By Dr. Steve
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people as they are.
Try not to change them.
Let others be, as they are,
and not as we would like them to be.
Acceptance, hunger for it.
- Stanley Phillips
had a first time visit with a young man several years ago. He had come into an institution
for help with a severe drug and alcoholproblem. When I walked into the meeting area, I saw
a young tough guy sitting in the corner of a stark white room. He was wearing a leather
jacket and torn jeans. His arms were folded tightly around his chest and he stared at the
Im Steve, I began.
he said. His eyes never left the floor.
Id like to talk to you for a few minutes, I said.
was no answer.
really would like to talk to you for a few minutes, I said.
a minute, I sat there and looked at him in silence. Closer now, I could see that his fists
were clinched tightly. His eyes were almost shut. From my perspective, it looked as
if he was trying so hard to withdraw from the physical surroundings that he would
have clinched himself shut if it were possible.
tell you what, I said, you can just listen for a while, and I will do the
talking. But I want you to promise to really listen to what I say, is that alright?
read your admission sheets and I know you have come here because of a drinking and drug
when I talk to my friends in recovery, they tell me about how they felt when they were out there. They really felt like life was a dead
end, sometimes waking up one morning from a binge of drinking and drugging with nothing
left to live for. It can be really overwhelming.
most of us in that situation, life is limited to isolating ourselves from the rest of the
world--then getting drunk or high. And if you are an alcoholic or addict, from the time
you wake up in the morning until you pass out at night, fear rules your world. Constant
and pervasive fear is your only companion. By the time you reach the bottom, theres
nothing left but self-loathing and disgust. Most people have real thoughts of killing
themselves. And many realize that the only other choice is to try and get better or
looked him in the eye.
one is here to try and hurt you. No one is going to condemn you for who you are. In fact,
I suspect that the person in here who may be judging you the most, is you.
he looked up at me.
is a phrase they use around some of the twelve-step organizations, that makes a lot of
sense to me. It goes something like this--when you
first come in, you dont accept or care about yourself, and in these rooms
(Alcoholics Anonymous Meeting rooms) we are going to love you until you can learn to love
saw his eyes were suddenly much softer and much sadder. After some time, he asked,
So, what do I do to get better?
told him that just by asking that question, he was already on the road to getting better.
softens and comforts. It opens doors and creates paths that were not there before. And in
our relationships, acceptance and caring are what we look for most. My young friend could
not and would not open up until several things happened that day. And acceptance was one
of those things.
and acceptance are something we all desperately want. When we talk about finding
happiness, what we really mean is we want to find someone who will care for us and accept
is a simple and direct definition for acceptance. Acceptance is positive regard for
someone else, without conditions for caring. Acceptance is an attitude toward someone
once knew an old couple who just blew me away. They were the best! Sandi and Sol were
their names. They both lived into their mid-nineties. To the extent that any relationship
could be perfect, this one was. It was the second marriage for each of them. And believe
it or not they began their relationship during prohibition in Chicago.
were worlds apart, but very much in love. Sol was a Jewish orphan and Sandi was an Italian
got started with a passionate romance. Times being what they were, the couple decided to
formalize the arrangements.
Sandi and Sol were married, they bought a run-down boarding house. He repaired things and
she made up the beds. The two of them worked together and played together. Someone once
observed that they really became one person. She was right with me, he used to
Traditional roles were blended between us, Sandi would often explain. In
our boarding house, he loved to barter, I loved to cook.
got to be careful, Sol said playfully. She dont agree with me and she
might break my legs.
the tenants might want to cheat me, but they sure wont cheat her. She might call
someone. He used to wink when he said it.
sat down and asked each of them why their relationship had flourished over the course of
so many decades. Each had the same answer.
respect him, she told me, and we talk.
said, I accept her and I dont try to change her. In my day, we called it live and let live. Now we just say accept. I accept
thought that was really impressive for a man of almost seventy. I asked him to define
caring for me as well. He looked up and said, What would a Russian Jew with nothing,
who came to New York when he was six, know to tell you? I think caring is simply your
concern for someone else. The ability to value them for who they are. And its a
pretty close cousin of acceptance. Does that help?
was exactly right.
in its own right, is a way of showing respect for the other person in a relationship. Part
of Relationship Bridge-Building is developing acceptance as an attitude. And it is
important that each of us act genuinely when we exercise acceptance. Many people feign
acceptance and are quickly branded phonies. That
same genuineness applies to caring. The regard we spoke of earlier in this chapter
involving caring is not a sentimental attitude. It is a true, positive regard for the
is really an unspoken dialogue that says a couple of things. Many of us dont think
much goes on inside of us when we accept someone else. But that is not true. A lot happens
between two people who truly accept and care about each other.
you ever watched a movie with a really romantic love scene? In between all of the physical
maneuvers, a really good love scene communicates acceptance and caring. We often take it
for granted. Lets break down some of those unspoken messages.
pretend you are a character in a movie. Imagine how you would relate to someone in a
romantic scene in your favorite film. How would you communicate caring and
acceptance? What subtle actions would communicate your acceptance? What slight gestures of
the eye would show caring?
point of this illustration is not to show your acting ability. The point is to shed some
light on what is being communicated between two people who experience acceptance and
caring. If I were in a movie, several things would happen. I would exchange some unspoken
thoughts with my on-screen partner. Imagine an unspoken dialogue that goes something like
am for you. I care about your needs and interests. I am committed to those things that you
care about. You are worth my time and attention.
people really connect in a relationship, they
express caring and attention. The act of caring provides the warmth between individuals
that we all love, and acceptance is the embodiment of affection between two people.
Both acceptance and
caring are the brass ring we look for in relationships. Strive for them. You deserve as
much acceptance and caring as can be poured into one lifetime.
chemical dependency and its toxic impact on family members. Raise your
children to choose to be alcohol and other drugs
free. Learn how
to in Dr. Frischs, Psy.D. Recovery book series.