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Acceptance is the answer to all my
problems today and Hang in there

"Acceptance is the answer to all my problems today" is on page 417 of the fourth
edition of AA's Big Book, in a chapter called "Acceptance Was the Answer." This has been irritating for some of us who got used to it being on page 449 of the third edition, in a chapter called "Doctor, Alcoholic, Addict." That gave those of us who are in recovery another opportunity to read the words of the Big Book and completely miss the point.

I have had the opportunity to practice acceptance, because I have been seriously ill with a brain virus. At the worst point of the illness, I could not think at all, only perceive, and it seemed as if I was in God's waiting room for a couple of days.

I got sicker over a two-week period, with sharply increasing head pain. The correct diagnosis was reached with the assistance of three spinal taps and several contrast dye MRIs. MRIs are very cramped and loud, and my head was already splitting. I could not walk and could barely think at all. The technician explained that I would be able to hear her, but she wouldn't be able to hear me. She smiled and said "Hang in there." My helpers got me tightly blocked into my little sled, and as it slid backwards into the big metal doughnut, one of my last thoughts was "Acceptance is the answer to all my problems today." I let go of all expectations, and I remember the noise and its eventual end.

Where my memory picks up is in the neurology floor, with minimal thought. I would recognize people, and recognize what they were doing, but I couldn't muster any thoughts about it. What survived the virus was a sense of God's presence, and a sense of the goodness in people. Happily, the hospital's people seemed to range from briskly efficient but morally neutral, to positively radiant with goodness. Acceptance came easily, because I was incapable of any resistance or rebellion against anything. The main message from the radiant people was "Hang in there."

My wife stayed overnight some, and my daughters came from Chicago and San Antonio to take turns overnight. As they returned to their homes, they said "Hang in there."

I have often said "Hang in there" when I have had no idea what to say. I've said it when the situation looks impossible. Then I have felt kind of stupid, as in "Is that all you can think of to say?" Sometimes, it's just the right thing to say, so let's not be reluctant to say it.

What this simple phrase gave me was a sense of being cared for, by God and by people. I have been slow in every respect. Slow in getting over facial paralysis, slow in walking, slow in finding my balance, slow in talking, slow in drinking coffee without spraying it all over, slow in getting my left eye to focus, or my left ear to stop hurting.

I have, however, been blessed by acceptance. Perhaps it comes with time in the program. Somehow, the program has gotten into the deepest recesses of my brain, so that in an extreme emergency, when thought itself is failing, I can still believe that acceptance is the answer to all my problems today.

--By John MacDougall

John A. MacDougall, D.Min, is the director of Spiritual Guidance at Hazelden in Center City. He is enjoying a surprising rapid recovery, and returned to work on December 19, a month after his hospitalization. John's email address is

Published in The Voice, Winter 2006

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