Will Accepting Your Addiction or Mental Illness Really Work?

Acceptance helped me to find my way out of depression and find a life that I wanted to live.

___

Diagnosis.

Di-A-Gnosis: to know-through

The more that you fight-or-resist-or-hate-or-numb-or-push-away your pain, addiction, thoughts or memories the more territory it will occupy.

No one wants to be labelled. But if you are in pain, it can feel like a diagnosis will help you to know what is happening. And if you have a word for your experience, that makes it better.

Or does it?

If you have a diagnosis or a label for your experience, will it help you to feel better? Do words like addiction, depression, anxious, panic, flashbacks, anger, shame help you to feel better?

Diagnosis” means to know through assessment, examination or categorization. Can your diagnosis truly know all of you? All of who you are, beyond your situation, thoughts, moods and choices?

A diagnosis can be important if it helps you to get the treatment that you need. But sometimes our diagnosis becomes our identity, as in “I am…”

  • I AM depressed
  • I AM addicted
  • I AM ashamed
  • I AM panicking

Feelings, memories and unhealthy habits are real. They are painful. But you are not your thoughts, your feelings, or your behavior. You are not a diagnostic label.

This is going to sound like it is exactly what you don’t want to hear: Your pain is an important part of your life. The more that you fight-or-resist-or-hate-or-numb-or-push-away your pain, addiction, thoughts or memories the more territory it will occupy.

I am not battling my illness,

I am trying to cooperate with it.

The more that I battle,

the worse I become.

I wrote these words exactly two years ago. I realized then that fighting my experience would rob me of the energy, focus and hope that I needed to heal from a depression that seemed to have taken over my mind and my emotions.

My diagnosis of Major Depression helped to guide my treatment. I took medication and I was slowly improving. But nothing could make me not feel this way. I learned that if I didn’t open up and feel my sadness, I wouldn’t be able to feel anything. Acceptance helped me to find my way out of depression and to find a life that I wanted to live.

You will have days where you struggle. You will feel pain. You will feel deep sadness. You will feel anxious. You will feel a desire to numb your feelings with alcohol or drugs or food or sex or busy-ness or shopping.

What is the solution? From what I can see there is no solution, no cure because as humans, our ability to feel joy also opens us to feeling pain.

“It is psychologically healthy to have unpleasant thoughts and feelings as well as pleasant ones, and doing so gives us full access to the richness of our unique personal histories.”

Hayes, Wilson & Stroshal

Acceptance is different than surrender.

  • Surrender means that you give up or put up with whatever you are thinking or experiencing. Acceptance gives you hope because you realize that you still have choices.
  • Surrender means that you submit. Acceptance stops fighting so that you can be receptive.
  • Surrender means that you resign yourself to your fate. Acceptance allows you to be/become more flexible.
  • Surrender is an event that will forever define you. Acceptance helps you to be more open to what is happening now.
  • Surrender is an overwhelming loss. Acceptance is not an end in itself, it is a door. It means that you stand up.
The interesting thing about acceptance is that it will not take away any experience. What it may do is lessen your attention on your difficult experiences and your pain. You may be able to look up and notice that you also have a life that you want to live.

Acceptance will not cure anything. It does not mean that you want or like your current thoughts, experience, feelings or emotions. It means that you stand up and focus on what can be changed instead of investing all of your energy fighting or running.

You may not find it helpful to think about acceptance. I am not suggesting that you should stop any medication or abandon a treatment or a diagnosis. You may have tried acceptance and it didn’t work. Acceptance won’t help you to take away your pain or your feelings. The interesting thing about acceptance is that it will not take away any experience. What it may do is lessen your attention on your difficult experiences and your pain.  You may be able to look up and notice that you also have a life that you want to live.

• • •

I hope that you enjoyed this article. I invite you to read some of my other writings:

The Words You Use to Describe Your Life May be Making You Unhappy

Seven Words That Will Change How You View Mental Health

In Recovery: Your Diagnosis is Not Your Destiny

This is where I am supposed to write some serious stuff about myself. But in reality, I just hope that you enjoy what I write. I hope it makes you smile, makes you feel a little lighter and enjoy your life a little more. Nope, it’s not therapy, but I am sharing the good stuff… the stuff that helps me.

If you like it, sign up for my blog and share my work. And if you want to go the extra mile, click here to vote for my page on Psych Central’s list of mental health blogs.

Keep it Real

Photo by Bradley Gordon


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