My partner Jeff and I went on a short beach trip last summer. I had reserved an oceanfront suite. Normally I would not splurge for such an extravagance, but this trip was the only beach trip we were able to last this summer. We had also made plans to watch a football game in the room with a couple of family members. It was important that we had ample space to host our guests.
At check-in, the hotel staff informed us that they had moved us to a different non-suite room on a lower floor. The suite we had reserved had a problem with the air conditioning unit. The hotel refunded half our fee and gave us free meal coupons. I was very disappointed with the situation, but I had a choice to make. I could let my disappointment turn into a refusal to accept the situation. I could have become upset with the hotel staff and made a scene. That choice likely would have put me in a sour mood for at least part of the weekend, and I still would not have been staying in a suite. The one brief beach vacation could easily have been spoiled if I had made the choice not to accept a situation over which I had no control.
One of the most valuable lessons I have learned during my years of addiction recovery is the simple lesson of acceptance. When my Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) was in full swing, a situation like this could have easily sent me into a tizzy! It would have also fueled an excuse for excessive drinking at the bar with free drink tickets I am certain I would have demanded. Our weekend would have been ruined.
It was second nature for me to make the right decision. I didn’t get exactly what I wanted, but by accepting the situation for what it was, not placing blame and simply going with the flow, everything worked out just fine. The room we were moved into was not a suite, but it was large with a sofa and chair, allowing us to all watch the game comfortably. We had a beautiful ocean view and a quiet corner location. Not to mention the fact that we were given the room for half price and got our breakfast comped for the whole stay. I didn’t get what I wanted, but I got what I needed without making unreasonable demands or ruining anyone’s day.
I used to think that if I accepted a situation, that meant I approved of it. In recovery, I have learned that acceptance isn’t approval. I have the power to decide how I will react to any given situation, that may be the only real power I have in life, but it is mighty and effective.
While in active addiction, I was a fighter. I would fight anything and anyone to avoid taking any personal responsibility for my emotions. If a car pulled out in front of me at an intersection, I would immediately blame the other car’s driver for my reaction. It was the other driver’s fault that I had to blow my horn and arrived in a bad mood at my destination.
Living in acceptance, I can now have the same experience of a car pulling out in front of me and going about my day without impacting my mood. Once I realized that emotionally fighting the world around me only made me miserable, a light bulb began to shine for me. I may not be happy about an irresponsible driver, and I don’t have to accept that their driving is okay, but I do have to own my reaction to their behavior. It is the acceptance of my own part in any situation that provides me with the key to power over my own life.
I have employed a couple of easy behaviors to help me on my road of acceptance. The first is to slow down. When a negative situation arises, I stop and pause instead of going forward full steam ahead. A pause for just a few seconds gives me the opportunity to make my next decision with thought rather than reaction. There are many acronyms for PAUSE. I don’t think it needs a cute acronym because the word stands on its own. Just stop long enough to think through the next response.
Since very few things happen in a vacuum, it is important not to commiserate. Using the car example, if I’m in the car with someone else when another driver pulls out in front of me, it would be easy to commiserate with my passenger. We could bounce the dissatisfaction around the cab of my car for many minutes, long after the traffic violator had moved on with their day. Commiserating with another person keeps the fighting alive for much longer than necessary. My passenger may even try to engage me in this process even if I do not react in a negative manner. It is up to me not to take the bait. Living with acceptance does not mean being a doormat. Living with acceptance simply means taking your power back. I have learned that not what happens in my life defines me but how I react to what happens to me that sets the stage for my happiness.