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A 12 Step Journey to Self Acceptance
Once upon a time, there was a little boy, eight years old and roly poly round, who lived in a world of Polish first generation folks, in a city once run by Al Capone. His dad liked to encourage him, in the typical Polish fashion of the day. “Eat your GD food; you know how long I work for that?” Regardless of the food, in spite of the fullness he felt, the little boy ate. And he ate. It sure beat the snot out of- he ate.
In High school, the little boy grew into a man. Abandoned and alone, in his own mind, if not in the reality of a dysfunctional alcoholic family, the boy entered high school. Not the high school of the working class welders to be where he grew up, but the school of the elite lawyers kids. The young man’s dream was to enter ministry, therefore he landed at a place of learning meant for affluence and position, not blue collars and greasy, burnt fingers. “You’re just like the grass in a wind storm. You sway any which way.” Was the lesson he learned from his mentors. This was before the young man understood that in a wind storm, grass doesn’t get blown away the as does the mighty oak tree with deepest roots.
Graduating high school and still afire with a dream of service, the young man entered high seminary and learned the laws of street sense, bar songs homeless shelters and underclass folks who didn’t know they were. He lost his dream.
That young man was me. I am old now. Until the 12 steps, my life was only questions and self recrimination. The 12 steps came before the Bible. The Bible came before Faith. And Faith brought me to a concept foreign to anyone with active addiction. I have arrived at a deep level of self acceptance, at least for today.
I feel astounded to think of how the significant others in my life helped me to hate myself. I’m grateful to the University prof who told me that I was too dumb to even qualify for university. He led me to end up teaching at university! Thanks to the lover who reminded me that I was no good and who influenced my perception of myself every time she said I was not for a family. She was right. I was for multiple families, with an adopted son, homeless children, student teachers and scouting parents all part of me not being for a family. I learned to believe the bad and discount the good. After all, anyone with a PhD is an expert, right? Anyone who had a two parent household must know what a family is, right?
My self criticism was competent enough that the New York Times book review would publish it, at least in my own mind. I knew me! I knew that I was a blob to be judged, not so much by others, as by myself. Who could judge me more accurately than the man who greeted me each morning?
A change came to me as I discovered the 12 steps. Personal inventory, I think they call it. Funny thing was, as many times as I did personal inventories, I never focused on the positive aspects of my being. In days past, the inventory looked at my character deficiencies. God finally, graciously, lovingly, put it on my heart to look at and accept the positive parts of Abundant Old Soul. Obviously, the lightning bolt did not hit me immediately. It has been more of a Newport Beach wave washing away centuries of pebbles that contained failure, fear, shame, guilt and all the things that make our stay on earth the only real hell we will ever experience.
How to Accept Yourself
What is the revelation? I have discovered self acceptance. I understand that my self acceptance is working right now, and I am hoping that it works for the rest of the day. How I arrived at this place is a miracle that only God could grant. I have learned that self acceptance comes with no strings attached.
This is very similar to God’s love. “Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love” 1 John: 4-8 how’s that for a kicker. If God is love, He knows me. If He knows me, He loves me! If I can love lots of other folks, lots of strangers, beggars, store clerks….then maybe it’s time to love me! I discovered, just for today, that if God thinks I am worth loving, and He is omnipotent, then maybe I should follow the leader and love myself! What a novel concept.
What exactly, does this mean? For me, just for this minute, I hope for today, it means that I am ok with having a piece of cake. It means that I don’t need the calorie counter to offer me a paycheck. I can taste the food that is in my mouth and worry less about the fat content and more about whether I get taco sauce on my white shirt. (If I do, the shirt can be cleaned). Accepting who I am offers me the chance to love my sons and my wife without expecting any rebound affection. The rebound affects me by simply knowing that I loved. I am loved. I am love.
I look in the mirror and see gray hair that was earned through contemplation, self discovery and silence. No longer do I see a used up head of Medusa strands, good for nothing except trash deposits. My teeth are yellow from the hours spent drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes with lonely souls who needed a kind word more than I needed a long run. I don’t work much anymore, unless you call talking to struggling parents and showing newbie scouts how to light a campfire working. I don’t. I call it gift giving. The gift comes to me as these folks gift me with their struggles.
I am who I am! I like who I am. Right now. Just for today. “You yourself, as much as anybody else in the universe deserve your love and affection” is what the Buddha teaches. So if I deserve an extra piece of cake, how much more do I deserve my own love and affection? How much better will loving and accepting me feel, as I realize I don’t need an extra piece of cake? When I fall down, how comforting is it to know that I have joined the human race and I, too, make mistakes! Actually, self hate and shame aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. So, why bother?
Meditation has taken on a new realism for me. I find that I lovingly release judgment of others, because I have come to a consciousness that shows me those judgments are more about me than they are about the people around me. The negative thoughts I once had feel less satisfying than the loving thoughts about how blessed I am to be who I am for what I am. The wind smells differently. The leaves take on the sound of a bride’s wedding dress swooshing down the stairs right before the ceremony marking the rest of her life. Food tastes like food, not like gasoline for my body’s engine to futility. Breathing is recreational and no longer a labor of humiliation.
I am what I am. I am old. I am gray. I am wise. I am soft. I am lover. I am friend. I am mistake prone. I am anger driven. I am frustrated. I am holy. I am God’s child. I am who I am. Loved. I am accepting of me as I am. I am love.