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In the past I often saw life through a lens of the earlier times. I recreated familiar events over and over, leading to the same interpersonal dynamics and subsequently the same emotions I was used to. Sometimes good of course, but much of the time I recreated conflict, familiar interpersonal relationships,  I remember thinking often, life is like groundhogs day, the same thing keeps occurring, and it seemed out of my control. The truth was I was living as we all do, from active pathways in the brain that were activated in specific dynamics, leading to the activation of familiar emotions, often sadness and hurt. I also found myself asking , “why” , all the time and spiraling when the results my own actions were the same.

   We repeat what we learned as children. The beliefs, coping skills, and behavior patterns that we learned in childhood become deeply entrenched because we learned them when we were vulnerable, and our brains werent fully developed. And after years of using them, they are hard to change. (Why Do We Repeat The Same Dysfunctional Patterns Over and Over?)  
I was told often that I needed to accept the past in order to heal it and change it.  Rather than spiral when events continued to be the same, accept this as well.  I felt this was impossible and fought against the idea. How could I accept circumstances, my behavior, the behavior of others around me, emotions like anxiety and depression? I felt that accepting it was judging it as ok, and that this was a way to make it grow more and more. Surely. therapists who asked me to entertain accepting how others treated me, how I behaved in the past, the relationships I lost, how bad my physical and emotional symptoms were, how afraid I was, and more, did not understand the magnitude of the situation. They obviously didn’t get that it was “normal for me to suffer”, and that “I should be suffering.”   This is how I felt, accepting meant saying all of it was o.k. and it wasn’t.  It was only when I grew tired of suffering in 2018, and felt I had no choice that I began to listen. Radical acceptance did not mean that I approved of any of what was occurring to me and by me, it had a neutral emotion. It just meant that I was choosing not to turn pain into suffering.

I finally began to understand the idea of radical acceptance in 2018 when I found myself in a state of derealization and depersonalization after coming off benzodiazepines and attending an Ayahuasca retreat in which I got very sick. Daily I found myself seeing the world in a distorted state, and panicking in this state led to an increase in these symptoms. I tried continuing to live life normally and one day while driving to another borough, I began to feel the derealization set in. The world around me looked fake and I began to feel I was the observer of the situation, rather than me driving the car. When this would occur, I would cry, and often go into a panic state. I knew this time I needed to change my reaction, as I was on a highway. I began to breathe deeply, trying to distract my mind and calm myself. It was the first time I practice radical acceptance.  I could not change this situation and so I accepted it and tried to work with it.

When I somehow managed to get myself home, I knew I had to accept that life had become unmanageable and I could not continue to live as I had been trying to. I requested a leave from work, and put my car keys away for the next few years.  Daily, I had to learn acceptance or give into old ways of being and cause myself more suffering. Often,  I chose giving into old ways of being.For example, even with shaking, sweating, extreme weakness, vomiting, burning in my body, poor balance, sound sensitivity, light sensitivity, derealization and depersonalization  I would try to go running. I have run since I was 16 years old and of course could not accept that for now, this was not something I could do. And, I fell.  Again, I began to radically accept that for some time I would no be able to run. As my condition worsened, I had to radically accept that I could not dress, bathe at times, find the same color socks to wear, process what people were saying . Each time, I allowed myself to get too enmeshed with what was occurring, I would go into a panic state and my symptoms exacerbated greatly.

In 2019, a doctor I had gone to for help, told me to try brain retraining. Resistant to the idea that any of this was “In my head”, I mocked him and cried.  I was in a car, unable to go into a building without extreme reactions to the environment, and knew I had no choice. In that moment, I accepted what he told me, and attempted to learn the program.  I was very skeptical about what I was learning, by speaking to others about brain retraining. I believed none of it at some points, and other times surrendered to it. In the times, I did not believe in it or have any hope, I fought, cried, screamed., and begged. In the times, I accepted and surrendered learned, sat still, listened, opened, and calmed down.  I learned more and more to be in this state of acceptance, as I could see the shifts occurring.

I lost more and more, and began to discover what had brought me to this place of pain.  Memories I didn’t have clear access to began to return, people left my life, the realization of how devastating benzodiazepines had been to me set it, feelings of betrayal from doctors who had prescribed them overwhelmed me, my life was on pause,  family turned their back on me, I had nothing left. I remember a point where I began to laugh at all of it. I stood outside wearing the same sweat pants I had worn for months, different color socks, my hair falling out,  sweating (sweating inappropriately was a symptom ), recalling all the negative things that had been happening  to me and I laughed out loud. I also in my compromised neurological state had a vision, me with symbols , and shapes falling off of me as I disintegrated with it.  The symbols were of the past and my identity as I knew it up until now. They melted off of me, and I became a blob on the floor.  And I accepted it, and laughed.
Radical acceptance came at  a time when I had no choice but to try. I had spent a long time turning my pain into deep suffering and I finally allowed myself grace. I still practice this today, and of course I can fail. But, most of the time surrendering to the way things are, is much easier and allows me to distance as an observer rather than become enmeshed into a narrative. It spares me suffering.

Learn more about radical acceptance here.
Find a radical acceptance sheet here.

Stefanie