DBT Skills and Radical Acceptance Exercises
How often do you say things like:
- “It’s not fair!”
- “What did I ever do to deserve this?!”
- “Everything is always against me.”
Feeling that way on occasion is only human. Dwelling on it, however, only feeds long-term bitterness. Too often, people eventually turn to toxic habits to numb that “everything’s hopeless” feeling.
Addiction vs. Reality
While the first few instances of drug misuse are nearly always voluntary, habitual misuse can alter brain physiology until severe psychological and physical effects ensue whenever a dose is skipped. Drug use, which started as a means of escaping life’s unpleasant realities, has become a life-dominating substance use disorder, aka drug addiction.
Most people with this problem habitually deny it: “It’s not that bad. Besides, it’s everyone else’s fault for making my life so stressful.” In any form or situation, the attitude “Life is always picking on me for no reason” is itself denial that there’s any good to be found, or that one has any personal control.
A key step toward freedom, then, is re-rooting thoughts in reality.
DBT (dialectical behavior therapy) was developed in the late 20th century as a treatment for borderline personality disorder. Subsequently expanded to other mental/behavioral illnesses, DBT teaches patients to regulate themselves by practicing:
- Mindfulness (experiencing the present moment without judgment)
- Radical acceptance (knowing when and how not to fight reality)
- Distress tolerance (healthy self-soothing in painful situations)
- Understanding of what one can control (especially one’s own words and behavior)
It’s important to realize that you can’t heal yourself by simply employing these skills on your own: therapy (individual and group) is in DBT for a reason. That said, you can’t recover from a problem based in “me the victim” thinking without practicing personal initiative. Let’s look closer at one DBT skill: radical acceptance.
Understanding and Exercising Radical Acceptance
It’s a common misconception that acceptance equals fatalistic resignation: hence the qualifier “radical” to emphasize that this includes change and initiative. To DBT practitioners, radical acceptance means giving up the fight against things you desperately want to change and can’t—thus freeing personal resources for what you can change. With addiction and/or mental illness, radical acceptance includes admitting you can’t recapture a “normal” life by sheer willpower, but you can actively seek help with which you can recover. And you can look forward to a bright future, even if that future can’t be all you hoped it would be.
Lifelong success in addiction recovery can be helped with the following radical-acceptance exercises:
- Practice daily letting-go via meditation or contemplative prayer.
- Pursue your individual passions regularly, in work and leisure.
- Plan your daily schedule according to your true priorities and available time, rather than trying to force in everything you wish you could.
- Practice cutting self-pity short with truth-exploring questions: “Is it literally true that ‘nothing ever goes right’? What evidence do I have to the contrary?”
- In seriously-hurtful-but-unalterable situations, cry freely for what’s lost—then pick yourself up, count your remaining blessings, and move on without bitterness or “maybe this will change” denial. (If you’re haunted by old and still-painful situations, talk with your therapist about ways to put things into perspective and go forward.)
- If you’re feeling stuck in a current unpleasant situation, ask yourself: “Am I really stuck, or am I free to leave even if it hurts? What are the objective reasons to leave or not leave? If it’s best not to leave, how will I exercise radical acceptance within the situation?”
Finally, take control of your health—and keep up strength for resisting temptation—by prioritizing exercise, nutrition, and sleep. And, again, radical acceptance includes understanding you can’t handle everything alone. In recovery and the rest of life, surround yourself with healthy give-and-take friendships, and never be ashamed to ask for help!
Releasing the Past, Working with the Present, Building the Future Through Radical Acceptance
Much substance addiction is rooted in pain and bitterness. At Beach House, we emphasize trauma resolution, core change, and individualized treatment in recovery from drug and alcohol addiction. If you or someone you’re close to has an addiction disorder and wants to find healing, contact us today to get started!