The radical art of acceptance


I’ve learned over recent days about the art of radical acceptance. That is, when life is really a big stinking pile of poo but there’s nada you can do about it, well, you might as well suck it up princess.

According to experts, radical acceptance is about accepting life on life’s terms and not resisting what you can’t, or choose not to, change. Unfortunately, I learned about this philosophy a few days after I really needed it, but better late than never I guess, right?

I’ve always thought I was a bit of a radical. You know, living life outside the mainstream, being hip and cool and all that crap. At one stage, many moons ago, I was probably even living on the edge. Nowadays the closest I come to an edge is when I cut myself shaving. Oh, the non-stop thrills of being in your 40s. At least I have oodles of anecdotes from my misspent youth – and my 20s and 30s for that matter – to reminisce about when I get bored with myself.

Another ‘awesome’ thing about getting older is that more people that you’ve known and loved die. My aunty passed away a few weeks ago after a brave battle with cancer. Although I wasn’t able to attend her funeral, her passing, while expected, was the first on that side of my family, which seems to have shifted the familial axis into unfamiliar territory.

I guess if we live long enough then we better also learn how to say goodbye. Such a thought doesn’t make my heart sing with anything like joy, which is were radical acceptance comes in. Those of you who know me personally, or read this blog, know that my family is entering the sixth year or so of our mum living with Alzheimer’s. Her deterioration over the past six months has been heartbreaking and recently we moved into a new realm with mum spending time in a secure dementia respite centre.

Going to visit her all by myself while I was also trying out that 500 calorie a day diet, in hindsight, was a rather massive mistake. Not only was I starving, but the experience of seeing mum in such a place, with people “much worse than her”, was nothing short of traumatic. Mum, however, seemed to be enjoying herself (which is the main thing) and she also didn’t seem to notice the many strange goings-on that made me want to run out of that place, with her secreted under my coat, never to return, which would be no good for her or for me. For days afterwards, my brain just couldn’t process what I’d seen and also what the future for our mum, and for us, now holds. And you know what? There was nothing whatsoever I could do about it.

No matter how much my mind raged throughout the following days and nights about the big shit sandwich that our family was in, nothing would ever change the outcome. To put it bluntly, mum will end up in a dementia facility full-time and we’ll end up visiting her there and then one day it won’t make any difference to her whether we come to see her or not because she’ll no longer know who we are. Even my fingers got depressed writing that sentence.

After four days of self-induced anxiety and mental trauma, my grief counsellor taught me about something called radical acceptance. None of my unhelpful brain gymnastics would change the situation, she said. In fact, all that that over-thinking would do, she told me, was make me even sadder and possibly lead to a full-time reinstatement of a bunch of harmful behaviours that I’ve done a damn fine job of mastering.

So, it seems my radical days may not be behind me after all, because I now understand that to accept, albeit reluctantly, the harsh reality of the cards we’ve been dealt is the only way to proceed. That’s life isn’t it? Anything else will just mean more tears and heartache and bad decisions and there’s already been enough of that for two lifetimes.

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