There are no two ways about it; we all wish we could change some things in our lives. This is especially true of those in recovery. We wish we could change the past, things we said or did, even our current circumstances, progress, or feelings. In recovery, though, we quickly learn that not all things are changeable. The Serenity Prayer tells us we need to “accept the things we cannot change,” and we need to—for our sanity, peace of mind, and emotional sobriety.
Acceptance has played a huge role in my recovery, and I’ve seen the difference it’s made in the recovery of others. When we live in denial, we can’t grow and heal, which makes sobriety even harder than it already is. It makes us feel stuck and unable to move. But when we live in acceptance, we are better able to stay sober, live happily, and be fulfilled.
Recovery is a time of continuous learning, bearing with it many lessons. Sometimes those lessons are absorbed quickly and easily, but other times they are hard-fought and seem to take forever. The lesson of acceptance has often been the latter for me, something I’ve had to work hard for—and sometimes still have to work hard to maintain. I’ve learned a lot about acceptance along the way, though, and when I remember the following things my life is better, my recovery is stronger, and my outlook is happier.
It is what it is. There are so many things out of our control. The faster we learn to accept that things are what they are and they’re just the way they’re supposed to be at the moment, the faster we will come to know peace. I have to remember this when life gets me down and I am wishing for different circumstances; this was very difficult for me in early recovery. I would see other people who had longer sobriety than me. They were happy and spiritually fit, and I wanted to be in the same place. Clearly that wasn’t possible, and I had to learn to accept my own progress was right where it was supposed to be.
It’s a process. Acceptance doesn’t come all at once. Nothing could be truer when it came to accepting my past. I wanted so much for my past to be different—before, during, and after my active drinking. The fact that I couldn’t change any of it, no matter how desperately I wanted to, was hard to swallow, even though the pain of wishing caused much suffering. Acceptance of my past only came gradually, bit by bit, even though I became willing to learn acceptance. I had to be patient with myself and my recovery, and I had to celebrate even the tiniest progress.
You don’t have to like it. I really hated it when a therapist said that to me about acceptance. She explained that acceptance doesn’t mean you condone what happened to you or you approve of how you handled it. You don’t have to like the things you become accepting of, you just have to do it. It makes perfect sense that letting go of the things that cause anger, sadness, or regret would improve my life, but it was still difficult to hear, and equally hard to do.
It’s healing. When you learn to accept the things you cannot change, some miraculous things happen. You begin to see that you are able to cope in a healthy way, no matter what life throws at you. You are able to be mindful—in the present moment, not regretting the past or worrying about the future. You can handle stresses that you couldn’t before. You are able to stop falling into old behaviors that no longer serve you well. You can deal with strong emotions and develop deeper relationships with others. You become emotionally sober and feel optimistic about life. It’s a beautiful and healing progression.
Acceptance in recovery has taught me I can live life on life’s terms. I don’t have to live at the mercy of my past, and I don’t have to be overly concerned about the future. I can live here and now, and know I’m right where I’m supposed to be.