How Acceptance Solidified My Success in Sobriety

Some days, I look in the mirror and ask myself, “Who is this person?” I’m over here doing things I never imagined were possible: accepting things I never thought I would and changing things I never thought I could. I certainly wasn’t able to do either when I was out there drinking and using.

In those days, I struggled with pretending to have everything, wanting something other than what I had, and lacking the willingness to work hard for what I wanted. I battled a constant need for control, despite the fact that, because of my substance use, I was unable to control anything. I was utterly resistant to making an effort to change. Why? Because really accepting there is a problem – even when you know one exists – is so fundamentally challenging for the ego-driven addict. Letting go of the one thing you hold so close, despite it being your downfall, still feels impossible – like a loss you’re unwilling to grieve.

A need for control

To me, acceptance is a willingness to take on something that feels less than ideal but is assumed to be for the greater good – something you would not necessarily choose, per se, but that you recognize as being in the hands of a power greater and more wise than yourself. It is realizing that we do not always know what’s best – recognizing that we don’t have control over most things in life, and that’s okay. This very nature of acceptance is what makes it liberating. It is also what makes it so ridiculously difficult.

As far back as I can remember, I have always been a control freak – and a perfectionist one, at that. That’s probably why I’m (happily) single. But as many of us who suffer from addiction can relate, perfectionists and control freaks have a difficult time managing our lives as we get older, as we recognize life looks much different than what we expected.

To the perfectionist control freak, this is hardly acceptable. As I started to understand I often had little control over my life and the way things turned out, I was not content. I wanted to escape a life I saw as imperfect. I needed to remove myself from the feeling that I was not measuring up as I thought I should – that I wasn’t who I wanted to be.

Friends become enemies

This is where alcohol and drugs crept in as warm, fuzzy friends, misrepresenting themselves as temporary saviors. But my friends quickly became “frenemies.” As my binge drinking started to turn to frequent blackouts and questionable or illegal behavior, my difficulties with acceptance worsened. I struggled more with pretending to have everything, wanting something other than what I had, and not having the willingness to actually put in the hard work to get it.

I was still utterly resistant to making efforts to change. Why? Because really accepting that there is a problem – even when you know one exists – is so challenging for the ego-driven addict.  Letting go of the one thing that you hold so close, despite it being your downfall, still feels impossible – like a loss you’re unwilling to grieve. But acceptance is not only possible, it is also absolutely necessary for a peaceful and successful life in recovery – and for life in general.

Finding awareness

So how does one come to learn acceptance when, as a society, we are led to believe all things are possible if we only want it badly enough?

For those of us who have struggled with addiction, we know that simply wanting to recover is not enough. For so long, I was in total denial that I even had a problem, despite the myriad of consequences my altered state brought me. My final rock bottom led me to an awakening – a point of awareness and acceptance where I knew my life would only continue to deteriorate if I did not admit my substance use problem. Although society tells us that drinking and partying are what we are owed to “unwind,” I had to accept that substances brought me nothing but misery and destruction. I had to actively make a change.

While I did not get in trouble every time I drank, I had to admit that every time I got in trouble, I was drinking. This allowed me to accept that I had to quit or my life would be ruined (or taken). Acceptance was the ultimate act of letting go – of surrendering control – and for this control freak addict, it felt like being able to breathe for the first time. It’s learning to release some things to the universe, and with that comes liberation – a proverbial weight off the shoulders. Releasing that weight allows us to focus our energy on something worthwhile. 

Willingness to change

I hope anyone who struggles with “controlling it all” recognizes that life improves dramatically when we realize we don’t have a hand in everything. We don’t have to like what others do, we don’t have to worry about others’ opinions, we don’t have to do it all perfectly. Letting go and accepting the parts of life we cannot control – no matter the circumstance – is the ultimate act of liberating ourselves. 

And acceptance is the answer to all my problems today. When I am disturbed, it is because I find some person, place, thing, or situation—some fact of my life—unacceptable to me, and I can find no serenity until I accept that person, place, thing, or situation as being exactly the way it is supposed to be at this moment. Nothing, absolutely nothing, happens in God’s world by mistake. Until I could accept my alcoholism, I could not stay sober; unless I accept life completely on life’s terms, I cannot be happy” (AA Big Book, Fourth Edition, P417).

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