Radical Acceptance

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Photo: The Holy Grail prop used in “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.” Image taken from indianajones.wikia.com; the prop itself is the intellectual property of Lucasfilm Ltd.

As promised in last night’s Three Good Things post, I wanted to talk more about the concept of radical acceptance and my rudimentary understanding of it. This is based off a revelation I had while reading “The Dialectical Behavior Therapy Skills Workbook” by Matthew McKay, Ph.D., Jeffrey C. Wood, Psy.D., and Jeffrey Brantley, MD.

The copy I’m reading originally came from my wife’s library. She purchased it for her own use, lost it, bought it again in an e-book format, then we found the original, which she’d barely written in with a pencil. Five minutes with an eraser and I had a virtually new copy all to myself.

It’s important to note that my wife was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder before I was, and in our attempts to understand what she was beginning to go through, I’d picked up a couple of books and did some research online. We knew that the first step was something called “radical acceptance,” where you accept yourself just as you are, warts and all.

This was a concept that I had trouble with even when I first learned about it. How are you supposed to accept who you are when you know all those mistakes that you’ve made and just thinking about them brings those same emotions washing over you just as they first did when the mistake first occurred? How does one even begin to break that cycle? So for a while, the concept of “radical acceptance” was something that was a nebulous thing, a legend, a myth – something that we weren’t sure could or did exist, but would change my life if I could just find it. (Even before I was diagnosed with BPD, I knew that the concept would be a helpful one for me. Did I know in my bones that I really had BPD all this time? Not sure if I’ll ever be able to say.) Radical acceptance became something of a Holy Grail for me to search for, doubting I’d ever find it.

Fast forward to last night, when I was reading in the workbook and discovered that radical acceptance goes beyond just yourself and your self-image. It deals with accepting your present environment, whether it be good or bad, as being the perfect combination of all the events and decisions that have transpired before it. This is a concept that I more or less adhere to. Oftentimes I reminisce about some of the experiences that I have in life, and usually my wife will ask if I wish that I had done things differently, that my life was somehow easier than it is now. Invariably I tell her that I don’t wish anything were different because I don’t know if one tiny change in my past may have resulted in me missing out on meeting her, falling in love, and marrying my best friend and soulmate. When I read those words last night, I was stunned to realize I’d been practicing radical acceptance all this time – I just wasn’t directing it inward toward myself.

The revelation came when I realized that I can’t be a different person than the experiences that brought me to this point have led me to be. The two are interconnected, and that means that I am exactly the person that I mean and want to be, right now, in this moment.

If I can radically accept what events in my life brought me to this point, whether they be good or bad, it’s not that far of a stretch to radically accept the person those events made me into.

Last night, I found my Holy Grail. And unlike whatever Indiana Jones tells you, it resides within me. And my wife’s resides within her. And yours resides within you. All it takes is just accepting this moment as being perfect within all the imperfections that led to it. Accepting yourself as a product of all the moments before this is just a simple leap of faith. And any Indiana Jones fan worth his or her salt will tell you that’s the way to finding the Grail.

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