The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.
This quote by American psychologist Carl Rogers is especially powerful for those who want to be, or are in, recovery from drugs or alcohol. Carl Rogers believed that therapy should start with the patient. This is a way of saying that treatment must be individualized to the person at the center of care, the patient. One of the things that he recognized about himself, and those he helped professionally, is that acceptance is the first step to making a change.
Acceptance of the pain of life, the stress of life, isn’t easy. It is particular challenging for those with a history of addiction to drugs or alcohol. Often the pain kept inside that may have led to the substance abuse felt easier, at the time, than recognizing and accepting deeper underlying problems.
How to Make Acceptance Work as a Force for Change
Unconditional self-acceptance doesn’t mean that someone accepts the past damage that they have done to themselves or others. The first step is just recognizing that the past is in the past, and accepting this fact. Nothing can change the past, or the past choices. Accepting the past, also means accepting that the future can be different, and that new choices can be made.
Another important step to moving from acceptance towards change is taking small steps. Some might call this goal setting. The step-work done in Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA) supports this in the idea of accepting that one is powerless over drugs and alcohol. From this acceptance, one of the many areas of change encouraged is making amends. This may take time, but the positive benefits, the emotional release created by doing this, underscores a bigger change within a person making amends. Step-by-step, one person at a time.
Acceptance is an ongoing process that lasts a life time, just as change must be. Even for those in recovery, each day or each chapter in one’s life will bring new challenges. Accepting that the challenges are there, and then sorting out which require changes and which require just recognition, are part of life. Sometimes we need help with this process, and often our own strengths carry us through. Accepting this may be the most important life-change of all.