It’s that time of year again – time for my annual year-end blog. To say that this year has been a whirlwind, full of unexpected greatness, and unexpected challenges would be a gross understatement. We’ve added more staff in the past 6 months than I ever expected; we’ve expanded our Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) services to double our groups, expand our individual DBT counselling, and we’re starting a youth DBT group in January; and we’re starting more programs focusing on chronic pain and chronic conditions. We’ve networked with treatment centres and continue development of our Recovery and Aftercare Programs launching in January. Not last or least, we’re opening a new office in South Surrey. All amazing things, that I’m incredibly excited about, and grateful for.
And here I am sitting in the Jim Pattison Outpatient Care Centre on December 20th, as Meg endures yet another spinal procedure to try to control her pain. I discovered last night that the workstation I have at home from my pro photography days has had both storage hard drives die, and the backup server I used to have copies of all my professional and personal photographs seems to have bit the dust and I’m going to likely have to send drives to a data recovery company and hope that they recover the images of the last 20 years. And I sit here thinking about all of the things I didn’t get done before leaving the office on “vacation,” until the first week of January. And now I’m supposed to relax.
In Dialectical Behaviour Therapy, there’s a concept called Radical Acceptance. It’s a difficult concept to grasp, but essentially, it means having to accept things that are extremely difficult to accept, and often may challenge logic in accepting. Things that occupy our heart, mind, and soul that take up space and challenge our being and wellbeing. Things that are, that we wish weren’t and things that we can’t change, but wish we could.
Sometimes we get caught up or blocked from accepting because we don’t like whatever it is we’re needing to accept. Things like a bad grade in school, a bad review from our boss at work, maybe even events over the holidays with family or friends that we’d rather not go to. The thing is, acceptance does not mean we have to like it, it means we need to acknowledge that it is what it is and we can’t change it, and deciding what to do about it. Radically accepting means to do this with the really big things.
Here are a few tips on how to Radically Accept what you need to accept this holiday season[i]:
- Observe when you’re questioning or fighting reality – this may come in the form of you saying or thinking, “It shouldn’t be this way!”
- Remind yourself that your unpleasant reality is just what it is, and it can’t be changed.
- Practice accepting with your whole self, which may take the form of positive self-talk, relaxation, mindfulness, prayer, or even using guided imagery to go to a place of acceptance.
- Practice doing the opposite – do the things you would do if you were able to accept these things – you may find that you start accepting them as a result!
- Acknowledge that life can be worth living, and holidays can be survived, even if there is a pain.
For me, this year, there are a few things I’m having to radically accept in anticipation of and to get through the holidays:
- I can’t fix my wife’s pain, and she continues to have to endure procedures to try to help it in some way
- I can’t fix my hard drives and there’s a possibility that some of the things I cherish over the years in photo form may be lost
- I haven’t completed all of the things I wanted to before the holidays hit
But what does this mean? If I accept these things, how does that change anything? Well, it can relieve some of the stress and tension, or anxiety around trying to change any of these things. The reality is that I can’t change these things even if I want to. I can’t relieve Meg’s pain, but I can be there to support her (and this is the main reason I’m taking as much time off as I am this Christmas) because this is something I am able to do, even if it doesn’t fix her pain; I can’t fix my hard drives, although I can work on making sure there isn’t anything I can do, and I can send it to a company who knows how to recover data and pray for the best; I can’t complete everything I wanted to, but I can pick some times throughout the holidays to get some work done for things that really need doing. Perhaps most importantly, I can be grateful that I have the support in life that I do, an amazing staff (including the lovely Anna Hers who will be in the office through the holidays to take your calls so I can be home!), and we have a community we love and live to serve as best we can, which is why there is so much work to be done!
I’m also well aware that there are many of you who will struggle greatly this year over the holidays for many reasons and many that may make some of the above struggles seem rather trivial. Perhaps you don’t have a family to spend the holidays with, or you lost a family member and that memory will be with you during this time; perhaps you’re struggling with anxiety or depression and now feeling like you have to put on a happy face so you don’t ruin everyone else’s holidays; or maybe you’d simply rather not be here, and the holidays just make it worse.
Holidays can be hard. I didn’t set out to write a downer blog post, but I did set out to write a post that hopefully acknowledges some of the difficulties of life that don’t respect the holiday and give us a break, and some of the difficulties we face specifically because of the holidays. The malls and Christmas carols would like us to believe the world fundamentally changes and everything is glorious because it’s the holidays, but for many people, this is simply not true, or realistic in their life.
You are not alone. We see you, and we hear you.
One of our newest staff reminded me in conversation last night of the importance of being seen and heard, and this is especially true this time of year. We can’t always change the struggles in our own lives, or in the lives of others. One thing we can do, however, is show empathy toward others, and toward ourselves.
Our office will be essentially closed over the holidays, but Anna will be in the office. If you’re struggling, please give her a call at 604-283-7827 ext. 0 and she’ll be glad to set up an appointment for you as soon as possible in January. From all of us at Alongside You, Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays. May peace, grace, and love surround you this season, and we look forward to seeing you in the New Year!
[i] Adapted from DBT Skills Training Handouts and Worksheets, Second Edition, by Marsha M. Linehan. Copyright 2015.