The other day, I was visiting with a friend whom I hadn’t seen for almost a year. I told her I was about to write an article on acceptance. Without hesitation she said, “Life-changing.”
Acceptance. What a concept! This is something we humans often have great difficulty understanding. We like to feel we have influence on everything and everyone in our lives. It’s our right and our duty. As one who has loved numerous addicts and alcoholics most of my adult life, I can tell you that acceptance didn’t enter my realm of thought for a very long time. Speaking for myself (although I know I represent thousands of loved ones everywhere), addiction in my family was not acceptable and I was going to do everything in my power to make sure it was gone from our family as soon as possible. It wasn’t until I realized how little power I really had with this issue, did I begin to think about the concept of acceptance. I spent the majority of my time trying to figure out how to change others and make them see things my way—the right way, of course. It was a difficult lesson to learn and it took a long time, but I did finally get that I could have spent my time much more wisely.
It was not a matter of just accepting others and their choices,which is a very difficult thing to do, it was more than that. It was also releasing judgements, and understanding that everyone is unique and their perspectives are often different than ours.
In my world, I can offer two very specific examples of how being able to accept who people are and how what is was life-changing for me.
I have a loved one who has been in my life forever . Her life choices were unacceptable to me. For a long time, any time I had to be around her or make decisions regarding her, my body would tense, my stomach would get queasy, and I projected all kinds of bad things to happen. It totally affected my physiology and temperament. After I learned and embraced the concept of acceptance and stopped trying to get her to be someone I wanted her to be, all that stopped. She did not change. I changed. My time spent with her these days are pleasant, enjoyable, and not about me. I choose to accept who she is and appreciate the best parts of her.
My second example is something that many of us loved ones will relate to. When we discover addiction in our world, we often feel guilt that we’ve done something to cause this. Even when we know deep down inside this is probably not the case, that thought often stays in the back of our minds. We are embarrassed to share our troubles and often suffer in silence. When I released my book to help people with tools and strategies to cope with loving an addict, two major things happened to me. First, people who had been keeping the same secret came and thanked me for the tools and also for giving them someone to talk to who would not judge them. They felt accepted. It was life-changing for some of them.
The other thing that happened was that I received letters and emails from people telling me what a bad parent I must have been to have a child who had trouble with substance abuse. At first each letter pushed me back into the mode of guilt. After over six years of writing on the topic of loving those with mental health and substance use and misuse issues, hosting my radio show with experts on the topic, and advocating for this population, I’d like to say I am secure in what I do and why I do it. But, just this week I ran into a situation which had a very surprising effect on me and made me wonder about my ability to embrace the concept of acceptance. Someone very close to me was questioned by a family member whom he loves dearly, why he would want to associate with someone like me, who has addiction in the family. Momentarily, it took me back to when I first got those letters. I realize now how important it is to accept ourselves first and foremost, without judgement, to be able to truly move on …. Life-changing!