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  • Sarah Dionne, MSW, LICSW

Are You Happy? Can You Just Accept It? Part III

Updated: Sep 5, 2018

Today i am okay with my love affair with sugar. People who have suffered with anxiety and/or depression are typically drawn to sugar because it increases serotonin levels (the happy hormone). In essence, overeating sugar can be a desperate attempt to feel stable… and it works. For a little while anyway. That little while may be a longed for reprieve. Of course the aftermath of excessively binging on sugary food (or carbohydrates with refined sugars) wreaks havoc on mind and body, creating more mood swings, a false sense of guilt, and body shame. Then the cycle simply repeats.

Furthermore, this course finds its way into many parts of our lives far beyond food, in ways most of us don’t even recognize. Yet there is the possibility to let the entire cycle go without any kind of perfection.

Having bipolar disorder, OCD and an eating disorder is certainly not a great combination… and that has been me. My mind is far more balanced now and I no longer suffer with disordered eating. However, In years past I have thought resentfully, why did i draw the lucky card to have this crazy brain. Yet the extraordinary challenges the combination presented led to a life seeking stability and insight. In essence, years of studying balance and happiness.

In my last post, Are You Happy… And Fat, I ended with what has been know to be the key to true happiness for eons. Acceptance. I also mentioned how challenging this can be and how deep it must go to enjoy freedom. In my work, I teach DBT (Dialectical Behavioral Therapy), one of the fundamentals of this therapy is called radical acceptance. Before I go on, the funny thing about DBT is that it’s drawn from Zen Buddhism and Taoism. In other words, DBT is a fancy name us Westerners put on teachings that have been around for thousands of years.

In brief, Radical acceptance means not only accepting current conditions. It goes far deeper. Radical acceptance is looking at your feet, at where they are right now, no matter what the circumstance. Wherever you are is what it is, no matter how you feel about it, there is no changing the now. It then looks back at all of the events and decisions throughout life that have led up to this very point. Acknowledging them as they have been with no judgment. They are in the past and cannot be changed no matter how badly you wish they could be.

No, this does not mean we are stuck. With acceptance of what is, as it is, we can see with clarity. It allows us to make decisions without being dictated solely by emotion. And here is where happiness comes in. Practicing acceptance without judgement allows anger and resentment to melt away, it enables shame and remorse to evaporate, it releases us from the chains of self judgement and allows in presence… which enables true joy. True happiness.

Radical acceptance is something I have to practice… every single day. The reality of living with a mental illness is that it simply is… it’s permanent. I will never magically wake up one day without it. Yes, it’s manageable. However, if I were to allow myself to fall into a pool of resentment, i would begin to sink into the depths of illness. i would no longer be able to live the life i have today.

I have had periods of extraordinary instability and my world reeled out of control. Like I’ve mentioned, one result was anorexia, bulimia and binge eating. In the previous article, the epidemic of obesity was the topic; an outward manifestation of unhappiness. I’ve been there. Never obese in reality, but morbidly obese through the eyes of self hate. What has changed my life is nothing more than acceptance, which conversely opens the doors to productive change.

So what is the connection between body love and happiness? Body love isn’t only about our bodies, it’s about loving ourselves in entirety. It’s about feeling good enough just because we are. It’s about valuing ourselves enough to take care of the body we live in, respecting it enough to feed it well and without unrealistic restriction, allowing it time to move and gain strength, giving it rest to rejuvenate, providing it space to heal when it’s injured or ill.

In our culture we do quite the opposite. We force it to comply with absurd expectations and then do not want to afford it anything to remain strong. And when it falls short we resent it… we resent ourselves. Yet, what would it be like to accept our bodies; all of its limitations and imperfections? What would it be like to look past what it can’t do and acknowledge what it can?

Therein lies the impasse of body love and happiness. They are ubiquitously linked. If I express love towards my body I am expressing love towards myself. Accepting the body as it is, is saying I’m okay as I am now. It is Ground Zero in the journey of acceptance, from there expanding beyond ourselves. The house that isn’t big enough, the car that isn’t new enough, the job that doesn’t pay enough, the talent that isn’t recognized enough, the child who isn’t grateful enough, the parent who isn’t kind enough… on and on and on, robbing us of happiness. This could all change. It could all be enough. You could simply… be happy.

In my next article I’ll share a definition of happiness that may bring some insight into what it is we’re all searching for anyway, along with some of my personal practices for acceptance.