12 Step communities use that term like coconut oil.
We casually spread it around everywhere, use it for everything, push it on everyone, and claim that it’s the balm for all of life’s burns, blisters, and bruises.
We recommend it to others with the enthusiasm of a health nut as the answer to everything that can possibly be wrong.
Is it, though?
Is Acceptance the Answer to All My Problems?
This is one of the most famous passages in 12 Step recovery communities:
“And acceptance is the answer to all my problems today. When I am disturbed, it is because i find some person, place, thing, or situation—some fact of my life—unacceptable to me, and I can find no serenity until I accept that person, place, thing, or situation as being exactly the way it is supposed to be at this moment. Nothing, absolutely nothing, happens in God’s world by mistake. Until I could accept my alcoholism, I could not stay sober; unless I accept life completely on life’s terms, I cannot be happy. I need to concentrate not so much on what needs to be changed in the world as on what needs to be changed in me and in my attitudes.” (Alcoholics Anonymous, Acceptance Was the Answer, p 417)
At the same time, it’s also one of the most misused, manipulated, and misunderstood passages, too.
While it helps us avoid blame, resentment, and self-pity in certain circumstances, it’s often misused to say:
- “Things are the way they are, and that’s the will of God, so get over it.”
- “You should just take things as they are with a smile.”
- “I guess I can’t do anything, so I’ll just roll over and take it.”
None of that is helpful—and can even be dangerous—if you have a serious problem.
“Acceptance” in that form discourages action rather than inspiring change, leading to stagnation and a victim mindset.
Depending on the circumstances, acceptance alone offers no solution, only more pain in the form of:
Empowered people make changes.
Acceptance Is (the First Step in Finding) the Answer
Acceptance is not the answer.
Acceptance is the first step in finding the answer.
Acceptance means acknowledging the truth—that a problem exists.
Acceptance of a problem should ignite a fire that demands action.
Acceptance should serve as a catalyst for change.
Acceptance Is Not an Invitation to Do Nothing
So many times, I’ve heard people with a problem say (as they shrug), “I guess I just have to accept it.”
They have no intention to act. Acceptance is an excuse to give up.
I know—we talk a lot about surrender as an important idea, too.
But, think about that…
Step 1, where we accept or surrender to the fact that we’re alcoholics/addicts, is FOLLOWED BY 11 MORE STEPS.
It’s described as a program of action and we are begged to be fearless and thorough from the very start.
Acceptance of a problem catapults us into living in the solution.
Living in the Solution
People quote the famous Acceptance Is the Answer passage all the time, often twisting it to mean whatever suits them at the moment.
But, here’s the paragraph that precedes it (that I’ve never heard mentioned in a meeting before):
At last, acceptance proved to be the key to my drinking problem. After I had been around A.A. for seven months, tapering off alcohol and pills, not finding the program working very well, I was finally able to say, “Okay, God. It is true that I—of all people, strange as it may seem, and even though I didn’t give my permission—really, really am an alcoholic of sorts. And it’s all right with me. (Then, this gentleman, who was to rise from the scrap heap, asked the critical question) Now, what am I going to do about it?” When I stopped living in the problem and began living in the answer, the problem went away. From that moment on, I have not had a single compulsion to drink.
He accepts his problem as a harsh reality, and he sets out to determine his course of action—his problem was alcoholism, so he dove into the 12 Steps and life changed.
The Serenity Prayer
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.
So many of us focus on the first line, and ignore the second and third, asking God for comfort and peace of mind, relieving us of the responsibility of effort.
Solutions are rarely comfortable, y’all.
Living in the Solution, Not in Victimhood
On a daily basis, we accept that fear, anger, dishonesty, and selfishness creep into our lives.
We own that fact before God and often express it to another human being so that the negativity loses its power over us.
We go to anyone we’ve harmed and do what we can to make the situation right.
When faced with a problem, we seek God’s guidance, sincerely asking for direction and the courage to take the action required to move towards resolution and a better life.
We actively and enthusiastically seek to live our lives based on spiritual principles, expressing them in both ideals and actions.
If we hope to recover, we don’t roll over and accept our alcoholism or addiction and just continue on in our own mess.
If we want a better life and a solution to our hardships and pain, we get real about what the actual problems are, and we begin living in the solution side of that equation.
Accepting the Truth Is the First Step
If you know you have a problem with alcohol or drugs, you could well be on your way to getting better.
The next step is to reach out for help.
The Promises that the 12 Steps offer are real, and recovery is just the beginning of a new and better life.
No matter how bad it is right now, where there is desperation, there is hope.
The professionals at Solutions of North Texas have been in your shoes, and we can help—contact Solutions of North Texas.
David S. is an alumnus of the SONTX Residential Program and served as a house manager. He is celebrating sobriety as a up-and-coming writer in Dallas.