Resignation Masquerading as Acceptance

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. … Until I could accept my alcoholism, I could not stay sober; unless I accept life completely on life’s terms, I cannot be happy.

— page 417, Alcoholics Anonymous

I’ve been thinking about the difference between resignation and acceptance lately as a result of my therapy and I’ve come to the conclusion that I’ve let resignation masquerade as acceptance in my life for too long.

For years, I believed that I’d accepted my birth father’s suicide when, in reality, I’d resigned myself to the facts. While I knew in my heart that he had suffered from severe depression, that he’d been mentally ill, and that this was the root cause of his suicide, I still felt betrayed and abandoned. I wanted things to have been different. I didn’t, and may not ever, understand why he’d ended his own life.

I didn’t even know that his death had been a suicide until I was in the fourth grade, about nine or ten. I’d been told that there had been something wrong with his brain. I thought of it like a disease, like cancer.

Losing a loved one to suicide often leaves the family with a sense of survivor’s guilt. Sometimes it manifests as the sense that they should have done more to save their relative. Sometimes it comes up as a sense that they don’t deserve to be alive, that it should have been them instead of the person who is gone.

At the tender age of five I didn’t recognize these things in myself. Nor did I recognize them when I learned the facts behind his death. Until that point I blamed the doctors for not doing enough to save his life and I remember suddenly realizing that it had not be negligence on the part of the doctors.

I don’t remember if I blamed myself, or wished that it had been me instead of him. What I do remember is that I suddenly worried that he hadn’t loved me enough to stay — that maybe I had been the reason that he took his own life. Or maybe it was my brother or my mother, or all of us. In a word, I felt confused and abandoned — left behind.

I don’t know if I ever expressed these feelings. Probably not. I held them deep inside and I was angry. And I’ve remained angry for 43 years.

And this anger was only compounded when my step father, who I call my father, died suddenly when I was 29. It was a chilling blow. He and I were very close and I had many plans for us as Dad moved into his later stages of life. I imagined us hunting and fishing together. I imagined him bouncing my unborn son on his knee. I imagined him taking my son to the firehouse and letting him sit behind the wheel of the engines. None of those things happened. They couldn’t because he was gone. I resigned myself to theses facts as well.

Resignation may be a form of acceptance, but if so, resignation holds a grudge and includes a resentment. Resignation holds on, and wishes for things to be different. Resignation breeds anger and provides no relief.

Over my many years I have often said, “I have accepted this, but I can’t let go,” or “I don’t know how to let go of this,” — I have come to understand that this is the fundamental difference between resignation and acceptance. When I can’t let something go, I have resigned myself to it rather than accepted it.

And that underlying anger has often spilt over into other parts of my life. I’ve long had a history of explosive anger, fits of rage even. Only recently have I come to understand that my anger is not the same as other people’s anger. It comes on quickly and my blood boils in split second.

It is not something I am proud of and it is something that I am working on. I’ve been working on it for a long time actually. But just as I often said that I couldn’t let go, I’ve frequently said, “I don’t know how to control this anger.” Sure, I have cognitively known about many tools to cool the flames, but in the instant I frequently fail to access those tools.

Often the event that has set me off has not been that big of a deal — the trigger has very little or even nothing at all to do with my anger. And the anger has been disproportionate to the trigger.

Knowing the underlying roots of this anger is helpful. Knowing that I’ve been clinging to anger deeply rooted in childhood trauma helps me to recognize more quickly that the overwhelming emotions I am feeling in the moment have little to do with the actual moment.

I’ve come to believe that the key to ending this cycle lies in the full acceptance of my fathers’ deaths. And I am not sure exactly what that looks like, but I know it will be more peaceful, and more serene than how I’ve “accepted” things in the past.

Recently, I received some unwelcome news. News that will fundamentally impact our family and will require some changes in our lives. Nothing that is earth shattering, nothing life threatening, and in some ways fully anticipated — but still news that is not easy to accept.

