There is a moment in The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Rings, when Frodo, Gandalf, and the fellowship are at a standstill in the middle of the Mines of Moria, and are not sure which turn to take next. Frodo and Gandalf discuss the events that led them to this point and Frodo expresses his heartache:
“I wish The Ring had never come to me. I wish that none of this had happened”
“So do all who come to see such times but that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.”
OMG OMG OMG OMG OMG ! ! !
You guys, I can’t tell you how much I frickin love Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings! There is so much I want to say about this scene and the characters and Frodo’s journey and the epic scale and storytelling and philosophy and we would be here all day if I get carried away.
So I’m going to practice my patience and stick to the topic at hand: Distress Tolerance and Reality Acceptance.
The scene is Frodo lamenting to Gandalf that he wishes things hadn’t happened the way they have. If he hadn’t inherited the Ring he would be safe and happy in his cozy hobbit hole in bag end. But that’s not his reality. His reality is that he is carrying a dangerous and powerful device through unknown territory, and its hard, it’s painful, it sucks.
The first thing Gandalf does is validate his feelings. This regret and pain of perceived unfairness he is experiencing is normal, everyone feels this way when faced with adversity. Then he reminds him that there’s nothing he can do about the past; the only thing he can do is be responsible for the decisions he makes right now. In this moment.
Radical Acceptance in DBT is all about the here and now, and the choices we make in the moment. When you are faced with a tremendous task, or a seemingly impossible situation, you can either try to reject your reality, a choice that will only lead to more pain, or you can choose to accept your reality and make a decision as to what to do about it.
We don’t give ourselves enough credit sometimes, when things seem like they can’t get worse. It’s easy to indulge in self pity, or shove our fists in our ears and LALALALAICAN’THEARYOULALALA. But we have a lot more strength than we know. We’ve been through this, we know what suffering feels like, we know our pain. And yet here we are, facing it like badasses.
And we’re not alone. Just like Frodo, we have a heavy burden to carry, and it must be carried, but we’re not facing this task alone. We have a whole fellowship, armed and skilled and honourable. We draw swords together against the darkness!