Every New Year, I take some time to reflect on the past year – looking at the challenges I have surmounted, the opportunities for growth that I navigated, and the areas in which I hope to continue growing and learning into the New Year.
I will join the chorus of people singing the same sentiment: 2020 was QUITE the year. Since early 2020, changes have been constant and sudden. Every day there is something in the news which can easily cause fear, anger and despair. And to top it all off, my recovery program has oftentimes felt to be at arm’s length with meetings moving to the virtual space.
Never have things felt so completely and entirely out of my control.
2020 taught me many things, but one of those things is how to truly practice acceptance. I have, quite literally, existed in an extreme state of acceptance since early March 2020.
For me, 2020 started in personal turmoil. My father passed away from early onset Alzheimer’s Disease on October 26, 2019, on his 70th birthday. In January I found myself faced with a health scare that shook me. In February I had a personal experience that sent me into a complete tailspin and navigating an identity crisis. COVID-19 was hardly even in the news yet, and I was already drowning.
Thankfully, one of my absolute favorite lines in my recovery program is always quick to come to mind:
“Acceptance is the answer to all my problems today.”
In early March of last year, I leaned into acceptance more than I ever have before in my recovery program. Up to that point in my recovery, I had utilized acceptance as a tool to grow and to navigate the world. Now I was using it as a tool for my literal survival. By the time things began to “shut down” and Minnesotans began sheltering in place, I was already in a survival mode of acceptance and, to be honest, I did not struggle much with the transition. As the snow melted and world events continued to polarize our community, I practiced acceptance and albeit being disheartened and deeply saddened, I did not find myself consumed by fear, anger or resentment.
I work a recovery program to stay sober. I also work a recovery program to experience serenity and to be relieved of inner turmoil, angst and resentment.As the year continued to progress and some of those personal wounds began to slowly heal, I felt myself easing out of a constant state of acceptance. Particularly through the election and moving towards the Holidays, I felt my ability to practice acceptance being challenged. And if there is a time of year that challenges my sobriety (and in turn my state of acceptance), it is the Holidays!
As a person in long term recovery from substance use disorder, I am acutely aware of how the festivities of the Holiday season focus on drinking. Family gatherings, set against the “cheery family memories” we are all pressured to create (I’m looking at you, Hallmark Channel!), annually present a reminder of our own family dysfunction and dynamic, and oftentimes a reliving of past trauma. Conversations inevitably turn to topics of which my family and I have vastly different opinions and views. In the past, I drank myself through the Holiday season – oftentimes making the situation even worse. When I quit drinking, I allowed myself cigarettes over the Holidays. Then, I just flat out stopped going home for the Holidays and avoided family completely. Last year, I didn’t even put up Holiday décor in my own home.
This year, I chose to practice acceptance. The Holidays looked different for everybody this year – for a number of reasons. When I was clinging to acceptance for survival, I was hyper-focused on looking forward – on accepting what had happened, and only thinking about what the “next right thing” was that I could do. When the stay at home order was first issued, I let myself have feelings and an initial reaction, and then I accepted the change and focused on what I could do next to make the most of the circumstances. When past actions of a family member came to light, rather than sinking into hurt and anger, I asked for space, processed my pain and focused on what could be done to heal that relationship which led to new boundaries and, ultimately, a more honest and fulfilling relationship.
I work a recovery program to stay sober. I also work a recovery program to experience serenity and to be relieved of inner turmoil, angst and resentment. I personally have found the latter of the two to be the more challenging. Practicing acceptance has been my greatest weapon against, and my greatest refuge from, anger, resentment and a general state of malaise.
2020 was a challenging year that forced many of us into a state of extreme discomfort…but it is in the state of extreme discomfort that we are called to deepen our recovery program and hone our existing recovery tools and skills. Even though we are leaving 2020 in the dust, 2021 may continue to present a challenge to our sobriety and serenity, but we can practice both gratitude and acceptance to make the most of circumstances as they are.
Rachel T. Schromen is an estate planning attorney and owner of Schromen Law, LLC in St. Paul, MN (www.schromenlaw.com). Ms. Schromen speaks frequently on the topic of Addiction Trust Planning, including providing training on the topic to attorneys in the Metro Area.
Last Updated on December 3, 2020