Instructions for Acceptance

Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Acceptance is a hard pill to swallow. So often it goes along with things we don’t want…illnesses, losses, failures. Acceptance hangs over our head waiting for us to finally give in and take what we didn’t order.
I understand this. My mother* has fought her diagnosis of Parkinson’s for 20 years, unable to accept that she is disabled while the rest of us stand around hurting for her and wish she’d just accept her diagnosis so she could at least enjoy what there is.
Of course, when acceptance is a personal matter it becomes less theoretical and more impossible. There is just something so wrong about accepting what we see as not being right. At the same time, knowing there is a freedom that comes with acceptance, I have often pleaded with myself to just get in line and stop objecting already. The problem is I don’t know how. It’s not just a switch you can flip in yourself.
We’re all in this boat. We all have our personal list of hard realities we need to accept. One of the harder things on my list to accept is all the foods I can no longer eat. For the past 18 months I have simply declined acceptance of the drastic reductions to the mast list of foods available to me. If I do get away with eating some of the problematic food with no consequence, I immediately think all that “can’t eat this and can’t eat that” stuff was a big misunderstanding and immediately return to my old life with gusto. And then am miserable and back to square 1.
After going through this dance so many times and paying the terrible price, a couple of weeks ago I finally just asked myself, “What would it mean to come to terms with my situation?” Framed-up like that it became fairly obvious. It simply meant staying under whatever my threshold of tolerance turns out to be with these foods, which may be small to none. Period. This situation wasn’t about me “getting my food back” which was the only way I was willing to think about it. But with the benefit of clearer sight I was able to see a little bigger and came up with a Weight Watchers-like point system in which I get one or two “tricky food” points a day. This might translate into having a little curry powder in my soup at lunch and if all goes well by the end of the day having 2 squares of dark chocolate for dessert. If it doesn’t go well, then time to drop back, lay low, wait for the symptoms to clear, and then tentatively stick another toe in, or fork as the case may be. It’s as simple as that.
What I take from this experience is that after struggling so much it would have been useful for me to have stopped and asked myself, “What am I not seeing clearly?” so I could come up with a useful approach. If there was a switch to flip that was it.
But switch or no switch, this was not about passive acceptance. This reckoning was an active coming-to-terms with a bad situation via a clear-sighted recognition that I may never eat the same again and an agreement to move forward with my life anyway with my point system, regardless of whatever amounts of those foods I turn out to be able to have in the end. And for that clear-sighted engagement I’m no longer stuck back at, “I must have all my food and will accept nothing less.”
This “acceptance” vs. “coming to terms” may seem like a silly distinction -- a tomato vs. tomaato sort of thing -- but it felt really different to me. “Coming to terms” simply has more instruction to it. It’s action-based: it neither has the feel of surrender nor does it require a spiritual awakening to get to the other side. It’s a personal determination of the action steps involved in moving forward. It’s acceptance broken down into step-by-step instructions. It feels something like control.
Just a few thoughts on the nature of acceptance, which you are ENTIRELY free to take or leave…
*My mother has given me permission to write about her lived experience with disability and encourages me to bring as much understanding around what it means to live with a disability as I can.