I’m going to get a bit more personal in my post today, why not? After all, I live through myself and my insights are gleaned through my lenses, so I’ll write that way. I love language, the symbolism of it, the flexibility of it, and the understanding it seeks to equivocate; remember that each of us filter symbols through our experiences of them. One experience I’ve been having that is best symbolized as a process of acceptance is the joyous and difficult arrival of my twin boys. It has been quite the change in my life and that of my family as well. The luxury of routine was stripped from my wife and I forcing a painful and exhausting adaptation. It’s been sink or swim around here. Thankfully, we are learning to swim! In this discussion I will speak to the paradoxical constant that is change, and how we can seek to accept the changes happening all around and within us as gracefully as possible.
Radical Acceptance is on of the core principles of DBT. At 32 years of age I’ve finally discovered the meaning of acceptance for myself, and not simply the dictionary version. I’d formerly written off acceptance as that hard thing I know I’m supposed to do, heard was good to do, was told how to do, and subsequently never did well. While working with a student it came to me that what I’d been calling acceptance was not actual acceptance, but rather surrender. A bitter surrender at that. When something hard or seemingly impossible to change came around, I found that my claim to have accepted this new reality was primarily giving up on it, them, or myself. This throwing in of the towel was typically and closely trailed by a growing feeling of resentment towards the agent of change, which was anything from other people to the weather patterns. Change was bad, I could do nothing about it, and I hated change for it! This was the antithesis of actual acceptance.
Meaning of Acceptance
Here’s what I’ve found acceptance to be:
Taking people and things as they are, doing the very best I can with them, and to do so without an expectation that the person or thing will change while hoping the person or thing might change in a positive way including myself. To be grateful for things as they are.
Furthermore, I have learned that genuine acceptance creates serenity, sound familiar? The Serenity Prayer is really a template for how to work through change or the lack of it. What ought I accept, what ought I change? Now, the third part and most dismissed, is knowing what to change or not; the wisdom’s missing. It seems simple to discern what can be altered and what cannot be, however our actions often tell a different story when we say one thing and do, well, the same thing again and again hoping that something will change rather than ourselves having to change. Ring another bell? Einstein famously quipped that “Insanity is doing the same things and expecting different results.” What he was saying is that failure to accept (remember the new definition for it) change including the changes we have to make often leads to deep resentment, anger, stagnation, and frustration that may drive a person insane. Unless the result of this consistency is positive, then you’d be crazy to stop, but that’s another topic for another post.
Loss is the most salient type of change I see painfully shouldered in my role as a therapist at Sunrise, parents carry it for their daughters while their daughters are constantly haunted by it. The first loss they each experience is the reality of a treatment center away from home. No parent considers upon the arrival of their new child “hmmm, isn’t he/she a beautiful baby?! And, in just 13-17 years down the road, this little bundle of joy is going to be in a treatment center, in Utah.” And, yet here you are. Likewise, no adolescent upon anticipating the highly chronicled coming of age rituals of teenage life pre-determine being sent away to an RTC. Yet, they are here too! This deviation from what was hoped for, planned for, dreamt for creates immense loss to both parents and child, which loss must be identified, owned, and processed to achieve acceptance of change and positive change itself. In this special case the change is primarily internal as parents and child jointly accept the reality of where they are, how they got here, and what comes next that will be different from previous plans.
Finally, acceptance takes work, it takes sacrifice, it hurts. Serenity may feel serene, however, it’s is born of out stress and effort. The only thing more painful than giving up and giving in on ones hopes, plans, and expectations, is to accept they will be different but not to let them go entirely. This is one of the meanings of “walking the middle path.” Coming full circle, I’ve been slowly reclaiming small parts of my life before the twins came while also striving to enjoy this special time in their lives with them void of resentment. I’ve been instead feeling gratitude, and it has made accepting this new reality far better! Full circle back to you the Sunrise parent, your daughter is here, yes, and she will need special help while she is here to address serious and significant challenges. You’re here too, and we will seek to support you in your new reality as well. This was not the plan any of you had in mind. Yet, here (Sunrise and the path you’ve initiated to wellness and acceptance) is much better than there (the struggles that precipitated choosing RTC care). Now, let’s do our best with this unforeseen reality while looking to change what you can while learning to be ok with things as they are when they can’t be; here’s to acceptance!