When the choice is staying between “a rock and hard place,” acceptance is a key to moving through it all.
Janelle Breese, Featured Collaborator
Motivational speaker Tom Krause said, “When life knocks you down, you have two choices—stay down or get up.” That is easier said than done, especially when something catastrophic happens and causes significant life changes. You can’t say, “It’s done and get on with it.” Life, tragedy, and healing don’t work that way.
A life loss isn’t something a person intends on happening or plans for in their daily lives. For example, when a catastrophic injury or chronic illness diagnosis occurs, it is without choice or negotiation. Once it has happened, there is no turning back. As we know, injuries and chronic illnesses bring about significant changes for not only the person but also for the family. The person living with the injury or illness is often not the same. He or she (and the family) has to adjust to personality changes, including a shift in family roles and responsibilities, as well as, lifestyle changes.
Many clients I work with—and certainly this was our family’s experience as well—are told to “accept” what has happened and get on with life. Again, this is easier said than done. The person giving the advice is implying that by coming to terms with what has happened, one can move on. The people receiving the opinion on the other side, however, see acceptance as defeat. For them, recognition brings resignation. “I have to accept where I am…nothing will change…I will not get better…I can’t get to where I was pre-injury….” Many clients and families feel that by accepting the situation, they are resigning themselves to a life they did not ask for and don’t want. And, that feels hopeless.
Acceptance is not defeat. While it is true that acceptance is examining life in the moments of today, it is also where you begin to make a plan and implement change. Acceptance is empowerment. Defeat, on the other hand, is where one blocks themselves from achieving an aim or goal. It is resignation and disempowering. Acceptance brings relief because it acknowledges where you are and helps you to determine what you have control over and what you don’t have control over. It does require examining every area of your life (such as relationships, personal growth, finances, lifestyle, etc.), which demands honesty. But, once you have an awareness of where things are, you can decide where you want to go from that point forward.
By examining life, whether you are the person living with the brain injury or a family member, you gain clarity and perspective on the situation. This approach, however, requires for you to be honest with what you contributed or didn’t contribute to the circumstances. For example, if you determine that you need to lose weight, be truthful about the current amounts and types of food consumed, as well as, the times and frequency of these meals. These are things that you can control. If you are built with a large frame, and everyone in your family has a large frame, you cannot control that. You can’t shrink your bones to a petite frame; but, you can still strive to be a healthy weight. Gaining clarity and perspective can be achieved through:
Journaling – Write about the situation including how it used to be, how it is now, and how you want it to be.
Feedback – Ask others for feedback on the situation and perhaps your behavior. It requires you to be prepared to receive some honest opinions.
Try on another view – Tell the story out loud (or write about it) from another perspective. Try the point of view from someone else in the family, or eveofn your future self. It can be fun because you talk (actually imagine) how you achieved what you did and gain tremendous insight on how to make something change or happen.
Once you have clarity, assess what you can control and change, and what you cannot. For the things you can change, make a plan, break down the steps you need to take, and start taking action—every day. For the things you cannot change or control, either change your perspective about it or let it go. Often, the things we need to let go include unrealistic goals or dreams, unhealthy relationships, and emotions that keep us stuck. This often requires forgiveness.
Forgiveness is not about letting the person responsible for a situation or action “off-the-hook” for what he or she did. Forgiveness is about no longer allowing yourself to be the vessel carrying the poison. It is about turning your attention elsewhere and not allowing negative thoughts and feelings to take up head or heart space in your life any longer.
This work certainly brings up many emotions and feelings. It’s important to pace yourself so that you don’t jump into an “ocean of emotion.” It means that you set the tone for doing the work (such as quiet, uninterrupted time) and self-care (like someone to debrief with, taking a nap or a walk, enjoying a soothing soak in the tub).
I don’t want to imply this is easy and straightforward. It isn’t. It is work of the heart, and it’s difficult. It is not uncommon for people to feel discouraged or angry. When you feel discouraged, you need to give yourself a pep talk by acknowledging that discouragement is a way of keeping you stuck. It’s trying to pull you into defeat, and it is a negative energy. Anger is a typical, reasonable response in a loss; it’s what you do with the anger that is important. If anger comes up for you, acknowledge it and find a way to express and release it safely. If you don’t, it will hold you in a negative place.
An important part of coming to acceptance is asking for help. It is not weakness, nor does it mean you are doing any of this wrong. There are things only you can do, and having to decipher, sort through it all, and develop a plan are not necessarily things you need to do on your own. The other reason to ask for help is that the people, who are helping you, are not immersed in your pain. It gives them a different perspective, and therefore they can help you to flesh out ideas of where you want to go and how and what you need to get there.
Acceptance is important because it brings freedom and empowers you to move forward in life. In accepting your situation, you are taking personal responsibility for your life and regaining control. When you have control and feel empowered, you open the door of endless possibility to welcome new and meaningful activities and relationships in your life. The more you have of these two elements in life, the more joyful you will feel. The more joyful you feel, the more of these opportunities you will attract. It begins a cycle of positivity and creates a healthy wholeness in life—and nobody deserves it more than you!
Janelle Breese, RPC, is an author, speaker, and counselor with expertise in grief, loss, life transitions, and brain injury. She resides with her family in Victoria, BC. She is the author of Life Losses: Healing for a Broken Heart. Visit her website at www.janellebb.com and follow her on Facebook at www.Facebook.com/HopeGenerator. Contact her at [email protected].