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Practicing Acceptance in Recovery (How to Stay Sober)

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Acceptance—one simple word that can mean so much to those in and out of recovery from alcohol or drugs. Whether you are new to recovery, just thinking about getting sober, or have been blessed to experience years in recovery, acceptance is key to long term sobriety.

Carl Jung, a renowned Swiss psychologist, and psychiatrist who founded analytical psychology said, 

“We cannot change anything unless we accept it.”

When it comes to addiction this statement is all too true—and really the first step on the road to recovery and how to stay sober. There are many types of acceptance that anyone in recovery—or anyone seeking recovery—must embrace for true healing, peace of mind, and sustained recovery to happen. 

Let’s explore three types of acceptance and how each of these helps not only get you sober but also can teach you how to stay sober over the long haul.

Three Types of Acceptance Vital to Staying Sober

1. Acceptance of addiction and reality

When it comes to an alcohol use disorder (AUD) or substance use disorder (SUD), many people are living in denial. This can be true for not only the person with the disorder but also family, friends, co-workers, and more. 

For the person with the addiction, the addiction itself often began as a way to escape reality. Many times what starts out as a way to ‘take the edge off’ becomes a necessary but inefficient way to flee from reality. This can be from family or work-related stress as well as escaping emotional pain from trauma experienced in childhood or adulthood. 

As relief comes with the first drink or drug consumption one’s problems or worries seem to also dissipate. Anyone who has experienced painful feelings from trauma, anxiety, depression, rage, or any other difficult and uncomfortable emotions can vouch, this momentary escape is all too welcomed. Days become weeks, weeks become months, and months become years—before you know it, what was a way to feel better has become a necessity to live. Many are left asking themselves, “how did I get here?”.

Once physical dependence develops, what once was a way to feel better becomes needed to get through the day or to feel somewhat ‘normal’ at all. For anyone who is addicted to alcohol or drugs, you know this well. Many times, more and more of the substance is needed to get that initial ‘high’ or escape. For many, this initial feeling of relief is never found again by using the substance. 

However, anyone with an AUD or SUD will continue to seek that relief—many times to the destruction of body, mind, and soul. This is often when denial—the opposite of acceptance—begins. Faced with the proposition of no longer indulging in alcohol or drugs for that elusive relief, the person with the addiction is in full flight from reality. 

Despite the negative consequences that many face from their addiction, they continue to deny that the alcohol or drug is an issue. Not only do they deny this to those well-meaning loved ones trying to help, but they are in denial to themselves. 

And, this denial can be deadly. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), reported 81,000 overdose deaths in the United States from May 2019 to May 2020. Deb Houry, M.D., M.P.H., director of CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, said “The increase in overdose deaths is concerning. CDC’s Injury Center continues to help and support communities responding to the evolving overdose crisis.” 

This denial can run deep and the tricky part is that despite seeing a litany of serious issues as a result of drinking or drug use, the denial often remains. Not only has the person repeatedly been in denial—often for many years—facing reality is terrifying. The thought of not being able to rely on and use their drug of choice is just too much to face. 

This is where acceptance is key. Acceptance can begin by realizing and admitting that you or your loved one may not be seeing the entire picture as it relates to drinking or drug use. Taking that first, small step of acceptance can open the door to recovery and freedom. 

In 12 Step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA), the first step very much centers around acceptance. 

“We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.”

This admission that alcohol—or another substance—has taken over a person’s life is the first part of acceptance. Accepting that the substance is in control, not the person. This step can be difficult for many as it signifies accepting that the substance so heavily depended on to relieve pain and discomfort no longer works. One is then left with the agonizing and terrible thought—”how do I live without this?”. 

If you or someone you love is living with an AUD or SUD, Futures Recovery Healthcare is here for you. Our compassionate, experienced, and dedicated team members know how difficult getting help—and accepting an addiction—can be. 

At Futures, we offer multiple pathways for recovery so that each person who takes the first brave step and asks for help can have the tools that will best serve them to build a solid foundation in recovery. 

Getting and staying sober begins with this first type of acceptance. Acceptance that you may have a problem, acceptance that you may not be seeing the complete picture of your alcohol or drug use, and acceptance that you may need help. 

This can be the most difficult first step, but, thousands have gone before you and taken this step of acceptance. Many of whom are still in recovery and living lives beyond their wildest dreams. 

