Last week in group therapy, we learned about radical acceptance. Radical acceptance is accepting reality with your whole mind and heart. It does not mean approval or agreement. It means stopping fighting reality because it’s not how you wanted it to be. My psychologist wisely told me once, “We don’t grieve the life we have, but we grieve the life we wish we had.”
I’ve transformed pain into suffering by refusing to accept facts. Radical acceptance is acknowledging that everything is as it should be. This skill sounds simple, but is probably one of the hardest skills to practice. For me, it becomes much more manageable when I realize that my life is not a random chain of events and I suffer collateral damage. Instead, I have a God who led me to this exact place and he’s knows exactly where I’m going.
“And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.” -Philippians 1: 6
Biblical principles have given me much more peace and ease to radical accept.
Radical Acceptance is one of the hardest skills to utilize because we hold on so strongly to the conviction that our life should be different. Especially for those of us who’ve experienced emotional, physical or sexual trauma, this seems impossible. I’ve suffered from all the above, and radical acceptance is the most effective way to move on with your life afterwards.
Radical acceptance is also one of the most freeing and beneficial coping skills we can practice. By accepting what’s in the past happened and won’t change by us wishing it would, we give up an impossible fight. We can’t be hard on ourselves if we have trouble accepting reality, it may take a long time. All we can do is make a commitment to work on accepting reality.
Once we accept reality, it reduces suffering. It increases a sense of freedom. We begin to realize what is in our control and what we can change. It’s difficult to have a successful recovery if we don’t let go of the things of the past we cannot change.
The Serenity prayer beautiful portrays this concept:
“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference.”
How do we accept reality?
The first step is to become aware that we are questioning or fighting reality. The second step is reminding ourselves that reality is as it is and cannot be changed. The next step is practicing acceptance with our whole self. It takes a lot of faith to believe that our life will turn out okay, especially if it’s been so difficult up to this point. I read Jeremiah 29:11 every day, and I have it written on my room wall. As Christians, we don’t just hope that we’ll come out okay, we have proof in the Bible that God is in control.
“For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. Jeremiah 29:11
My story of radical acceptance:
My first suicide attempt was when I was in Texas for Advanced Individual Training for the army. I hated being in the army, and the process to get out was almost impossible. I felt like a prisoner. Every morning I woke up and wished I were dead. One hot July day, I decided I couldn’t live like this anymore and I attempted to take my life. I was put in a military hospital in the psychiatric unit.
I have to say, this hospitalization is probably one of the worst experiences of my life, and I doubt any other trials will compare. I was held in this hospital for three months. Every passing day that I didn’t get any news about my release date, I grew more impatient and frustrated.
We were woken up at 6 am every morning to stand in line and get our vital signs taken, then allowed to sleep for another hour. Then, they came into our rooms, kicked us out and torn apart our room to make sure we didn’t have anything hidden. They would lock us out of our rooms and keep us in a day room for the next 12 hours. I wasn’t allowed to go in my room, take naps, or make phone calls. The food was so awful and I dealt with intense stomach pain every single day. I lost my appetite often and after over 2 years, my appetite has never been the same. The hospital staff even cut off all visitors to me because they thought I was too much of a risk to have any contact with the outside world. I have no idea where they got that logic.
Some of the technicians there didn’t seem to care at all about the patients and were more concerned with leaving at the end of the day. They treated us like prisoners, not patients. I received no counseling or psychological care. They gave us medications, but that was all. There were only three staff members who displayed any concern at all for me.
Every morning, I woke up hating my life in the hospital. Just to get away from all the patients and staff, I would hide in the bathroom and cry. I would spend so much time in the bathroom, I would get in trouble for it. I would sit on the floor, hugging my knees to my chest pounding my head against the wall behind me, hoping to knock myself unconscious or dead. Strangely, these were some of my most peaceful, calming moments because I was finally alone. The bathroom floor was my only sacred place. I couldn’t even get solace in the shower because sometimes, a staff member had to watch me as I showered because I was not stable enough.
I felt like I was treated as sub-human. No one could see my illness because I suffered internally. The staff thought it was all in my head.
I devised multiple plans to escape the ward during outdoors time, but decided getting caught and punished wasn’t worth the risk.
One day, I decided to pray for the first time in about 4 months. I always write my prayers, because I feel like that’s the best way I communicate and God will hear me better. I wrote something like this:
I’ve been living in this hospital for almost 3 months with no end in sight. I’m tired of fighting against being here. If it’s your will for me to be here for another month or another year, I don’t care, I’ll do it. I’m done fighting and I’ll submit to your will. Amen.
I felt a strange calmness after this prayer. I knew it didn’t necessarily change my situation, but at least I had a better attitude about it and told myself that I would stop fighting an impossible fight.
What happened afterwards, I will never forget.
The very next day, I received news that I was getting discharged and could go home. I felt like I had won the lottery a hundred times in that moment. I’ll never forget that feeling of shock, joy, relief, and amazement. This showed me that submitting to God’s plan is better than fighting to make your own plans happen. Allow yourself to be guided.
When I open myself up to God’s plan instead of my plans, it frees me to accept myself and my life as it is. Not only can we accept reality, but find hope and peace in all circumstances.