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String of PearlsRecipes for Living in the Real World
By JoAnna M. Lund
Putnam Publishing GroupCopyright © 2000 JoAnna M. Lund
All right reserved.
Learning to Accept What
You Cannot Change
* * *
First ask yourself: What is the worst that can happen? Then
prepare to accept it. Then proceed to improve on the worst.
I'm married to a younger man. He was younger when I met him. He was younger when I married him. And he's still younger than I am.
I married Cliff because I love him. I didn't let the fact that I'm older than he is by a few years keep us apart. I recognized that it was a fact of life I couldn't change, and I learned to accept it.
(Actually, it could turn out to be very smart to marry a younger man, since women tend to live longer than men do. This way, we'll be together the rest of our lives, if we're lucky!)
You may wonder why I mention something that seems so minor when I talk about accepting what you cannot change. But have you ever known a woman who had very specific ideas about the kind of man she would want to marry, or even date? Maybe he'd have to look a certain way, or have a certain type of job. For many women, a prospective romantic partner has to be a few years older. Why? Perhaps so she'll always feel younger when they're together. Or maybe she worries that in marrying a younger man, she'd be considered a "cradle robber" or foolish.
I wasn't a young girl when I met Cliff, and I'd already learned that what really mattered to me had nothing to do with age. I also knew that his age was a fact about him I could never change. I accepted it, we got married, raised some great kids, built a business together, and continue to be very happy. (We celebrated our twentieth anniversary just as the century was coming to a close in 1999!)
For me, the fact of marrying a younger man was an easy thing to accept. Not everything about my life has been quite that simple, especially when it came to my body, my weight, and my sense of self.
For years, I thought that if I deprived myself, criticized my body, exercised harder, and ate almost nothing, I could get rid of my hips, which have always been a size larger than the rest of me. Well, I did all those things, and all I succeeded in doing was damaging my health and crushing my self-esteem. Eventually, I learned to follow a healthy lifestyle and lost the extra weight, but even when I became a happy and healthy size 12, my hips were still hanging on at size 14.
Did I lock myself in the house and refuse to go out? Did I sign up for liposuction or wrap layers of Saran Wrap around my body in hopes of sweating off those curves? Did I decide, "Now it's time for a crash diet or a liquid diet or a juice fast?"
I did not.
I said to myself, "JoAnna, God made you and He made you hippy. You've done your part and done your best, but some things aren't going to change. Now, you can accept it and get on with your life, or you can wallow in unhappiness the rest of your days." Okay, I admit it, I get a little melodramatic when I talk to myself sometimes. But this was an important realization for me. After all, I'd lived with my hips for years, and accepting that I'd always be hippy was a big attitude change.
It was also amazingly liberating. For the first time in years, maybe ever, I could look at myself in the mirror without frowning. I could try on a new outfit and say, "This looks good on me." Not, "This would look good on me if it weren't for my hips sticking out there!"
That's not to say that I don't try to use a few fashion tricks to diminish my lack of "perfect" proportions. I do all I can to emphasize my best features with the clothes and colors I choose and the jewelry I accessorize with.
Does all this sound like a contradiction of what I said earlier? It's not, not really. I believe, just as the song says, in "ac-cen-tu-ating" the positive aspects of my appearance. But at the same time, I accept myselfhips and all.
Remember the classic Serenity Prayer I mentioned in the Introduction? We ask God for serenity to accept the things we cannot change, the courage to change the things we can, and the wisdom to know the difference. In those plain words, we're inviting the help and guidance of a Higher Power in dividing what we have to handle in life into two categories: what we CAN change and what we CANNOT. Once we've made the necessary distinctions, we're ready to take actionwhere action can be taken.
But because action takes effort and guts, we also ask for courage in making the changes that are in our power. Knowing what to do isn't enough. Recognizing what it will take to change what we can is only the first step. After that, it's time for the real work to begin.
But taking action is only part of the Serenity Prayer, and too often it's the part that we give the most attention to. We focus on how we can change, and why we must change, and how our lives will unfold once we commit ourselves to becoming changed human beings. Certainly, when the goal is to stop unhealthy or dangerous habits such as abusing alcohol or prescription drugs, changing behavior is the most visible focus of the pursuit of that end.
But acceptance is just as important as making changes. In some ways, it's even more significant, and it requires as much or more "wisdom" to make peace with what is. Too often, even when we succeed in making behavioral changes, our unwillingness to reach a point of self-acceptance can sabotage our efforts and even bring the hard-fought transformation to a grinding halt!
Why does this happen? Why does making peace with what you can't do anything about cause us even more grief than what we have to struggle to change?
I suspect it's because we don't want to acknowledge that some things in our lives are beyond our control, that no matter how much we may want something to be true, it's not going to happen. Facing that reality can hurt. Coming to terms with that fact can be depressing. But if we surrender to negativity on this point, we're dooming our efforts to change for good. Even worse, we're denying ourselves an important opportunity to heal pain that we may have buried for years.
I've known a great many women who were diagnosed with breast cancer, and while each one handled her diagnosis and treatment in her own way, I noticed that many of the women who were more accepting of the fact of the disease seemed better able to face what came next. I've discussed this observation with medical professionals who work with cancer patients, and they told me that I was on the mark. By accepting where you are at the moment, you can focus your considerable energies on where you want to go next. Cancer cells can't be argued with or persuaded to disappear by refusing to acknowledge their existence. But they can be fought in a variety of different ways.
