Surfacing After Silence

Life. After.

accepting Radical Acceptance

what may or may not be

I did not accept DBT with the most grace, best exemplified by my memorization of the program’s three-page chain analysis form you had to complete any time you engaged in target behaviors or treatment interfering behaviors. The latter would be where I excelled, highlighted by the one homework group where I muttered “fuck off” under my breath, which the therapist happened to hear.  I laugh now, both at my stubbornness (willfullness) and my general attitude at the time, which was fueled mainly by fear.

Now, I am extremely grateful I stuck out that program.  Initially I stayed because I really didn’t see any other option, anywhere to go back to.  In the end I stayed because of the changes I saw happening in my life and my mind.  Marsha Linehan and her book turned out to be godsends in my history of my recovery.

But one of the key concepts I always struggled with was Radical Acceptance. The idea of just accepting what is as what is seemed so passive to me.  And somehow wrong.  As in, “really?  You want me to just accept the fact that I was sexually abused and raped? You have got to be kidding me.”  To me, Radical Acceptance meant giving in, or perhaps more appropriately, giving up.

Yesterday, however, I finally came to understand the full meaning of Radical Acceptance, a good eleven years after first learning about it.  Yesterday was not a pretty day for me.  I expected to get a call telling me what time my surgery would be the following day (today).  Instead, I got a phone call telling me that my surgery wasn’t just postponed, it was cancelled.  I had gotten through the previous week by repeatedly telling myself things such as “in just five more days, this will be over,” and “only two more nights of not sleeping.”  I was counting on this surgery.  Looking forward to it.  I want to walk without limping like some crazed scientist character in a movie again.  I want to sleep without an ice pack wrapped around my knee.  I want off the vicodin.  I want to do all the fun summer activities I’m so used to doing.  My cardiologist said I could dance again, as long as I did mainly barre work and kept the center work to a minimum.  I did simple releves yesterday, not even bending my knee, but putting weight on it was just too much.

And then I’m told they won’t operate.  And I ask to speak with the anesthesiologist who has never heard of my cardiac condition before, and he has no interest in speaking with me.  Nor does the surgeon at the main hospital building who may or may not take me because I have a heart condition.  Which he has never heard of.  Doesn’t matter that my cardiac specialist gave me the go ahead and was a little annoyed that they even asked because orthoscopic surgery or anesthesia itself poses no risk.  (In the world of medicine, of course, “no risk” means “she has a better shot at getting struck by lightning than having complications from anesthesia”.)

Admittedly, I was in tears as soon as the nurse told me the news.  And was in tears a good part of the day.  But somewhere around bedtime, I thought, “I can’t keep crying all summer.”  So I came up with a new game plan: My knee sucks and makes walking painful and difficult, and the pain is significant and sucks and causes all sorts of problems.  And that’s just the way it is, and it may be that way for some time.  But I still need to do my work, regardless of pain and regardless of medication side-effects.  I am going to continue with life as normally as possible and will believe I am having surgery the moment I am actually lying on the operating table.

What this does not mean: not acknowledging my pain, not listening to my body and resting when I need to, not taking measures to prevent pain, not continuing to talk to my nurse practicioner and current orthopedic doctor about my options and it does not mean I will not push the potential new surgeon to sit down and speak with me before making his decision.

This is anything but giving in or giving up.  It’s acknowledging that there is something going on that I have very little control over.  It’s acknowledging that I am in a powerless position when it comes to certain aspects of my treatment.  It is acknowledging the pain and doing whatever I can to prevent more and take care of myself, both physically and mentally and emotionally.  It is me giving myself permission to feel everything that comes along with this situation but then say, “This is what I can not do and this is what I can do.  I will do all I can do and I will continue with my life.”  What this is is a refusal to let this affect who I am.  I will make certain accommodations: I will use the pain medication as prescribed and not only at bedtime; I will use a cane because crutches are so freaking tiring and don’t let me carry bags very well; I will use elevators and not stairs; I will avoid activities which flagrantly make the knee worse.  But I will not stop living.

I felt an immediate sense of relief when I came up with this game plan.  There was a definite release of bitterness.  That alone makes things more bearable.  Bitterness is an ugly emotion when it clings to you for too long.  This morning I woke up and was able to say, “Yes.  This sucks.  I am angry.  I have a right to be.  I am in pain.  What can I do to change that?  What can I do to change my situation?”

Radical Acceptance is a willingness to let what is be what is and a willingness to accept what is in your control and what isn’t.  It doesn’t mean you don’t stop trying to make things better.  It’s not walking away from a situation; it’s entering into a situation with realistic goals and plans, based on current reality, not on how we wish things were.

I wish I was sitting in my bed recovering from surgery right now.  I could let that thought dominate my mind and I bet it would prevent me from writing and finishing my course prep.  I know it would just make me upset and increase my emotional distress.

Tomorrow is a new day.  I will approach it with the knowledge that it is the beginning of the holiday weekend and very little gets done at a hospital on four day weekends and there is nothing I can do to change that.  So I might as well finish writing my syllabus, start my second one, and get together with my friend for a movie and maybe some dinner and ice cream.  I might as well continue to release the bitterness so I am free to experience the joy that is only possible if I am open to it.


July 1, 2010 - Posted by | coping, health, heart, mindfulness | , , , , , , , , , , , ,


  1. “Radical Acceptance is a willingness to let what is be what is and a willingness to accept what is in your control and what isn’t. It doesn’t mean you don’t stop trying to make things better. It’s not walking away from a situation; it’s entering into a situation with realistic goals and plans, based on current reality, not on how we wish things were.”

    This is very true. It is so very easy to get caught up in the what-ifs of the past and plea-bargaining for the future, but perhaps most dangerous is when we just try to shove it down deep and not acknowledge it all.

    Someone I love is in AA and everytime I hear the Serenity Prayer it strikes a cord. I’m not religious so the God part doesn’t do much, but the mantra is the key. Acceptance, courage, and wisdom. It’s applicable in so many scenarios. Acceptance isn’t giving up, its freedom from something that was oppressing you physically or psychologically. Acceptance is the key to change.

    I’m sorry to hear about the surgery. I’m sure it was a real blow to get that call.

    Comment by jenniferalbin | July 1, 2010 | Reply

    • Jennifer–I honestly had very little knowledge of AA or the 12 Steps until I entered treatment at Rader but I have found their philosophy and steps to be extremely helpful not just in my recovery and spirituality, but in my acceptance my current situation. I think I am finally learning what it means to be admit powerlessness and how that doesn’t mean not taking action. Acceptance, courage, and wisdom. What a great sentence, one I am finally able to appreciate.

      Comment by surfacingaftersilence | July 2, 2010 | Reply

  2. God, grant me the serenity
    to accept the things
    I cannot change,

    Courage to change the
    things I can, and the
    wisdom to know the difference.

    Living one day at a time;
    Enjoying one moment at a time;
    Accepting hardship as the
    pathway to peace.

    I love that next part and it always gets left off! It’s often the things that are hardest that bring me the most peace and that is so hard to remember at the time.

    (There’s actually a bunch of versions and authors to the serenity prayer, with kind of an interesting history as well)

    Comment by Amanda G-M | July 2, 2010 | Reply

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