And yet, upon receiving the news, digesting it, and forming the very beginning of a plan, I have felt relaxed with the news. I’m not angry about it. While unwelcome, it had brought a certain sense of relief. It has already changed me and my responses to situations which used to baffle me. I’m less angry and can deal with certain difficulties with greater calm and ease.

That is what acceptance looks like.

Gratitude on Thanksgiving

I have been reluctant to write. For months, I’ve felt I have little left to be said. I’ve struggled to post a single thought in a month. The truth is that the Promises have come true in my life — not always in the way I might have expected them to, or even hoped they would, but they have come true. I wear life like a loose garment most of the time today.

I rarely struggle with the words I hear at meetings these days. Yes, there are things that get said that I find absolutely ridiculous, but I am able to let them roll off me with little concern these days. I know what my understanding of a Higher Power is, and while I choose not to name it, I respect others who choose to do so, and even understand that some will choose to tell us that they choose to call their Higher Power by a name that used to rankle my soul and I can be at peace with that. I can be secure in the knowledge that regardless of how we talk about it we are all talking about the same thing.

I’ve tried to tell myself that perhaps it’s time to close up shop here. That maybe my work is done. I’ve also tried to convince myself that I should write about all the gifts of my sobriety. Not sure that either is the right path. What I do know is that I have to carry the message. I have to show others that there is a way out. I have to deal in hope.

Not long ago, I couldn’t imagine that I would live past the age of 50. I truly believed that my death was coming soon due to my drinking. And it was this certainty that formed the basis of my emotional bottom. I was not (am not) ready to die. I turned 46 this month and I don’t expect that I’ll die before 50 today.

I was reminded this week that life is short. I was reminded that this disease steals lives from not only its victims but also from those who love them.

When I first got to the rooms, I was frequently annoyed when the topic of gratitude came up. I didn’t feel that I had much to be grateful for. In fact, I felt that others owed me a debt of gratitude — that I was making a sacrifice by getting sober and that others owed me for that. As I’ve spent more time actually working with the concept of gratitude by writing gratitude lists, listening to others, and practicing meditation, I’ve come to love gratitude. Gratitude now fills me up and makes me whole when I am in a bad way. I have learned that I can be grateful for anything, large or small, and that by bringing this to mind I can change the course of my day.

I try to write in my journal every day and to close with three different things I’m grateful for each day. I focus on why I’m grateful for something and not just naming the thing. This makes a huge difference in how I respond to the practice of writing a gratitude list. It’s not enough to say I’m grateful for something — that doesn’t help me to be more grateful and live better — I have to express why something makes me grateful. That’s where the juice is.

My gratitude list is long on this Thanksgiving Day, but tonight I’m most grateful for the fact that I am alive — that I made it out of the woods and by continuing to do the right things have a good chance of staying in the sun. I’m grateful for this because I was not and am not ready to die. I have a life to live and message to carry.

I’m not a praying man, but I will send out a metta practice tonight for those still sick and suffering, in and out of the rooms.

Matt & Caz’s Story

Damien’s Note: Matt and I have followed each other on Twitter for some time and have had enjoyed good interactions. Last week, he reached out via Direct Message requesting my email, saying that he had something to share with me. When I opened the email, in the middle of my work day, I was dumbstruck. I had to get up and leave my home office for a bit to absorb the pain.

Matt’s story hit home because I know what it’s like to loose someone important to death, but I can’t imagine loosing my wife. I hoped that Matt might want me to share this story on my blog. Matt’s story is one of resilience. He’s proof that our sobriety can be stronger than our emotions, life’s twists and turns, and even death.

C0IQQWbXgAAO-U8I married an amazing woman in 2004. We had been together as boyfriend & girlfriend for 7 years to the day when we tied the knot. Not only was I marrying the love of my life, this person was my best friend/lover & soul mate.

I came out as bisexual to her early in the relationship, she understood and excepted me. If I am in a relationship with a person that’s it I am just in a relationship with that one person.

By coming out to her it was as if I had come out to the entire world. I was free to be myself, no secrets and no shame. When I saw her eye up some attractive random man could smile and tell her she had good taste, a relationship like this comes but once a life. Continue reading