2. Self-acceptance

Once you begin to accept that you have an AUD or SUD (or even both) you can begin to take a look at how you got there and what you need to do. This is one of the reasons why choosing an addiction treatment center utilizing evidence-based therapies and comprehensive care is crucial. 

According to the National Institutes on Drug Abuse (NIDA), 7.7 million Americans have both a substance abuse issue as well as another mental health issue. Issues such as anxiety disorders and depressive disorders are commonly found with substance abuse issues. Seeking treatment at a rehab that treats co-occurring mental health conditions is important. Many times, since one has been in denial, the person who enters treatment doesn’t realize they have an underlying mental health issue like anxiety. Being in treatment at an addiction treatment facility that can address these disorders is important. 

Professionals believe, and evidence supports, that treating all mental health disorders and other issues at the same time is vital to sustained recovery. This is where acceptance of oneself comes. 

Addiction and mental health disorders come with stigmas. For many, it is very difficult to admit having these issues. However, self-acceptance is vital for recovery, healing, and peace of mind. 

Self-acceptance means accepting all facets of oneself. The good and likable parts as well as the parts that are weaker and limited. Self-acceptance starts in childhood. To the degree that our parents or caregivers have accepted us is the degree to which we are able to accept ourselves. 

Unfortunately, acceptance from parents or caregivers rests heavily on our behaviors as children, not on who we actually are. Some children are more adventurous, rebellious, independent, and ‘hard to control’. These are the children who oftentimes are treated harshly and criticized by parents. However, what’s important to understand is that most times these are inaccurate judgements based solely on behaviors—not who the child is. 

According to an article in Psychology Today, this leads many to ‘conditional acceptance’ of oneself. We then begin to regard many aspects of ourselves negatively. Leading to not accepting who we truly are. This unresolved pain and rejection from childhood can also lead to choosing alcohol or drugs to ‘feel better.’ this can be particularly true if this use of a substance to cope was modeled in the home. 

So how do you learn and practice self-acceptance? 

As mentioned, seeking treatment at a rehab that provides individualized, comprehensive care with evidence-based therapies is essential. Utilizing therapy—both group and individual—to work through these suppressed issues is the first place to start. 

Changing thought patterns, behaviors, and interactions with others are all key to developing self-acceptance. Therapy and support programs can play important roles in this development of self-acceptance. 

3. Acceptance of life

Life is life—sober or in active addiction. Getting and staying sober takes work. It’s not something that happens overnight, in fact, it takes a lifetime of commitment to sustaining long-term recovery. 

Being able to accept your addiction, yourself, and also what life brings to you are all vital parts of how to stay sober. There will always be ‘monkey wrenches’ life throws in our seemingly calm, planned path. People will do things we don’t like. People will hurt us. We will make mistakes. The reality is that we are unable to control much of life. 

However, what we do have control of is our ability to respond to these events. When you are in acceptance of your life and all the situations that come your way, you will experience far greater peace of mind, joy, and sustain your recovery. 

Many of the programs, such as AA and NA, that have helped thousands upon thousands get and stay sober know that acceptance is key. This is reflected in many of the materials including the “Alcoholics Anonymous Big Book” and other supporting materials. 

Here is a quote from the AA Big Book repeated at many meetings, treatment centers, and one on one talks between members, 

“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)

This powerful quote is from a member of AA with long term sobriety. These few lines speak volumes. Acceptance of one’s addiction, oneself—all facets, and of life as it is is truly how to stay sober and begin to heal. 

Freedom from the pain of addiction is the beginning. When you really work on how to stay sober and practice acceptance in your life, the bounties of sobriety will flow to you. For many beaten down by alcohol and other substances, this seems so far from reality. But have faith and hope. There are many who have been in your shoes, felt the same pain and hopelessness, and have gone on to find freedom, peace of mind, and happiness they’ve never experienced before. You can too. 

Serenity and peace of mind are often very elusive for those in active addiction to alcohol or drugs. However, it is possible and acceptance is the key. The following is a prayer, the “Serenity Prayer”, commonly read in AA meetings, however not written by AA:

“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.”

If you or a loved one wants to stop living in the pain of addiction, Futures can help. Get in touch online today or call us at 866-804-2098.

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