I had a long talk last night with a good friend. We were sharing insights about growing through prolonged health challenges. The word “acceptance” came up and soon we were deep in shades of meaning.
Some definitions of “acceptance” are starkly polarized. Definitions like “submission” or “resignation” have a flavor of settling for a reduced existence. Others -- like “adoption” and “endorsement” -- suggest that acceptance is the first step in welcoming a new, larger purpose -- a bigger life.
First a disclaimer: I don’t believe that health complications are an inevitable part of getting older. How would that belief serve me? A severe or terminal condition is not something I anticipate, but if this is what shows up, a regimen of acceptance is what I’ll prescribe for myself.
Why? Because not to accept what is happening carries a twofold threat:
*One, the resulting withdrawal from social connections, new experiences, sometimes even from going outside is also a withdrawal from serendipitous moments of insight and wonder.
*Two, I would be deflecting energy from recovery to anxiety.
The struggle to recover from something like Lee’s heart transplant has meant accepting pain, massive doses of toxic medications, extreme weight loss and muscle weakness, loss of mobility, loss of privacy and loss of income. Acceptance in the context of any major health hurdle means acknowledging that it’s going to take longer to recover than anticipated and there will be some lifelong compromises required. Lee has scaled this heart-transplant mountain to the peak, but there are still many foothills to conquer before he’s on level ground and his health is considered stable.
Just now, Lee explained that the struggle to make his own breakfast this morning -- with his hands shaking from the steroids -- requires acceptance, because if he didn’t accept the struggle -- if he succumbed and let me do it for him -- he would opt out on the improvement. He said, “You can’t stand still.” Once again, acceptance put him on the starting blocks to recovery and reclaiming his life.
If Lee chose not to accept what is happening -- if he sank into cursing the fates and an endless “Why me?” litany -- I believe that he would be compromising his recovery and forfeiting joy in the moment over and over and over again.
I remember someone telling me once that it is important to tell myself a new story -- if I don’t like the one I’m living. If the story I tell myself is a dead-end story full of complaint and despair, then I am, indeed, at a dead end in my life. Conversely, if I persist in telling myself a story of new doors opening and new discoveries to make, those doors will eventually open and I will learn much about my capacity to grow and to give.
WE ARE CONSTRUCTED OF WHAT WE OVERCOME. This is probably my favorite truism. But first I have to overcome. I can’t lie down and give up. I can’t acquiesce to my circumstances.
All change and improvement begins by acknowledging my point of departure. This acceptance is the step that unlocks the emergency brakes and frees me to move forward -- that frees me to overcome rather than be overcome by my circumstances.
Sometimes it’s damn hard, There have been many times when Lee has wept in discouragement. He’s felt impatient, angry and defeated all at the same time. He believes it’s not only inevitable but crucial to allow himself to feel all of these things. This is the fog of frustration obscuring the pass through the mountains. This fog starts to burn off when he's ready to get back up, voice gratitude for the slightest progress already logged and acknowledge/accept the distance still to cover.
Innumerable times I’ve watched Lee ask himself: How do I put a positive spin on this?
On feeling weak and helpless?
On taking 22 medications in the morning and 19 at night?
On being confined to a city when I love wild places?
On never venturing into the sunlight again without protection?
On not being able to feel touch at several incision sites?
How do I learn from this?
Adjust my course?
Decide on a new trajectory coming out of the spin?
Reach out to people in a similar life struggle to help them accept and overcome?
How do I come out of this with more gratitude, more substance, more allies, more purpose, and more moments of wonder?
Wayne Dyer said that acceptance is the key to enlightenment. Not surrender, but acceptance. I think of it as being at peace with the present without surrendering a wide screen vision for the future
I can consent to receive a new life, a fresh self, even a new mission. I can undertake something that is offered and trust that this undertaking will become clear -- as long as I accept what is and -- embrace what is offered.
Susan is a published writer and motivational speaker with 30 years of experience, dedicated to guiding people to a life of financial invincibility and peace of mind.