Most people have heard many, many times. The ability to apply it is a different story. Acceptance is understanding. In the recovery community, we often use acceptance in relation to accepting that some things in life cannot be changed. So many people spend a lot of time being angry, hurt, or trying to change things they cannot change. It’s a waste of time and energy and only yields aggravation and unhappiness in return.
What acceptance does not mean is thinking that you’re a bad person because you behaved badly in your past. Bad, unhealthy behavior does not make a bad person. It’s just bad behavior. The amazing thing about bad behaviors is that you can discontinue them. If someone were a bad person, they wouldn’t feel the guilt and shame that comes at some point after they do something. “Bad” people don’t feel guilt and shame. In fact, they feel that their actions are logical and justified.
The idea of acceptance is often distorted. The distortion occurs when we try to accept something that we can change. In this way, we hide behind a word as an excuse to not do the work to grow. The distortion occurs when we try to accept something that we can change as something we cannot. Something along the lines of “I’ve been using/drinking for 30 years, it’s too late for me”, “I’ll always screw up whatever I do”, or “I can’t help it, this is just how I am”.
Accepting yourself means accepting that you cannot change your past; who you were, what you did, or what you said. You have to accept that you cannot control your alcohol/drug use. You have to accept responsibility for choices you have made in the past and choices you will make in the future. You also have to accept the fact that as long as you are willing to do the work, you can change who you are today, what you do and who you become in the future. YOU choose who you are today, how you behave and the words you say. YOU choose who to want to become in the future.
Here is one of my favorite poems. Read it, re-read it, and keep it:
by Virginia Satir
I AM ME
In all the world, there is no one else exactly like me
Everything that comes out of me is authentically me
Because I alone chose it – I own everything about me
My body, my feelings, my mouth, my voice, all my actions,
Whether they be to others or to myself – I own my fantasies,
My dreams, my hopes, my fears – I own all my triumphs and
Successes, all my failures and mistakes Because I own all of
Me, I can become intimately acquainted with me – by so doing
I can love me and be friendly with me in all my parts – I know
There are aspects about myself that puzzle me, and other
Aspects that I do not know – but as long as I am
Friendly and loving to myself, I can courageously
And hopefully look for solutions to the puzzles
And for ways to find out more about me – However I
Look and sound, whatever I say and do, and whatever
I think and feel at a given moment in time is authentically
Me – If later some parts of how I looked, sounded, thought
And felt turn out to be unfitting, I can discard that which is
Unfitting, keep the rest, and invent something new for that
Which I discarded – I can see, hear, feel, think, say, and do
I have the tools to survive, to be close to others, to be
Productive to make sense and order out of the world of
People and things outside of me – I own me, and
therefore I can engineer me – I am me and
I AM OKAY
© 1970, 1975 by Virginia Satir.
This is acceptance…owning all of you, good and bad; your thoughts, decisions, actions, and behaviors gives you the power to change. Accepting yourself is knowing that at the end of the day you can shape yourself into the kind of person you choose to be.