Perhaps that's an extreme example, but the principle makes sense to me. Here's another: Suppose your daughter absolutely loves basketball, but at five-foot-one, she's a real long shot to make her high school team. She hasn't grown an inch in years, so she's probably stuck with her height. But she's not without options. She can practice foul shooting until she's practically perfect, and work at guarding much taller girls until she convinces the coach what an asset she'll be to the team (both the WNBA and the NBA have hired some very short but brilliant players). If she doesn't want to give up her dream of being part of the team, she can volunteer to help manage it or work behind the scenes in some other way. She can try to organize an after-school league for all the girls who love the sport but don't qualify for the varsity squad. She can decide to pursue a sport where being tall is less of an issue (soccer? gymnastics? track?).
She can do just about anything except stretch herself on a rack until she's half a foot taller! What's important is that she recognize that she's not stuck. In fact, sometimes these kinds of obstacles are the inspiration for greatness, the spark that ignites a dream that hadn't existed before someone ran into a brick wall or someone who said, "No, you can't."
But often the first impulse is to say it yourself, even before someone else does. I've gotten hundreds of letters and e-mails from people who feel defeated by circumstances, and I've spoken with many women and men who can't quite see beyond the obstacles they perceive.
In many cases, the obstacle is very real: coping with a disease like lupus or a physical infirmity like arthritis of the knee requires special effort, but it can be done. And making an effort to lose weight and get healthy even when you're smack in the middle of menopause isn't impossible. It just may take more time, more patience, and more determination than you've previously been willing to devote to the task.
Most of those who hear me tell my own story tend to focus on the accomplishment of losing 130 pounds and keeping them off for nearly a decade. But my weight-loss success is only part of the story. When I reached my lowest point physically and emotionally back in 1991, I was dangerously overweight, but I also had problems with high blood pressure, arthritis, gout, and cholesterol. Not only that, but my arthritic feet sometimes hurt so much when I got out of bed that I couldn't walk on the soles of my feet for at least ten to fifteen minutes. I could easily have convinced myself that exercise, any exercise, could not be part of my lifestyle because everything HURT. But I checked with my doctor, who encouraged me to do whatever I could, until it began to feel better. Well, one place I felt better was in the pool, so that's where I started walking, back and forth, back and forth, until the pounds started coming off. And when spring arrived, I made sure I had an especially well padded seat on my bike so I'd be comfortable when I rode around DeWitt, not setting any speed records but burning calories just the same.
Not long ago, I received a letter from a woman who explained that she'd been cooking with my healthy recipes, but she wasn't exercising at all. She left for work when it was still dark out, so she didn't feel safe walking in her neighborhood, and never had time in the evenings because she cared for an aging parent. She couldn't afford to join a gym at the present moment, she added, and while she occasionally worked out to a video, she knew it wasn't enough. Did I have any other ideas, she asked?
I did. (You're not surprised, are you?)
I used to ride my bike the two miles between my house and the office building, which gave me a great opportunity to decompress from the tensions of the workday and also to get those muscles moving. But now my office is in my house, and the building that houses the print shop and our small staff is only a few minutes' walk away.
I also don't get up to the Hart Center, our community health club, very often anymore, to use the pool or walk indoors with friends. It's a much longer drive, and besides that, my best time for getting exercise in tends to be very early in the morning. But here in Iowa it's cold and dark in those hours, and I don't like the idea of bundling up like the Michelin man to walk up and down our country roads at 5 A.M.
It's quite a little list of obstacles, isn't it? I could easily say, "Oh well, no time or place to exercise, so I'll just let it slide until spring is here." But I won't do that. Feeling good in my body and about my body is just too important to me. So I've come up with an alternative that works for me, even if some of my friends chuckle at my "method."
I walk my house.
I wrote about this technique in my HELP book, but it's an entirely different experience now from doing laps around our little cottage that was home for most of Cliff's and my married life until now. The new house has more room to cover, more stairs to climb, and more nooks and crannies to weave in and out of. I wore a pedometer once to figure out how much ground I cover as I move from room to room briskly, getting my heart pumping while the rest of the world is still asleep. What's nice about walking indoors? No rocks to trip over, no barking dogs running after you, no cars to avoid, no layers of winter clothing to zip up and pull on so I don't freeze!
I mention this personal example because it makes the point again: I can't make the sun come up earlier; I can't make the Iowa winters less bleak and dreary; I can't move our house back to town. But I also can't give up on myself, and so I've accepted what I can't change about my exercise timeand I've figured out a way to make it work.
There are wonderful chair exercise tapes for people who can't stand and work out; there are twenty-four-hour gyms in some cities for people who work the night shift; there are more kinds of exercise videos than I ever imagined, so anyone can find one that is "just right." And as for making my peace with menopause, I can tell you it wasn't easy, but since I couldn't stop the wheels of time from turning, I had to find a way to live with the changes in my body. Some things I tried didn't work, but I kept reading and asking questions andoh, yespromising myself that the worst of it would eventually pass. And you know whatit did!
A Pearl to Polish
* * *
Accepting what you can't change saves a great deal of energyenergy that you can channel into making your life as happy and full as possible. And "wising up" to what you can change will help you focus some of that energy on doing just that. Today, choose three things about your life or yourself that you can't change, and say aloud, "I accept ________________________. I know it's something that will always be true, and I can live with that." Then, list three things about yourself or your life that you know you can change, and say aloud one way you will tackle each of them. Then make a start, today. Tomorrow, or in the next few days, add another tactic or two to your list. Baby steps first, then bigger ones, but as Henry David Thoreau said, "Keep moving in the direction of your dreams."
Excerpted from String of Pearls by JoAnna M. Lund Copyright © 2000 by JoAnna M. Lund. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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