Imagine yourself in a dark, foul-smelling room. Every time you take a step, you trip over shadowy objects littering the floor. Tired and frustrated from the stumbles and falls, you clear out a corner and try to make the best of the situation by ignoring the stench and sitting still, hoping it will all just go away. Sound unpleasant?
Now imagine you live in this room.
As uncomfortable as this scenario may seem, countless alcoholics and addicts have allowed themselves to live like this for years. They have chosen the darkness and the stench. Many were not aware that there was another way to live; others knew they had choices but felt powerless to make a change. Some have referred to this as their “discomfort zone”, a self-constructed prison cell where one is not comfortable but finds ways to make an unacceptable situation barely tolerable.
The diseases of alcoholism and other addictions thrive in dark places of denial – physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually – and living with active addiction can be like living in a dark room strewn with trash. Awareness, like a light in the darkness, is the enemy of denial. With light finally shed on the problem, these vampires of the soul begin to lose their power and fight even harder to keep what control they may have. Oftentimes the first impulse is to immediately take action to begin cleaning up the mess. However, as in a play, changing the scenery does not change the characters. Unless an internal change is sought and achieved, alcoholics and addicts soon find themselves back in similar or worse situations.
A leap from awareness to action leaves out a critical part of the recovery process: Acceptance.
Acceptance is the stage in which an honest examination can be made of the “discomfort zone”. This is a good time to ask oneself certain key questions such as:
- Whose bags of trash are these and what’s in them?
- Whose responsibility is it to do the cleaning?
- How long have I lived like this and, more importantly, why have I chosen to live this way for so long?
Most alcoholics and addicts find that once they’ve become aware of and learned to accept the parts of themselves and their behavior that creates unmanageability in their lives, some change, or Action, is necessary. It’s time to take out the trash. When beginning this healthy course of action, experience suggests that it is wise to do so with the support and guidance of those who have been through the process themselves (sponsor, therapist, sober support group, etc.) and can help navigate this new and unfamiliar path rather than going it alone and risking tripping over unforeseen stumbling blocks. If you were lost in the woods and came across someone who was also lost but had begun drawing a map and learning their way around, wouldn’t it make sense to ask that person for help with starting to draw your own map?
“Life is like panhandling – it’s all about change!” – 12-Step comedian Mark Lundholm
Awareness, Acceptance and Action (in that order), often called the 3 A’s, are the necessary steps for healthy change and growth to occur. Awareness is the identification that some problem or dysfunction exists that needs changing. Acceptance is that often uncomfortable place where one comes to grips with the idea that “This problem is a part of me, but it is not all of me. It does not define me, just as no other single characteristic of mine defines me. It’s merely one piece in the jigsaw puzzle of my life, and since it no longer fits, it needs to be removed”. Action is the plan one implements to recover and restore those things that have been lost to the dysfunction – self-esteem, serenity, balance and hope among them.
Ask yourself these questions:
- What kind of world would I create if I had the opportunity to do so?
- Would I rather live in an environment filled with chaos, anxiety and danger or one filled with serenity, peace and hope?
You have the power to define for yourself the difference between what is acceptable and what is unacceptable. Perhaps the most important question of all is:
- How do I want to live today?