In part one of this series, I wrote about the recovery principle of acceptance and how through acceptance we can begin to live “life on life’s terms.” Yet, how can we practically live “life on life’s terms”?
Philosophers divide knowledge into theoretical and practical knowledge. Theoretical knowledge entails first principles that we come to know are true but are not necessarily things that we can put into practice. An example of this type of knowledge would be the attributes of God in natural theology.
Practical knowledge, on the other hand, has to do with taking theoretical knowledge and putting it into action. In fact, the word practical originates from the Greek word praktikos which means “concerned with action.” One example would be the practice of virtue. We first begin with understanding what virtue is and what are the different types of virtue (theoretical knowledge). Once we establish this, though, then we can consider how a person can practice these virtues in everyday life to become more virtuous (practical knowledge). Recovery works the same way. As we study and learn about the Twelve Steps (theoretical knowledge) we also consider how to put them into practice (practical knowledge).
Still, though, we might ask: how can we put into practice certain recovery principles? In other words, how can we change our behavior in effective and lasting ways? There are many different approaches when it comes to changing behavior. What might work for some behavioral issues might not work for others, of course. However, there are some types of behavior modification therapies that tend to be effective for most people.
One particularly effective behavioral modification therapy is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) as well as Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT). While these approaches have some differences, both require some form of acceptance.
I have spent a lot of time teaching under the supervision of behavioral health professionals on these subjects and helping clients apply them. If you are interested and would like to learn more, I would recommend looking for a therapist or counselor who specializes in one of these areas. There are also workbooks available online that can help you put into practice these two approaches (though I would strongly encourage you to engage these approaches with the help of a mental health professional).
CBT is very useful when combating cognitive distortions, which are unhealthy and untrue negative thoughts that are generated automatically in the brain. Some examples of such distorted and unhealthy thoughts might include the following: I am not good enough; I am the worst father in the world; or If I can’t do X right then Y won’t happen and my life will crumble. CBT allows us to pause and examine our thoughts and challenge the unhealthy beliefs about ourselves that result from them.
There is a specific step-by-step breakdown for what generates our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. The first step is the occurrence of a situation or event in our life. This is followed by a thought about that situation, which is then followed by a feeling or emotion tied to that thought. In response to this feeling or emotion, there is a behavior (even if that behavior is doing “nothing” by not responding). Finally, there is a result of that behavior. The step-by-step process looks like this:
SITUATION -> THOUGHT -> FEELING -> BEHAVIOR -> RESULT
This can occur in a cyclical way, meaning that certain situations, thoughts, feelings, behaviors, and results occur repeatedly. In the Big Book, AA, and recovery in general, the definition of insanity is “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Yet, by applying the approaches of CBT we have an opportunity to break the cycle and start a new line of thinking that can lead to a positive result. In order to do this, though, we need to be able to accept our situation or circumstance. Otherwise, we create a tension within ourselves that can lead to the behavior we are trying to avoid
Doesn’t that sound familiar? In other words, we need to practice acceptance. It all begins with acceptance, just like we hear again and again in recovery circles. By accepting our reality—of what we can and cannot change—we have an opportunity to break the cycle of shame, addiction, and sin and, with the help of grace, change the way we think, feel, and act. In other words, we can start living “life on life’s terms” and find healing, peace, and joy as a result.
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.