The first two steps of AA’s twelve-step program are as follows:
1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.
2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
Both take a great deal of acceptance. First, accepting you have a problem. And second, accepting to believe in a power greater than yourself.
Whether you’re recovering from substance abuse, mental health issues, an eating disorder, or any other addiction and maladaptive coping mechanism, these twelve steps can help you along your road to recovery.
You can choose to look at it as the first step of recovery from anything is learning to accept. Accept what’s happened. Accept what’s been done to you or what you’ve done. Accept the illness, injury, pain and suffering your life brings you.
When you accept you stop avoiding. And when you’re not avoiding anymore, you find you don’t need your maladaptive coping mechanisms anymore. When you’re not avoiding even things that feel out of our control like anxiety and depression become less powerful. When you’re done avoiding you put your dukes down, you call the fight and you move on.
But if acceptance were so easy, we wouldn’t find ourselves addicted to drugs or drinking too much or sleeping with inappropriate partners or spending too much or any number of the unhealthy habits we need to recover from in the first place. Think about how many panic attacks are rooted in control issues. And how often depression is the result of long term unhappiness over the pitfalls in life. So much of this could be lessened through acceptance.
That isn’t to say you’ll never be anxious or sad again if you simply shrug your shoulders and say, “Ah well, it is what it is.” No, those emotions are normal and a part of life. But, I believe they can be prevented from spiraling out of control if instead of running from them, fighting them or freezing at the mere presence of them, we accept them and allow for them to have their space in our lives for the time being.
To start practicing acceptance, start with self-acceptance. Start by looking at both the positive and negative sides to your personality, and do so with a neutral perspective.
Whatever it is you don’t like about yourself, try to detach from the judgement of it. Begin to recognize all sides to yourself so that instead of getting angry or frustrated with yourself, you can more quickly recognize a trigger. And every day for as long as you need, tell yourself throughout the day, you are who you are and you’re doing the best you can with what you have.
Then practice loving-kindness meditations towards yourself. Sit or lay with your eyes closed or open. Begin centering by focusing on your breath. If it helps, do a body scan to relax by bringing your awareness to different parts of the body beginning at the crown or your head and ending in your feet relaxing the body as you move. And then, silently repeat any or all of the affirmations below as many times as you’d like:
- May I be happy
- May I be healthy
- May I love myself
- May I accept myself for who I am
- May I accept that I am doing my best
- May I believe I am enough
Practice this loving-kindness meditation daily for at least twenty-one days and you’ll find you’ll become gentler with yourself. And when we begin to accept ourselves with all our glorious flaws and imperfections, it becomes easier to accept life with all its flaws and imperfections.