In Recovery - The Difference between Acceptance and Passivity
There’s an old expression that dictates there are three types of people in the world: 1. those who make things happen, 2. those who watch things happen, and 3. those who wonder what happened.
In this light we see three types of folks:
Those of us who are passive or unaware usually struggle to be honest with ourselves about the direction our lives are heading in.
Those active in addiction are the most accomplished in self deception. Rationalizing and justifying are the tools required to continue using. The disease of addiction seeks to hold its captives unaware and requires that they be passive regarding resistance.
Until I could accept my alcoholism, I could not stay sober... Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th Edition p. 417
From Passivity to Active Acceptance
In recovery, being passive means simply receiving what you need.
Early on, this is appropriate, assuming that you’ve surrounded yourself with people who have what you need and are willing to offer it. The saltiest of old timers in AA gruffly (but fairly) tell us to “take the cotton out of your ears and put it in your mouth.”
- Listen. Absorb. Learn. Understand that there is a solution and that You’re Eligible Too (Y.E.T.) to receive it.
So for those who are willing to do whatever it takes, the first year of recovery can be a series of following instructions and being accountable for what we say we will do.
However, as we mature in our recovery programs, being passive becomes increasingly ineffective. It’s easy to stay stuck in the fear. Many of us become resigned and grow no further. We misuse the expression of acceptance that, “it is what it is.”
Falling into a Passivity Trap
Why do we get stuck in passivity?
- We get stuck as we glimpse the magnitude of change ahead and this leads us toward a plethora of pitfalls.
- We get stuck as we fail to separate what we can change from what we cannot.
- We get stuck because we struggle alone.
We learn the hard way that the biggest pitfall of all is becoming complacent. Being passive in this respect is like standing in quicksand.
Becoming Active in Recovery
…Unless I accept my life completely on life's terms, I cannot be happy- Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th Edition p. 417
Becoming active in recovery involves expanding your awareness of what you need and your willingness to ask for help in attaining it.
- We are forced to accept discomfort because healing, growth, and learning cannot take place within our current comfort zones.
- We have to venture out in order to get our needs met (wants come later).
Celebrate Your Victories!
When we prevail it is imperative that we internalize (hold in our hearts) our successes because this allows us to expand our comfort zone to include the gains we’ve made (the alternative is perpetual surprise that things go well). Taking pride in our achievements is difficult because it involves self awareness. The hardest thing for us to come to terms with is ourselves.
This is why we must view acceptance as a process. It’s choosing to work through instead of avoiding or rejecting. When we are conflicted, acceptance is best conceptualized, put into practice, and achieved through the 5 stages of grief.
- Denial (the exact opposite of acceptance)
- Anger (covers up what we really feel loss, pain, shame, fear)
- Bargaining (an attempt to manipulate an impossibility)
- Depression (passive experience of pain) - Grieving (active expression)
This process is exhausting but satisfying. In recovery we come to accept that there will always be another process to undergo, another conflict to resolve, and another piece to let go of. We embrace these as simply further opportunities to grow and we celebrate each success. This is what it truly means to be a “work in progress.”
"And acceptance is the answer to all my problems today. When I am disturbed, It is because I find some person, place, thing, 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.” - Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th Edition p. 417
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