A2R Blog – Say AAA! Awareness, Acceptance and Action

Written by Dave Cooper

June 3, 2014

“Finally I am coming to the conclusion that my highest ambition is to be what I already am. That I will never fulfill my obligation to surpass myself unless I first accept myself, and if I accept myself fully in the right way, I will already have surpassed myself.”
― Thomas Merton

Hi. Thanks for taking the time to read this. We are on a journey of change from an unhealthy pattern of exits from our life to a healthier pattern of facing and processing difficulties. How do we do this exactly? Today I want to give you a description and a definition of a process of recovery that I have called AAA! Or Awareness Acceptance and Action.
I work with people who find themselves unable to break a habit of spending hours on the internet playing games or watching unsuitable material. Or they find themselves high and/or drunk and wonder why or how it happened.
This process is one that will help you understand yourself better and help you to create more effective behaviour. That is our aim, to behave in more effective ways. You will notice that the process culminates in action or behaviour. So that is our aim. What we have at the moment is ineffective or unhealthy behaviour.
So here is my basic argument, the thing I want to use to inspire you to use this strategy. I believe that effective behaviour is created through acceptance of our true position and state. Through the process of ‘checking out’ (what am I really feeling/thinking at the moment?) we can then make a decision to accept ourselves as we are. This naturally leads to effective/healthy behaviour.
So if the key is acceptance then we have to start with awareness. We cannot accept what we are not aware of! This is a good time to remind ourselves of the primary function of alcohol, drugs and to be honest, just about every other ‘exit’ from our lives, whether it is gambling or obsessive cleaning. This primary function is to stop us feeling things! It is clear that if we have spent several years trying not to feel certain things it is going to take lots of commitment and discipline to turn and allow ourselves to feel everything. We need support in doing this but we also need a good reason for doing it. Well that good reason is here! As long as we keep our awareness low enough to protect ourselves from difficulty, we prevent acceptance of reality doing its job in producing effective behaviour! So the strategy of avoidance through exits which looked so attractive at first was never going to work. Let’s now look at what does!
AWARENESS – Starting with the first step, raising your awareness. This is easier than it sounds, actually you do not have to do anything! Like most of the ideas in recovery it is about stopping doing something. In this case it is about stopping the active process of denial and/or minimising what is unattractive to you. One of the ways I work with people around this idea is to help them disassociate more. Or put another way, to take things less personally. This way they learn to ‘sidestep’ their own internal injunctions. Whatever way you do this, the idea is to become more aware of what you are feeling, particularly the negative aspects such as resentment, fear, selfishness and dishonesty.
ACCEPTANCE – The next step is to take what you have become aware of and to accept it as fully as you can manage. So this is the opposite of what you have been doing. We are now running at the problem rather than running away from it! It helps in this process if you say it out loud. So if you can say out loud “just for today I am feeling ……………..” or “just for now I am thinking……………..” or if you are in a public environment just say it in your head. It is important to place this in a context of ‘right now’ or ‘today’ and not allow thoughts like “I am ………….” or “I am a ……………… person” which is not acceptance, this is ‘labelling’ which is very different and not always helpful. To place this thought or feeling in a context of ‘now’ it allows and includes the idea of change.
ACTION – This is the easiest part. In fact we are mainly just observing our new behaviour at this stage. It is this stage that should begin to convince you that you are on the right path with this, because it is so different! Remember it is the stages of awareness and acceptance that change the behaviour, not a conscious decision such as you may have made in the past. When we make decisions to change our behaviour without doing the preparatory work we actually make the unhealthy cycle stronger! Do not try to force better behaviour out of yourself, this is a form of fighting and this does not generally work well, producing a ‘conflicted self’.
Let’s look at the process from a different angle now. The angle of ‘realms’. It is this angle that might help you make sense of this process for yourself. Here is the process with the realms attached.
So we are starting from the internal and moving outwards, when we try to force behaviour changes on ourselves “I am never drinking again” or something similar we are working from the outside in. Let’s look at the result of a typical episode in one of my clients lives (I cannot tell you how many times I have seen this in the last thirty years). An awareness of discomfort is present. This is followed by some form of denial or minimisation. This is followed by the action of drinking or using drugs (often with a sense of blaming someone else). What is missing here is the vital role that acceptance plays. By taking our difficulty into the deeper realms of our psychology and spirit we do something vital in all problem solving and conflict resolution, we own it! We stop saying, this is their fault or if they wouldn’t say that or do that I would be fine. You cannot produce effective behaviour without ownership. This is your issue not anyone else’s! As soon as we own it (accept it) we immediately begin to produce effective behaviour.
This is massive! It can mean the difference between drinking and not drinking! Between using drugs and not using. One last thing, you need support. You have been avoiding these truths, feelings, thoughts, for a reason! I would not try this on your own. At the very least find someone you can trust to share your difficulties with when they arise.
Well there it is, the basics of AAA! I hope this helps you understand why you have not been successful in the past and encourages you to believe that you can be successful in the future. Thanks again for taking the time to read this and please email me with any questions or comments.

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