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Stuck in Acceptance.

29 October 2014

One of the core elements of the program of Alcoholics Anonymous is the Serenity Prayer. I’m sure everyone knows it, but for reference:

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.

It actually goes on from there, I’m told, and has additional verses. But for sobriety, those three lines have all the important messages. Alcoholics, as a rule, tend to rage against the things we cannot change, trying to correct them over and over, failing, and developing toxic resentments that end up ruling us, driving us to try to drink them away. Resentment is more poisonous than alcohol. And so learning acceptance, learning to relent from steel grip on rage and simply allow the world to have its way is a powerful tool in our recovery.

Acceptance is the bane of madness. My house leaks. The new door will be more than $2000. This is after many thousands of dollars of plumbing and mold and electrics work. Such is life. I can accept it. I’m in a position to be responsive to these demands, and other courses of action which I might have taken would likely have further disrupted my peace of mind and likely not have resulted in the kind of satisfaction I fantasize about. By focusing on acceptance, and thinking through my circumstances, I can come to peace about the situation, and shed my resentment.

But just as the prayer goes on, so must we. It is possible to get stuck in acceptance, and not move forward in life. Another common character defect of alcoholics (and many others) is to wallow in victimhood. This can masquerade as acceptance fairly easily. We can tell ourselves, “I accept where I am in my life, and I must accept the things I cannot change.” And not actually examine if we have the strength and capacity and opportunity to change our circumstances. This can rapidly become a kind of indulgent self-pity. Poor me, subject to forces I cannot contend with, unable to make progress.

This is especially troublesome for us when we truly are legitimate victims of circumstances beyond our control. Health issues, societal structures, family problems, crimes. These are real things that we cannot control which cause disruptions and difficulties which we must learn to accept if we are not to swim in a morass of resentment. To live freely, we must come to acceptance with real problems.

But there comes a point when we need to step beyond mere acceptance. We need to relinquish our victimhood and take up our courage, and change what we can. At some point, even the most serious and legitimate affronts become wallows that we languish in if we do not move ourselves on. And we cannot blame others for seeing us as perpetual victims – and for their diminished sympathies – when we do not make efforts to rise above the difficulties in our lives. Acceptance of our circumstances is crucial to sobriety, to serenity. But we do not end there.

Change takes courage, and investment, and labor. And once we have accepted our misfortunes, it is time to overcome them.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. 30 October 2014 08:34

    I recently learned of the Finnish word Sisu:

    A similar thing happens with depression recovery/dealing with it. We have to act to move forward, but all to easy to sink into feeling like nothing will ever change no matter what I do. I feel like I’ve been doing better (doing more things to push myself this year than many years past), but still feel stuck, and all to timid in the face of things I could probably change if only I could make a decision (I struggle with decisions). Sisu says keep going. Keep trying. Even small progress is progress. Keep swimming. I don’t have all the answers, just letting you know (as if you’re not aware), you’re not by yourself in struggling with this.

  2. 30 October 2014 14:52

    Mood follows action. My sponsor tells me this. And it is true. My mood immediately and remarkably changes the moment I take any action, especially any action that is in the effort of service to another.

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