One of the more memorable characteristics of the therapists I had when I was a client at The Ranch was his uncanny ability to tell you exactly what you needed to hear. Many of the men who were in the Sexual Recovery Program (SRP) were there because they realized they needed and wanted help. One of the most difficult things we all had to come to terms with was the fact that we were, indeed, addicts.
This inevitably led to talks and conversations about how we felt like we didn’t belong or grumblings about why God let certain things happen to us (my personal go-to).
It isn’t fair. I didn’t ask to be abused. I didn’t ask to be an addict. If it’s true that addiction is a disease that results from unresolved trauma, and I believe there is good evidence for this, then God made a mistake when he created me.
In order to combat cognitive distortions like those and others, our therapist would grab a copy of the Big Book and toss it to us, and by “toss” I mean Tom-Brady-laser-rocket-it across the room. After catching it, he then instructed us to turn to page 417 and read paragraph two aloud: “…acceptance is the answer to all of my problems today.” What a novel idea, huh?
As an addict, I believe that most of the acting out I’ve done stems from the fact that I couldn’t accept my life as it was. I only wanted to accept the good parts but not ever acknowledge the bad parts. I wanted to ignore the wounds from my trauma and excessive porn use, as well as the grievous offenses against my wife and our vows. The more I tried to push these things away, though, the harder and more violently they would push back.
My life, relationships, and home were burning all around me and I sat there saying, “I’m fine. Everything is fine.” This is what we mean by denial. It wasn’t that I refused to admit I had a problem, but that I was unwilling to accept it as part of my life along with my behavior that resulted in pain, fear, and a toxic environment for my family. It was like I had cancer but refused to accept it. If we continue to allow our disease and trauma to be “un-acceptable,” then we can never start to heal.
Trauma is unmetabolized pain that oozes out at all the wrong times and in all the wrong places. Even worse, our trauma will affect the people we love and care about most through our self-destructive habits and behaviors. If we refuse to accept that we are sick then we don’t have to open up the wounds that have caused us to turn to our addictions. If we don’t accept our addiction, then we don’t have to admit that we have hurt others and can blame others instead. And if we constantly shift blame to others then we begin to think that nobody loves or cares about us. Finally, if we believe nobody cares about us then we begin to believe the most damaging and self-destructive lie there is: that we ourselves are “un-acceptable.”
Oftentimes, people think acceptance is passive resignation. That if we accept where we are we’ll never be able to push ourselves to become better. But this isn’t true. Acceptance is not about where we are but who we are. Acceptance is understanding we are not in control of the circumstances of our lives but that we are in control of how we respond to them. Acceptance is having the courage to admit that we need to change ourselves. This is what we mean when we say we need to start “living life on life’s terms.”
I imagine that some people reading this have experienced traumatizing or tragic events in their lives and might be extremely put off by accepting such events. I get it. The pain is real. The fear is real, and we might wonder why an apparently good God would allow such evils to have occurred to us. I can’t give you an answer. But I do know that only a truly all-powerful and loving God can turn something terrible into something beautiful. As St. Paul reminds us, “We know that all things work for good for those who love God” (Romans 8:28). All that is asked of us is the willingness to accept ourselves and circumstances as they are, allowing God to do the rest.
To conclude, below are three key insights that have helped guide my spiritual and recovery journey related to acceptance.
“Unless I accept life completely on life’s terms, I cannot be happy.” – Focusing on the life we think we ought to have prevents us from healing and keeps us locked in the cycle of insanity.
“Acceptance is the key to my relationship with God.” – When we become less preoccupied with our expectations of the world we become less disturbed by the world, enabling us to discern God’s will for us.
“My serenity is directly proportional to my level of acceptance.” When we accept our circumstances as God’s will for us in that moment, we no longer carry the weight of the world on our shoulders—the more we surrender the less we have to carry.
Ambrose is a convert to Catholicism and has struggled with sexaholism and mental illness. He has undergraduate degrees in Catholic theology and philosophy and enjoys learning and reading about the lives of the saints.