I work and teach in the recovery industry, and I can honestly say there is no one I have more love, empathy, and respect for than the individual who is in early recovery. By far, the most difficult journey I have ever taken was my first year of recovery. Painful doesn’t begin to describe the horror I lived through in that first twelve months. When I entered the rooms, I felt like I was carrying a cross to my own crucifixion. I bore so much hurt on my worn-out frame that I had little hope I was going to make it. I would have preferred a crown of thorns piercing into my flesh over the internal daggers tearing at my mind from the inside out. My head was in psychological torment.
With such odds against us, it’s a miracle that any of us ever makes it into sobriety, much less be able to stay and grow there. Many of us arrive into the rooms so devastatingly broken, we are unable to continue on life’s plan. We come in spiritually bankrupt, delusional, angry, ruthless, resentful, hurt, wounded, prideful, devastated, and defensive. Despite all this, by the grace of God, we are able to hear bits and pieces of the message in the meetings which provide us with glimpses of hope. Then, on the flipside, we hear those things that leave us completely baffled, bewildered, and frustrated.
When they quip, “Acceptance is the key” what are they talking about? In early recovery, I remember being completely submerged in self-pity, crying my eyes out in front of my cold-hearted sponsor, only to hear her say the most ridiculous thing I had ever heard in my life: “Acceptance is the key.” What?! Was she nuts? Why would she say something so unfeeling and callous? Didn’t she hear me tell her what those people did to me? It was one of those instances where I was left completely baffled, bewildered, and frustrated.
My sponsor understood acceptance was the key to serenity which would open the door, and enable my pursuit of happiness. She knew that until I was capable of grasping the concept of acceptance, I was going to remain behind the locked doors of my tortured mind, forever enduring those daggers of resentment, relentlessly, stabbing at my mental torment.
Clarification to my sponsor’s baffling reply trickled in slowly, in bits and pieces. Through the consistent exposure of Reinhold Niebuhr’s well-known prayer, which is popular in recovery: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference”, and the reading: “Acceptance is the answer to all my problems today” on page 417 of the fourth edition of AA’s Big Book, in a chapter called “Acceptance Was the Answer”, and also by observing the actions and acceptance of the old-timers in the rooms, I began to understand the phenomena of acceptance.
Finally understanding the need for acceptance, I then turned to the questions “Why do we pray to God to grant and not give us serenity?” Why can’t we just pray for God to give us serenity to accept the things we cannot change? Why do we have to work so hard for acceptance? Why can’t it be easy? My sponsor gently informed me that my questions were examples of my not accepting. I could not move forward until I accepted the process of recovery. I had to accept there were things I was not going to be able to understand but, if I wanted to pursue happiness, I would need to accept the direction I was being given.
Acceptance doesn’t have to be difficult, but we make it difficult. We continue to burn and steam over the things we are most powerless over. We continue to harbor grudges over and over because of something that happened to us in the past. The work in recovery teaches how to go through those piercing daggers of resentments and to discard them one by one. We cannot re-frame our thinking about resentments until we are ready to give up our current way of processing life. We can choose to keep dodging the internal daggers of resentment in our mind or we can choose acceptance.