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March 14, 2019

The Power of Acceptance (vs. Resignation)

“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.”    –The Serenity Prayer by Reinhold Neibuhr

Many people don’t know the difference. They fight things they can’t change and resign themselves to things they could do something about. Often, the two problems are connected: those who spend their energy resenting a world that won’t cooperate with their convenience, wind up too fatigued and frustrated to do much of anything else. Ask the typical addiction-disorder patient why she resorted to the toxic solution of drowning her miseries chemically, and the response will be something like, “I figured nothing ever went right for me anyway, so taking something to ease the pain was all I could do.”

Why bother trying to improve on life if you’re convinced you’ll fail (or be sabotaged) no matter what you do? At least drugs let you forget the hopelessness for a while. Unfortunately, by hurting your ability to think and otherwise function, they also make life (and self) seem even more hopeless in the not-so-long run. The more you’re convinced the world is “driving you to drink,” the less you can see any alternative. And while the high rate of relapse in addiction is partly due to addiction’s being a chronic disorder, labeling oneself “just a drunk” doesn’t help anyone’s sobriety resolve.  

So how can you “accept the things you cannot change” without including your addiction among those things?

PUT OFF THE VICTIM MENTALITY

Those who complain about how life treats them not only burn up energy they could be using to cope, they forget they’re even capable of coping. To them, other people and/or blind fate hold all the power, and all you can do is keep them as happy as possible and hope they’re eventually satisfied enough to make your life better for you, just as they’re making it difficult right now.

While it’s true you can’t control the weather, the traffic or every unreasonable idea other people have, you do have the power:

  • To say “no” when you realize a request isn’t best for you or anyone else
  • To adapt your schedule to avoid having to rush
  • To form a realistic picture of “the worst thing that could happen if I don’t do this,” and to accept the worst for the sake of a greater good
  • To recognize your own strengths and where they are best used
  • To count your blessings instead of sinking into self-pity

Victor Frankl, who spent much of World War II in a Nazi concentration camp, said one thing he learned was that no one and nothing can take away the power to choose one’s attitude. Whatever your own circumstances, surely they’re no worse than what he went through!

SEE THE GOOD IN YOUR CIRCUMSTANCES

Dale Carnegie’s classic self-help book How to Stop Worrying and Start Living includes testimony from a woman who had decided to commit suicide in despair over her family’s financial struggles, when an overheard hymn on the radio jolted her into the realization she had been devaluing all the blessings she still had. She resolved to change her mindset to gratitude and stick out whatever came, and as her attitude improved, so did her circumstances.

Although science hasn’t explained exactly how it works, few experts doubt that focusing on your blessings in the present gives you power to change your future for the better. Being content where you are doesn’t mean resigning yourself to staying there forever: learning to see clearly that the good outweighs the bad will help you also see more clearly what you can change and how.

SEE THE GOOD IN YOURSELF

If there’s anything worse than the attitude “Life is hopeless,” it’s the attitude “I am hopeless.” Yes, you made some serious mistakes. Yes, maybe you shouldn’t have taken those early pills in the first place. But there’s a difference between doing foolish, even terrible, things and being a fool who’s incapable of anything good. Make amends for your wrongdoings, but also look at your strengths and find positive ways to use them. And make a habit of reminding yourself daily of your good points and your potential. (Also, surround yourself with others who believe in you: ditch the emotionally abusive relationships.)

BE PATIENT

There’s a saying that God answers prayers in three ways: “Yes,” “No” or “Wait.” Especially in our impatient age where few people live by the plowing-and-harvest-seasons cycle, it’s too easy to mistake a “Wait” for a “No.” If you really believe in something, don’t give up when your first attempts don’t show obvious progress. Take a short rest, then try again. Get a few friends to help you watch for the progress, however incremental, when it comes. Get them also to help you watch for signs you should change direction and perhaps get an even better result than you originally planned on.

Finally: if your overriding feeling is despair, your “acceptance” is probably unhealthy resignation. But if you have genuine serenity about a situation, that’s a sign of healthy acceptance.

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