Accepting Things We Cannot Change

Acceptance is one the central concepts in recovery — after all, what would the first step be without it? Unfortunately, it doesn’t always come naturally. Having spent 20 years of my life in and out of various 12 step recovery programs, you’d think I’d have learned long ago to take things as they come.

I am not that smart.

A few years ago, thanks to a friend who would remind me of the concept of acceptance every time I opted to complain about something rather than accept it for what it was (which was often), I was finally able to recognize the proper application of acceptance to my recovery. And it turns out, I’d already put it into practice a few times without applying a label to it – I just had massive blind spots when it came to my addictions.

Be it drugs or alcohol (I was an equal opportunity addict — I never really enjoyed alcohol, but it’s easy and legal), I could never curb my ego enough to accept that my addictions were a part of me I couldn’t resolve alone. I’d faced what I considered to be more difficult situations in my life — how could a bag, a vial, or a bottle compare?

Acceptance, though, is a universal concept — when we stop fighting the inevitable, we’re able to find the best in ourselves. And it often becomes a necessity in the strangest of life’s circumstances.

I’ve always been a fan of Central America; I assume this is a byproduct of excess spending money (read: standard millennial ignorance of debt) and geographical ease, having lived most of my life in Florida. Also, I’ve been kidnapped 100% less often in Central America than I have been in the Caribbean, which is a positive attribute.

At times, in that particular part of the world, you find yourself among interesting company — often in the form of off-brand local tour guides with little understanding of the English language. I can’t criticize anyone from Central America on this point, though: my Spanish is terrible.

I like Guatemala. They’ve got terrific food, delightful manners towards the rare tourist, and some incredibly interesting archaeology. Their infrastructure, unfortunately, leaves a bit to be desired. I wasn’t supposed to be there, of course – a common theme with me when it comes to questionable destinations.

I’d hired a driver to take me to Xunantunich, an archaeological site near the border between Belize and Guatemala. It’s a somewhat popular destination, and not all that hard to access – only a few river traverses where the 30-year-old van (with no air conditioning) you’re riding in has to be floated across a river on a tedious raft.

“Acceptance is the answer to all of my problems today.”

Unfortunately, on my first foray into the wilds of the Belizean border with Guatemala, we’d traversed the wrong river, and we’d been driving about an hour longer than we should have. I began to question the purpose behind hiring a driver; I could have got lost on my own. Nevertheless, we were in it together now.

The border between Belize and Guatemala isn’t obvious, it turns out. You just kind of keep driving.

“When I am disturbed, it is because I find some person, place, thing or situation – some fact of my life – unacceptable to me, and I can find no serenity until I accept that person, place, thing, or situation as being exactly the way it is supposed to be at this moment.”

There are a couple of ways to deal with that kind of situation. You can get upset, or angry, which probably results in you being left on the side of a dirt road in a rainforest. You can stay quiet, and hope for the best, taking no direct action – which neither helps nor hurts the situation.

As is my custom, though, I suggested we just stop at a restaurant and get something to eat.

“Nothing, absolutely nothing, happens in God’s world by mistake.”

While I wasn’t exactly pleased with my situation — I’d expected a day of crawling around and living out my “Indiana Jones” fantasies — it wasn’t such a bad trip, after all. Pulling into what looked like what was once a gas station that had at some point exploded, we were met warmly.

The food was excellent, though I’m not sure what it was — could have been capybara for all I knew — and they, somehow, had an ancient arcade version of “Street Fighter 2” around the back of what used to a garage.

This was something I was intimately familiar with.

“… unless I accept my life completely on life’s terms, I cannot be happy.”

Maybe I was stuck in Guatemala. I didn’t have my passport, and had no business being there. But there were a lot of children who were damned sure they could beat me at this video game I’d grown up with. Life threw me a curveball with my inept, alleged, tour guide — but “Street Fighter 2” was home to me.

I was beaten mercilessly.

“Guile” and “Blanka” (these names will mean things to nerds, trust me) might be the stuff of legends here in the US of A, but south of the border, they’re punching bags.

We left soon after they’d tired of my ineptitude. But even as I’d been shamed into loss after loss at something I’d spent a large amount of my life practicing in the arcades of Florida’s shopping malls and go-kart tracks, I had to smile.

We didn’t get to the ruins that day; we weren’t even in the right country. At first, I considered filing some sort of complaint – but who would I file it with? Eventually I realized I’d had a totally unique experience that I’d remember for the rest of my life.

I did see that old pile of rocks later — but to be perfectly honest, playing a video game with a bunch of random children in a country I had no business being in was far and away a more enriching,  unique, and rewarding experience.

“I need to concentrate not so much on what needs to be changed in the world as on what needs to be changed in me and in my attitudes.”

That brief episode of my life is something I often think about when I’m in a difficult situation. Life threw me a bit of a curveball, and everything turned out okay – I just had to stop, consider, and accept. If I’d behaved in the same fashion when it came to substance abuse, I probably would have been clean and sober in less time, and with less trouble.

But hey, it is what it is, right??





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