Acceptance as a Spiritual Path

By Andrew Powers

I’m grateful for the opportunity to reflect on the importance of acceptance in my recovery, and how it has shaped me into the man I am today, two years sober and living a life I never before thought possible. It is the philosophy of life through which I approach my days and a spiritual practice—not unlike prayer and meditation—that provides my life with direction and meaning. Acceptance is the essence of recovery, and the very embodiment of the serenity prayer by which I try to live my days.

Occasionally I’ll look back on the early months of my recovery with nostalgia, but in all honesty the first few months were terrible. My emotions were out of control, and every other day brought a new crisis I met with frustration and tears. During this time my ever-patient sponsor encouraged me to read the acceptance passage daily, usually after he’d talked me out of another meltdown. “And acceptance is the answer to all my problems today” (from the story “Acceptance Was the Answer” in the Big Book) the passage begins, and that opening line became a mantra as I struggled through my days.

No longer in flight from reality, I was forced to confront my life—honestly!—for what might have been the first time. Coming into recovery I was living and behaving as though I were still in my early twenties. I imagined I fit right in with the younger crowd (I kept my hair short to hide the gray), despite the glaring generational differences. Sober now and surveying the downward trajectory of my drinking career, I was forced to admit to myself that I was no longer a young man of 22—but a middle-aged man of 42! This was difficult to accept. Nobody wants to grow old(er). But over time, acceptance helped me to embrace my age, learn not to regret paths not taken, nor fear the uncertainty of the future. It helps me to live one day at a time.

Acceptance can be misunderstood as a form of giving up, but nothing could be further from the truth. You don’t need to approve of what you accept, nor need you be happy with it. I think of acceptance in terms of emotional sobriety: bringing my emotions into equilibrium such that, whatever happens—good, bad, or somewhere in between—I will meet it with the same calm acceptance. I will recognize what concerns me and what doesn’t, what is within my realm of control and what isn’t, and working within those ever-fluxing parameters determine how best to proceed. Becoming, all the while, more adept at handling what life throws at me. Accepting life completely on life’s terms. Serenity will remain forever out of reach until I do.

Apart from abstaining from drink (and drug), the program of recovery outlined in the Steps suggests we accept where we’re at—for some of us the rockiest of rock bottoms—acknowledge the wreckage of our past, amend wrongdoings, and ultimately look towards the future with courage and hope. Giving up an old way of dying for a new way of living, as we say. I’ve come to regard my own ongoing spiritual awakening as one of living in acceptance. Living in the present, engaging in today’s activities, and understanding that tomorrow is not guaranteed. Nobody knows what’s around the next corner. (I could be hit by a bus, and as a regular bus-rider, this clichéd scenario isn’t that farfetched.) So I live for today. Everything becomes much more manageable when I can accept what I have to work with and make the most of today’s trials and joys.