This post was originally written for The Creative Cafe.
Acceptance is not stasis.
It’s not sinking into mediocrity or making a home at rock bottom. It’s not the inertia of deciding to stay as you are forever more.
Acceptance is not arrogance.
It’s not the belief that everything about yourself is perfect and doesn’t need a modicum of improvement. It’s not the brash, distorted egotistical beliefs that are really a cover-up for insecurity.
Acceptance is not necessarily even self-love.
It’s not the adoration of the self. It’s not luxuriating in the self. It’s not about venerating your own existence.
Acceptance is not being accepted by others.
It’s about the self, damn it. It’s not about finding people who say you’re great just as you are, Bridget Jones style (even if that can help.) It’s not about letting the world do the work for you and build your self-esteem on your behalf. You can’t outsource this type of work.
Acceptance is something quieter and calmer. It’s the mountain you climb only to find the view makes you forget the ascent.
It’s getting up in the morning without screaming at the day. It’s doing makeup without bemoaning the face underneath. It’s nights without the agonising panic attacks at the thought of another day in solitary confinement with this self. It’s learning to look people in the eye again and to just be around them.
It’s not about epiphanies. But little realisations are part of the process. I’ve had a few of those. Walking over a bridge at night to my ex’s house at university and thinking I don’t actually have to hate myself. Sitting shaking on a train on the way to a date and thinking I could just enjoy this. Walking in circles around a mall in Cape Town, hungover and homesick, and thinking I don’t have to hate today. Sitting alone in a tiny park on New Year’s Eve and thinking most of the things I want to happen will happen if I can just stop thinking like this.
How do you learn to accept yourself? You commit to living. Once you do that, you don’t need to learn. You can’t do anything else.
You accept because to live is to accept. There’s no third option. This is you. This is your life. This is not your funeral. This is who you are, this is what you are going to do.
But you commit to it. This is a different sort of living to the kind you do in the fog of self-hatred. This is not existing, this is not drifting along, this is not floating along passively praying for it all to stop.
You embrace the mundane minutiae of life: you cash a cheque, empty the vacuum cleaner, cook rice, open the mail, go somewhere to see someone or something. And all the while, you observe everything like a piece of fine art.Dum dee dum, would you look at me, folding this laundry as if it matters, as if I am not crushed by the weight of my impending death, as if everything isn’t a pile of shit.
You take stock of yourself and acknowledge that this is it. This is you. This is your life. You try on gratitude like an old shirt that might fit. Wear it despite the too-long sleeves. You’ll grow into it.
How do you learn to accept yourself? You treat your Self as a fact of existence, like the color of the sky or the feel of rain on your skin. It just is.
If people get an inkling that you hate yourself — and people can smell genuine self-loathing, not the attention-seeking stuff, a mile away- they’ll try to talk you out of it. They’ll tell you you’re beautiful, talented, fun to be around, successful, cool etc. These things are probably true. We all need external validation to survive.
It’s also a bad idea to base your self-worth on traits like beauty and success.Those are not you. You can lose them at any time. If you can only find acceptance if X or when Y, you’re still at square 1.
Because I don’t think self-acceptance is about appreciating some underlying level of physical attractiveness, intellectual prowess or the achievement of some other metrics. Let’s get out of the conditional mindset.
You are what you are. You don’t, can’t need to be anything else. You can always improve but you have to get real about the underlying self first. There are pros and cons, facts and incorrect beliefs. Living matters so much more.
Time passes. You get better at living — it’s easier if you treat it as a skill because it is. Acceptance is never surrender, never a defeat, never an event, never a victory. Just a process, too slow to try measuring.
But someday, you look back and see that old fog behind and you shudder.
You notice how much lighter things are.
How much easier it is to just get up in the morning and do what you need to do without a three-hour internal debate first.
How much lighter you feel when the opinion of everyone around you is not always at the forefront of your mind.
How much simpler it is to live when not living is not an option. Not that it ever was.
Is that learning? I don’t know. It’s more like growing. A tree doesn’t want to grow or know why it needs to grow. But it grows because it needs light to survive. We are the same.