Friday, October 2, 2009

Radical Acceptance

I haven't written much yet about my treatment experience, the main reason being that I was afraid it might not be worth sharing, but it is. I went to this same treatment facility several years ago and had a much different experience. The counselor I was assigned subscribed to the "beat 'em down" philosophy and thought I was just acting way too big for my britches by not submitting to the 12 steps, or to his suggestions as to what I should do, or to his authority as a sober person with THE ANSWER. What no one seems to hear me say is that I did submit to the 12 steps. I did it thoroughly and honestly for six years. Certain aspects of my AA experience kept me sober for six years which is most absolutely nothing to sneeze at. And certain aspects of my AA experience worsened my mental and emotional state, even while abstaining from alcohol. As anyone in AA will tell you, alcohol is not the problem and about that I think they're absolutely right. But I think we should not forget that alcohol is a goodly portion of it.

To my extreme amazement and delight, the focus is now towards a treatment methodolgy called Dialectical Behavior Therapy. I'm still learning about it as it's being taught in the treatment center, but the most interesting thing is that they're teaching us skills I've used in the past that have helped me tremendously in my recovery efforts. Mindfulness, meditation, emotion identification and regulation, distress tolerance (which reminds me of Scott Peck's delay of gratification) and radical acceptance. While I had continued with meditation, mindfulness and other practices I found helpful, I was not practicing radical acceptance and it seems like that was a key for me.

So what is radical acceptance? It's acknowledging one's present situation without judgement or criticism of self - seeing the situation as it really is, acknowledging all the feelings around it, whether they're socially acceptable or not (they probably won't be) and just not attemtping to change anything about it. Just be with it as it is.

That's all good and fine but I'm not sure I would've been able to get there if it weren't for my counselor. For the first time in 15 years I sat across from someone whom I felt really heard what I was saying and didn't automatically assume something about me just because I was still struggling with alcoholism. I am beginning to realize that a lot of the assumptions I felt may have been in my own mind - that's called projection and it's a pretty common psychological maneuver. But she managed to validate my experience and my feelings and it seems that has opened the door to a deep healing process in my life. The mental health counselor I have been seeing since January has also been doing the same thing - nurturing those aspects in me that encourage me to boldly participate in this game of life, despite the fear, despite the anger, despite anything that might attempt to block me.

Both of these women are doing very good work here on this indian reservation in the middle of nowhere and while they've got a big pool to draw from, I don't think they see many people who are sincerely seeking big change. The addictions counselor is working with two other women in my group, both over five years' sober, who have been badly abused in one way or another. Her approach with them, and me, is the same one Marty Nicolaus describes in his book, Empowering the Sober Self: build up the sober self. Focus on the positive aspects of the personality, the desire to live a better life and the innate spiritual strengths of the individual. Be truly open-minded. DO NOT ASSUME THAT YOU KNOW HOW THIS PERSON SHOULD FIND RECOVERY. Create fertile ground for their own finding of that path no matter how twisted it may look at the time.

This is really good stuff.


thailandchani said...

I like it! It reminds me a lot of the Buddhist principle of non-judgement and acceptance. Expectations lead to disappointments, etc. We all find and maintain sobriety our own way and for our own reasons. Our job is to find those reasons.


Cindy said...

I think you have found your path to health and well being. As mom would say, carry on.

PMFAddictionTreatmentCenter said...

thanks for the post.
That's one of the many great things about sobriety, the steps, and the connection you can share.
I've been sober 17 years, stepped away from the program (meetings) here and there and each time I come back I find something new to learn! keep up the good work!

Jules said...

This is GREAT stuff.