Radical Acceptance

by Lea Wetzel, Drop-in Center Coordinator

May 2, 2023

When I think of radical acceptance, I think of when my only brother passed away. I was in Montana’s Women’s Prison and didn’t have a chance to go to his services. It hurt, and I was sober for the first time since I was a teenager. I was sober, but I wouldn’t say I was in recovery, because I was still living in a way that had many, many character defects.

When I think about the multiple situations in life, where there was no choice but to have radical acceptance, I really can see the reasoning behind the trauma responses, and multiple trauma bonds I continued to have with others.  One thing I can say about myself back then, I had a lot of survival reactions, and I learned to use substances to numb the years of pain, and that was one of my many defense mechanisms back then.

My growth and healing journey was stunted because I was unable to accept, heal, or work through anything. It wasn’t until I had nobody to enable me, save me, and make excuses for my actions, that I was finally able to accept that these situations happen in life.

Radical acceptance was the choice I took, to accept the fact that my brother was gone, and that it didn’t matter if I was there to “save” him, or not. The fact was, I was right where I needed to be to start to slowly accept life on life’s terms and move into one of my first stages of growth.

This process in my life wasn’t gentle, it wasn’t perfect, and it certainly wasn’t pretty. I would take one step forward, to turn around to take a few more back. But I continued, and learned through my own recovery lens, that my brother passed when Creator was ready to take him home to the big lodge in the sky.

Being able to utilize radical acceptance as a tool that I have learned to incorporate into my life has been helpful in my healing journey. It helps me through, especially in areas that I have no control over. It’s like they say, “It is what it is,” and sometimes that’s the best frame of mind for me, in certain situations. I can better accept it and realize that I have no control in the situation, whatever it is, and that it’s time for me to continue to work on myself, because that is what I do have control over.

Here are some great examples of ways to utilize radical acceptance, in a Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) format. These are some examples I found, in researching radical acceptance. I hope they are as helpful for you as they have been for me.

Here are the 10 steps to practicing Radical Acceptance according to DBT’s founder, Marsha Linehan:

  1. Observe that you are questioning or fighting reality (“it shouldn’t be this way”)
  2. Remind yourself that the unpleasant reality is just as it is and cannot be changed (“this is what happened”)
  3. Remind yourself that there are causes for the reality (“this is how things happened”)
  4. Practice accepting with your whole self (mind, body, spirit) - Use accepting self-talk, relaxation techniques, mindfulness and/or imagery.
  5. List all of the behaviors you would engage in if you did accept the facts and then engage in those behaviors as if you have already accepted the facts.
  6. Imagine, in your mind’s eye, believing what you do not want to accept and rehearse in your mind what you would do if you accepted what seems unacceptable.
  7. Attend to body sensations as you think about what you need to accept.
  8. Allow disappointment, sadness, or grief to arise within you.
  9. Acknowledge that life can be worth living even when there is pain.
  10. Do pros and cons if you find yourself resisting practicing acceptance.

In allowing myself to implement some of these examples in my life, I have found peace within areas that I have struggled with accepting.

Utilizing radical acceptance can be a gift, that we in recovery can have and use when we see fit. Allowing ourselves to accept what is, and that we have no control, is okay. We don’t need to feel helpless, or any other negative reaction, we can continue to heal and work within our lives, to find answers.

Maybe these specific examples are not what is helpful for you. I suggest to keep searching, and discovering what works for you, because there is a life of peace and tranquility out there for everyone, in their own time.

Sometimes those hard and uncomfortable feelings are what we need to lean into. With the right support, we can heal. I have shared before, that it takes a “Tribe” to keep one individual up. It takes me a sponsor, three mentors (all for different leadership skills), a counselor, peer support, Elder (spiritual), and multiple peers and support.

Sometimes it may take trying multiple avenues of support, or even multiple counselors to find the one that works best for you. It’s worth the work, because we are all worth having a life with some space, of peace of mind


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