Acceptance: Because we can’t change the past

This post about acceptance has been rankling around in my brain for weeks now. Funny, because I think that’s kind of what happens when we need to accept something (it takes time and isn’t quite what we expect). Recently I posted about perception and promised a post on how to change your perception. I think acceptance is one option to change your perception. But let me take a step back – I’m starting too fast!

The past can only be accepted.

The past can only be accepted.

Have you ever had something happen in life that you didn’t want? Maybe someone died. Maybe someone chose to leave your life. Maybe you lost a job or a house. Maybe you did something you wish you hadn’t. Maybe you didn’t do something and wish you had. Basically any past event you wish were different or you think was unfair.

I’m going to tell you something about me. When I was 27 my 26-year-old husband died of cancer. We had been together since we were 18. We had big plans for life – life together. When he died I lost my marriage, my best friend, and my future plans – dreams of a house, children, and life together. It has now been more than 5 years. I have learned a lot about myself and made a lot of decisions for myself. I have grown in ways I never expected. I don’t like that this happened (not at all!), but I like the person I’ve become and am becoming. I’ve experienced post-traumatic growth. That’s all good, right? I’m “done” with this, right?

But then… (I hate that there’s always the “but then”), I find that there are lots of little things that make me angry. Lots of things that make a part of me want to sit down, have a temper tantrum, and say “That’s not fair!” Part of me feels like the world owes me – that things should be better now because that Bad Thing happened to me – that I shouldn’t have to endure any more bad. There are also things that make me get down on myself – that there’s something wrong with me that I don’t yet have that exact life I planned to have with my late husband. Even if I don’t even want that life anymore… well, it still makes me wonder if I don’t have it because of something wrong with me.

Unfortunately, as much as I want to be “done”, I’m not done. I still have work to do to be able to fully live. And that work is acceptance.

Today I sat down by myself with Amy Smith‘s very cool, newly expanded sand tray set up. (So exciting, Amy!) Sand tray (or sandplay) is a way of doing counseling where the client creates a world in the sand with figurines and other miniatures. That might sound like it is just for kids, but it is most definitely for adults too! I think Amy is planning to tell us more about it in a blog soon! While I didn’t really “do” sand tray (you want a trained professional like Amy for that!), I did work out some thoughts for myself with the sand and figurines. After a few rearrangements I had myself set up as Darth Vader, fighting off a whole lot of things I found unfair about the world. I also had a bridge to where I wanted to get to in life. Now, here’s the question. Do we really think Darth Vader, lightsaber drawn, is going to be able to change the fact that my late husband died and we didn’t get to have our future together? And even if he somehow magically could, would Darth Vader, lightsaber drawn, be welcome over that bridge where I want to go?

Nope. He could keep fighting and fighting and fighting (and so could I), but the truth is we can’t change the past. We also can’t make the world fair. And we also can’t control the actions of others. Not even Darth Vader can do these things. And I don’t actually want to be Darth Vader anyways…

I want to do anything except accept the past as it is. In fact, I want to do anything but accept these three sentences, that we can’t change the past, can’t make the world fair, and can’t control the actions of others. I want to fight. I want to make the world fair. I want to find that magic key that changes things. I want to force life to be different. I want things to magically work out. I’d almost rather believe something was wrong with me than accept. Because at least I could change that, right? But that’s not the answer. Acceptance is. I want, I want, I want… anything but acceptance. Because, you see, acceptance is really difficult. Acceptance feels like doing nothing but also doing the hardest thing in the world. But acceptance is also the only thing that will help when it comes to the past. No matter how long or hard I fight, the past will always be the same. The only thing I can do is change my perspective on it. And that comes (slowly) with acceptance.

I’d like to tell you how you accept the past. I wish I could give you that. But, unfortunately, I don’t know how. Partially because I’m not done yet (the hard truth is I’ll probably never be) and partially because I think it is different for everyone. It will probably involve crying, feeling sad, feeling angry, feeling whatever we actually feel. It will probably involve acknowledging and accepting the feelings we have. It may involve being mindful of our thoughts without needing to act upon them.

It will always be wrong that my late husband is dead. It doesn’t mean I have to let anger, sadness, and unfairness affect how I live. I can accept, even if it is the last thing I want to do.

Let’s get back to you. Did you think of an event earlier when I asked if you’d ever had something happen in life that you didn’t want? Think about that event now. What has happened since that event? Are you still fighting against it? Do you want to somehow find the key that will make it all okay? Do you feel like life owes you some type of karmic repayment? Do you blame yourself? Do you think you’re on a path to move forward, but silently rail against the event?

That event will always be just as it is now. It is in the past. All you can do is change you or change your perspective.

Acceptance is difficult, but it can help. If acceptance seems like the right path for you, or even if you just want to explore these questions, give us a call at Life Skills Resource Group Orlando at 407-355-7378. Our skilled mental health counselors and marriage and family therapists can work with you in sand tray therapy, individual counseling, couples counseling, or family counseling to work toward acceptance of what is.

In the words of one of my favorite authors (Cheryl Strayed AKA Dear Sugar), “Acceptance is a small, quiet room.”

In striving for that room, Krista Bringley