Addiction is a life-altering disease that subjects those suffering from it to intense suffering and frequently renders family and friends helpless to intervene. Those grappling with addictive behaviors often face great difficulty in accepting the reality of their current situation, and many deeply resent the negative consequences they find themselves facing. Active addiction routinely sabotages personal and professional happiness, interferes with sound judgment, and leads to permanent repercussions such as criminal records and lasting health problems. All too often, these combined issues lead in only one direction—rock bottom.
Undoubtedly, one of the greatest challenges for those struggling with addiction lies in learning how to accept their current reality. Although they may initially feel that by accepting their chaotic and dysfunctional life situation they are admitting defeat, they are actually self-empowering and developing the tools necessary to achieve lasting sobriety. The following information provides a general guideline for practicing the art of acceptance:
- The Courage to Face Facts—numerous psychological studies and spiritual traditions have proven that the very foundation of change lies in the acceptance of reality. Addiction is a disease characterized by pathological behaviors such as denial, minimization, and avoidance—all of which combine to create an alternate reality. Breaking these stubborn, deeply entrenched patterns requires courage and honesty. The long-cherished Serenity Prayer, recited at the beginning and end of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meetings for decades, echoes this truth: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things we cannot change, the courage to change the things we can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
- Relinquishing the Need for Control—addictive and co-dependent behaviors are rooted in the inability to give up the need for control. Many addicts are survivors of trauma, abuse, and/or family dysfunction who manage their darker, unhealed emotions by escaping into pleasurable states. Although this coping mechanism may work under certain circumstances that are within their immediate control, such behavior becomes highly problematic whenever people, situations, or events cannot be managed or controlled by getting “high.” This is exactly why the first, and arguably most important, step in AA involves the admission of powerless over addiction. Without acknowledging this fact, there can be no positive change.
- Implementing Change—human beings are habits of creature, a fact which makes change difficult for most people—especially those battling addiction. When the Serenity Prayer encourages us to “change the things we can,” it is referring to a new, healthy approach to navigating reality. It is asking us to no longer escape into the delusion of fantasy and blame-assigning and make practical, tangible steps toward healing based upon integrity and self-accountability. Experiencing a happier, healthier reality depends entirely upon this decision.
- Acceptance Doesn’t Mean Quitting—there are always aspects of life that remain outside of our immediate control. The simple fact is that addiction is a chronic, relapsing disease that cannot be immediately reversed. And, even when great progress is made toward identifying and eliminating its causes, that does not guarantee a return to our pre-addiction state. Regardless of the difficulties that loom ahead on the path toward recovery, accepting what cannot be changed goes a long way toward helping us find inner peace while effectively changing whatever we can on a daily basis.
- The Power of Emotional Sobriety—physical sobriety depends upon emotional sobriety. On the journey to recovery, the health and clarity of our emotions directly impacts both short and long-term outcomes. We’ve all probably heard the expression, “the relapse before the relapse,” which alludes to the power of our underlying emotional condition in influencing our recovery-based decisions.
- Stages of the Journey—in many ways, the stages of recovery mirror those of other spiritual and psychological processes. For example, denial is widely understood to be the first stage of both recovery and grief, followed in succession by anger, bargaining, depression and, finally, acceptance. Although acceptance represents the ultimate goal in this multi-stage journey, it is only by successfully transitioning through the other four stages that it can be achieved. For most people in recovery, this process is gradual and beset by many challenges, but entirely worth the investment.