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Radical Acceptance by Tanner Meyer, MSW LMSW

Sometimes things happen in life that are incredibly inconvenient, unfair, and/or horrible. We get fired from our jobs, a tornado damages our house or car, we are born with a severe mental illness, we suffer physical and mental abuse at the hand of someone close to us. Sometimes we are dealt a crappy hand in a game of life (and poker). But just like poker, it’s not the always the hand you are dealt but how you play your cards.

When we are dealt a hand that feels too big or messy to hold, or we feel like all we do is lose, we can get stuck in the ‘unfairness’. And when we are stuck in the unfairness, we tend to make decisions that keep us there, or even move us backwards. But when we incorporate radical acceptance, we learn to accept parts of ourselves or our lives as they are, and we can make choices that change our life trajectory. Radical acceptance is much like the Serenity Prayer:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change those that I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

Note those three words: accept, courage, and wisdom. These are the three ‘steps’ to radical acceptance and a healthier life. I want to start with a silly analogy: radical acceptance is like finding your green tea.

I am allergic to many foods and beverages; in this example, I am allergic to coffee. Let me be the first to tell you how devastating it was for me to find out I am intolerant. I loved coffee, so much so it kind of became my personality: I drank about 32oz a day, worked as a barista, bought a $400 coffee maker, and even got a coffee cup tattooed on me. But I kept getting sick and lethargic, and even coffee didn’t wake me up. That’s when I realized something was wrong and blah-blah-blah I was advised by my doctor to cut coffee out of my diet completely. Forever.

I was so angry. First of all, what was I supposed to do with that coffee maker now? And my tattoo, should I cover it up? Maybe I can have it, just in moderation? I kept drinking it. Moderation didn’t work for me. If I was going to drink it, I wanted it all day, switching to decaf at night. And, no surprise to you, dear reader, I kept getting sicker. It just isn’t fair to have a bunch of allergies in the first place, and then to lose something I felt I had such a draw to felt even more unfair. I was stuck in the unfairness, and I kept making myself sicker.

That left me with 2 options (as I am also intolerant to black tea): green tea and energy drinks. I think I gagged the first time I realized my options were dirt water or citric acid. What on earth is there to like about either of those options, I thought at the time. But I realized that I had a choice. I could find out what there is to like about green tea (I had thrown out energy drinks as an option), I could cut caffeine out entirely, or I could keep drinking coffee and make myself sicker. I don’t know about you, but I thought this poker hand sucked.

With trial and error, I found ways I actually enjoy green tea. I found things I like about it. And what I loved most was that I felt energized without feeling jittery, and even better, I wasn’t sick. Green tea, maybe, isn’t so bad!

Now, this is not to say I don’t miss coffee. I am not silver-lining this and saying “at least” there’s green tea. I don’t have to be happy about my options. But I can acknowledge that I had autonomy, choice, and consequences for my choices. And I made the choice that offered me a bit of what coffee used to give me, and a little bit of what it didn’t (healthy, happy tummy).

A mental health example: As I have written before, I have bipolar disorder. It can suck. Bottom line. It has destroyed many things and made a lot of others more difficult. Meds, therapy, and psychiatry are expensive, and even inconvenient. Maintaining a stable, balanced, and sustainable lifestyle is tedious and, sometimes, I feel like an outsider amongst “healthy”, young people.

But again, I have choices. I could not take my meds, or go to therapy, or talk to my psychiatrist, or engage in the habits that are healthy for me, and I could end up psychotic, suicidal, manic, depressed, or even dead. I could lose relationships and jobs, my car or home. Or, I could do all these things and my odds of a safe and fulfilling life are dramatically improved.

As previously mentioned, this is not a silver lining. There isn’t really a positive spin on having BP that takes away all the grief that comes with it. All those things are still work, time, and money. And even with all those things, I can still experience psychosis, suicidal thoughts, depression, or mania. It’s not a sure thing.

But I choose green tea. And I choose a lifestyle that affords me stability and longevity. So what is your coffee? Is it a relationship, a person, an addiction, a mental illness? What is that green tea you are reluctant to trying? Medication, a new job, boundaries, exercise?

No matter how hard I tried, green tea never became coffee. Now, I’m actually really happy about that.

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