Acknowledge Your Reality
By David Bohl
The stoic philosophers predated the Serenity Prayer by hundreds of years with what has been adapted in English as the IDEA method. This is a method that employs wisdom and decision-making to our challenges. It goes like this:
I – Identify the real issue –Often our difficulties derive from desiring what we do not have and/or being averse to those things we do encounter. When we are uncomfortable, it’s often because we have not reconciled these matters with our hopes and ideals. Have you heard the saying “expectations are premeditated resentments”? Focus on the way things are, not on what you want things to be.
D – Distinguish “internals” and “externals” – Stoic philosophers made a distinction between “internals” and “externals.” Internals are those things directly accessible and manageable to us, like our attitudes, opinions, desires, and actions. Externals are those things beyond our direct control, like our reputation, material success, and many of the challenges and obstacles life lays down in our path. To further your recognition of reality, invest in the internals.
E – Exert effort only where it can be effective – Focus only on what we have in our direct power to effect, like our attitudes and our actions. Demanding or expecting that all other endeavors will conform to our desires will be futile and exasperating, as well as energy-draining. Our proper use of power is in working on things that are practical and attainable, not those things which are beyond human reach.
A – Accept the rest – This is the foundation of radical acceptance – recognizing things as they actually are, not as you’d prefer them to be. This final bit of wisdom requires action, where you stop fighting reality, stop responding with unhealthy behaviors when stressed, and let go of animosity and resentment that flame suffering. This is where the healing from powerful emotions that fuel unhealthy coping mechanisms, like drinking, can continue.
This reflects the Stoic mindset of amor fati, which is translated from Latin as “a love of one’s fate,” or a resolute, enthusiastic acceptance of everything that has happened in one’s life. I would go as far as suggest that it also means “radical acceptance,” a term that I’m sure you’ve seen used trendily and often in recent years. Contrary to what the word “radical” implies, this is not the sort of acceptance where you put up with just about anything and where you accept what is happening even if it’s a bad thing. No. It means that you acknowledge reality. You don’t need to agree with it – especially when it’s very disagreeable – but you have to find yourself present within it. Being in denial causes further suffering—facing our circumstances allows us to deal with them better.
The only “good” thing about COVID-19 is that with the current measures of social distancing, the scary stats, and the on-going crisis in hospitals is that it’s almost unavoidable for us to have to acknowledge that this is our reality. Very few of us (none?) have been prepared for it, and it’s obvious that very few of us really know how to behave. But most of us try as we genuinely have no choice.
Yet we still have quite a few stragglers. People who are unnecessarily hoarding household supplies, people who are confused about quarantines, or people are gathering despite the fines because they think this is a conspiracy theory. Those are the people who are not well informed, who distract themselves with unnecessary efforts, and who cannot accept that the world is right now going through a significant change. No radical acceptance here. Taking a bit of stock in all the information that is coming at us would be most beneficial at this point—fighting the reality with toilet paper is not going to help anyone.
Thankfully others can lead by example. Those are the people who are listening to the news, reading press releases, fact-checking information, discussing with their friends, staying and healthily cautious, and trying to adapt to ever-changing circumstances. I think it’s the adapters that will fare best here because they are the most in touch with this new reality. Being able to acknowledge that this is an on-going situation, and making peace with it as we lean into it will help us cope so much better. And make it small.
Most of us know the serenity prayer. And many of us have integrated an understanding of radical acceptance as part of our recovery. I would encourage you to give the IDEA method a go and apply it to whatever reality it is that you’re finding yourself in. Don’t tackle the whole COVID-19 with it, but instead use it to address your anxiety, denial, fear… whatever it is that you’re struggling with during this challenging time.
David B. Bohl, author of the memoir Parallel Universes: The Story of Rebirth, is an independent addiction consultant who fully understands the challenges faced by so many who seek to escape from, or drown their pain through, external means. His story offers hope to those struggling with the reality of everyday life in today’s increasingly stressful world.
Through his private practice substance use disorder consulting business, Beacon Confidential LLC, David provides independent professional consultation, strategic planning, motivation and engagement, care coordination, recovery management and monitoring, and advocacy services to individuals, families, and organizations struggling with substance use issues and disorders.