace with them.
A good example of this is what I am currently going through with my children. It would be nice if I could just wake up tomorrow morning and be at total peace with the fact that getting more than visitation rights with them is going to take time, but if I could do this then I wouldn’t be a mother and I wouldn’t be human. This is something that is important to me and so I know that letting it go and reaching a place of acceptance will take time.
This is something that I have to remember going forward, although as with most lessons I will forget and relearn it many times—acceptance is a process and it takes time. It may not be fun and it may cause me pain, but in time my resistance will turn to faith if I continue to work at it.
Through thinking about this idea of acceptance and my current personal struggles, I think the most important takeaway that I have found is that I have to be gentle with myself. Many times I have fallen into a belief that if I cannot accept something or if I am mad that I must be doing something wrong and this is just not the case. We are human first and alcoholic second and so we are not immune to the deficiencies of the human condition. If I continue to try my best, and focus on the things I need to do, in time there is nothing that I cannot accept, and with this acceptance, peace will be restored to me.