Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) is a therapeutic practice that encourages individuals to accept unpleasant thoughts or feelings rather than attempting to control them. ACT uses both acceptance and mindfulness strategies to enhance being in contact with the present moment. A life of sobriety isn’t merely about finding life without substances, but also about finding ourselves along the way.
It is a process through which we receive our present experience without judgment. Acceptance is finding yourself in recovery. The purpose of acceptance is to practice full awareness of ourselves in our thoughts and sensations to help better regulate our behaviors in relation to our emotions.
We cannot control things outside of ourselves. We can, however, control how we react to things that occur. In that regard, acceptance can be many things:
- Accepting what we cannot change
- Accepting the emotions we experience
- Accepting what is out of our control
- Accepting the changes that we must make to live a recovered life
Having the ability to accept situations for the way that they happen is one of the more challenging things in life. Often we want to control the outcome of situations to be more favorable to us. Unfortunately, that is not the way that life works. The sooner we learn to regulate ourselves in unfavorable moments, the better off we will be in the long run.
Mindfulness is similar to acceptance because it requires awareness of yourself and the feelings you experience. Emotions are to be approached objectively, looking at them as thoughts and then not getting caught up in them.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) uses practices like mindfulness and acceptance to help one acknowledge their thoughts and feelings. The therapeutic practice of CBT works to help a person change the thoughts that they’re experiencing, while ACT uses mindfulness and acceptance to encourage people to simply notice what they’re thinking and then move on.
Feelings are not facts and should not be treated as such. While CBT focuses on changing the thought pattern, which then changes the behavior, ACT emphasizes the importance of all feelings we experience without reacting directly to them.
ACT in Recovery
ACT in recovery is accepting the thoughts, emotions, and hardships we experience in life and then committing to taking the necessary actions to address and change the behavior to resolve the stress or problem, rather than avoiding it.
Life does not stop moving once we enter recovery. Everyday stressors continue to persist, as do feelings like anxiety or depression. Treatment for mental disorders is not always a matter of changing your thought pattern. As we know, sometimes we just are depressed or anxious without reason because of chemicals and biology. However, having the ability to re-frame certain intrusive thoughts can be all it takes to turn your day around.
Recognizing when an intrusive thought pops up and being able to analyze it further can be very useful. Where did this thought come from; why am I experiencing this feeling; is this thought really true, or is that my anxiety? This list of critical thinking questions could make all the difference in being able to move forward with your day or being stuck in an anxious or depressed mindset.
ACT can help treat many mental health conditions, some of which include:
- Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
- Eating disorders
- Substance use disorder (SUD)
Why Practice ACT
Admitting and accepting that we have a problem with drinking–or abusing substances–is the very first step to receiving help. “We admitted we are powerless over alcohol–that our lives had become unmanageable,” states the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous on page 59. Once we accept our powerlessness over our substance use, then we are able to dig in and start our recovery journey.
Not being able to accept the hard truths can be the thing that holds us back from changing. If our perception of our peers is that they’re constantly thinking negative thoughts about us, and we live our lives based solely on those perceptions, what kind of life are we really living? Recognizing the negative thoughts as just that and not allowing them to have any power over us can be the mindset that helps keep our mind and body regulated.
Every thought and emotion that we experience is valid
There is no categorizing them between negative or positive; they simply are. CBT and ACT both validate us in our experiences and challenge us to challenge the thoughts or emotions that occur. Feelings are not facts, and our perception of the world around us is not always correct. We start by acknowledging and embracing the totality of our emotions rather than avoiding or denying them, and then we take the necessary steps to incorporate changes representative of our values, all in hopes of creating a positive change within.