I often wish I could change the past and make it perfect. I feel like I am attempting to paint a masterpiece of which I am so proud of and is so wonderful, but the ground work for it has been tarnished and what went before has destroyed the base that I now am working off. But in reality, ‘perfect’ is a fallacy, because, no canvas is ever bump free, and anyway, why would anyone want that? There would be nothing to catch the light!
I understand that there is nothing that anyone can tell me to make my past seem more perfect, because, in short there is no way for that to happen. Here is where the skill ‘RADICAL ACCEPTANCE’ can help, if I could only get my head around it.
The introduction of this skill was very turbulent in our group, with many willing to learn about it, but in practise not quite able to put the skill to use just yet. I personally can see the benefit of acceptance, but every time I try to apply it to my life I am met with a niggling voice, complaining that I shouldn’t sit back and accept all the injustice in my life, I should stand up and make noise about it! Give out, make a scene and don’t take it lying down!
So what is ‘RADICAL ACCEPTANCE’? It is an honest acknowledgment of what is going on inside you, and a courageous willingness to be with life in the present moment. You can accept an experience without liking it. In fact, let’s say you are feeling stuck in anxiety and disliking the feeling. RADICAL ACCEPTANCE includes accepting both the feelings of anxiety and the aversion to it. In fact, acceptance is not real and not healing unless it honestly includes all aspects of your experience.
The difficulty with ‘RADICAL ACCEPTANCE’ is that it requires patience and ability to be present with your own emotions. Both of which, for me, are very hard to learn also.
I find that at the moment, all I can do is be happy with what I am trying to achieve right now and be proud of every little achievement I accomplish that I wouldn't have been able to do skilfully before. All that matters, in reality is the here and now, you have to be here now in order to live now! The past is nothing that we can work with, and in a perfect world, nothing that we should concern ourselves with.
Things of the past have influenced me as a teen, a student, a daughter, a sister, a friend and now as a woman. The past most defiantly still influences me and the person I have become. Therefore I cannot simply put it out of my head and forget about it. It is part of me.
I also think that as I have gotten older, I have learnt the importance of reflection. Take for example, my situation with University; I often feel it unjust that my fellow classmates have all graduated and are now moving on to exciting careers and new stages in life. I have felt that that is where my life should be, that I am a failure for having to drop out two years ago when I became unwell. It reached the point that I could not be there as a friend for them and congratulate them on the amazing success of completing a degree in Occupational Therapy. I was green with spite and envy. I denied myself the opportunity to be happy with them in their success and lost some friendships in the process.
If I am to apply the skill of ‘RADICAL ACCEPTANCE’ to this situation, I must change my reality of the situation. Okay, I may have had to drop out, move home and be admitted to a mental hospital for five months. But I wouldn’t be getting the help I am now if it were not for that series of events. I would not be facing up to my problems in the hopes of someday living symptom free. That series of events HAS happened and cannot be changed, I CANNOT turn back time. All I can do is deal with events which crop up NOW, in this moment and plan to cope with those that may arise tomorrow. Notice how I am not saying it was fair that I have this mental illness, or that I like it (in fact, I hate it!) I am simply acknowledging that it is something that happened and that I can do nothing about other than work my hardest now so that it does not continue to affect my life in a negative way. It doesn’t mean that the feeling is “right” or “wrong.” Nor does it mean that I must be passive, and not take actions that might be helpful. ‘RADICAL ACCEPTANCE refers to my relationship with the reality of “what is” in the present moment. By arriving honestly and with openness to this moment’s experience, I might just have a chance to create the possibility of then responding with wisdom and compassion.
These big things in my past are my biggest barriers, my biggest burdens. But, it is more so my attitude towards these big things in my past that hinder my recovery.