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God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.
This quote is engraved on a cuff bracelet I wear all the time. It’s a constant reminder of the all too common human struggle for acceptance. So, whether you believe in God or not, it is hard not to find value and wisdom in the serenity prayer.
The theme of acceptance comes up a lot in my work with clients. When people don’t believe they are accepted or loved for who they really are, feelings of worthlessness, depression and anxiety can cause barriers to living a peaceful life. I too struggle with these very same issues.
This past year my oldest daughter transitioned from a small elementary school to a much bigger middle school. This transition can be tricky for anyone; however, Julia is profoundly deaf so I worried that it would be even more of a struggle. With the miracle of technology and a lot of early intervention, she hears and speaks as someone with a very minor hearing loss. In fact, most people who meet her do not know she has a hearing loss at all. However, she does have to wear a device, called a Cochlear Implant, around her waist and behind her ear to help her hear.
Throughout her life, Julia has accepted her hearing loss and the Cochlear Implant just as she has accepted her hazel eyes, her fair skin and her straight hair. She has never tried to camouflage it with clothes or hide it from others, and, when asked, has always answered in a very matter of fact way, “It’s a Cochlear Implant and it helps me hear.”
But this transition to middle school had me worried! The lose sleep at night worried! Would Julia continue to possess such a strong sense of self-acceptance in the face of a larger, new environment full of unfamiliar adolescents? Would she be teased or shunned her for her differences? Would they accept her and be understanding when she asks “what” a little too often?
The beginning was rough…for me. My anxiety was in full bloom. I peppered Julia with questions every day: “How was your day? Did you meet any friends? Who did you eat lunch with?” Finally she basically told me to stop asking, that she needed to figure it out herself. About 2 months into school, Julia came home and said she had been invited to a birthday party, a Bar Mitzvah and wanted a sleepover with her new friend. I think that was the first time I took a breath and thought maybe everything was going to be all right.
On her first sleepover, at bedtime we talked about how Julia takes off her Cochlear Implant to sleep and is unable to hear. The new friend said okay and I left the room. A few minutes later I could hear the two struggling to communicate. I was worried the new friend might get annoyed or frustrated and give up, but decided not to intervene and let them figure it out. After a few minutes of silence, I couldn’t take it anymore and went in. There were the two girls, lying next to each other, happily conversing, by texting back and forth on their phones!
When I told the story to the girl’s parents, they said their daughter hadn’t even mentioned that Julia was deaf! That was when I took my second breath and realized that because Julia accepts herself without shame or embarrassment, so will others.
I am not naïve enough to believe that Julia will never struggle with feelings of self-doubt or insecurity. We all do!!! However, I am grateful that the middles school transition went smoothly, and that Julia taught me the power of self-acceptance. Hopefully, when she faces her next challenge, I won’t worry so much!!