Practice These Principles
Living the Spiritual Disciplines and Virtues in 12-Step Recovery

The Virtue of Acceptance

Acceptance is the fruit of humility and surrender. It grows out of our admission and acceptance of defeat and powerlessness in Step 1. This leads us to accept spiritual help in Step 2. In Step 3 we accept our powerlessness beyond alcohol and our total dependence on God, and seek to accept what we cannot change and turn it over to his care.

With Step 4 we come to accept the past, ourselves, and others. In Step 5 we admit and accept what we find in our inventory, the wrongs in us and the wrongs we’ve done to others, and we accept guidance and direction from God and another human being.

In Step 9 we accept the reality that there are things we cannot repair, that our amends may be rejected, and that though God will forgive, others may not. Step 10 repeats much of the process of acceptance of 4, 5, and 9, in spot-check and daily inventory. 

With Step 12 we extend the practice of acceptance to all our affairs, so that in time we may come to accept failure without despair, success without pride, all the joys of life with gratitude, and all its trials and tribulations with courage and serenity.

[Image: Bill W. and Ebby T., who carried the message of recovery he had learned in the Oxford Group.]

“Our very first problem is to accept our present circumstances as they are, ourselves as we are, and the people about us as they are. This is to adopt a realistic humility without which no genuine advance can even begin. Again and again, we shall need to return to that unflattering point of departure. This is an exercise in acceptance that we can profitably practice every day of our lives.” – Bill W.

“Until I could accept my alcoholism, I could not stay sober; unless I accept life completely on life’s terms, I cannot be happy.” – Big Book

“We know that little good can come to any alcoholic who joins A.A. unless he has first accepted his devastating weakness and all its consequences. Until he so humbles himself, his sobriety—if any—will be precarious. Of real happiness he will find none at all.” – 12&12 

“When I am disturbed, it is because I find some person, place, thing, situation— some fact of my life—unacceptable to me, and I can find no serenity until I accept that person, place, thing or situation as being exactly the way it is supposed to be at this moment.” – Dr. Paul O. ("Acceptance Was the Answer," Big Book, p.417) 

"Thy will, not mine, be done." – Matthew 26:39 and 12&12 

“An oak and a reed were arguing about their strength. When a strong wind came up, the reed avoided being uprooted by bending and leaning with the gusts of wind. But the oak stood firm and was torn up by the roots.” – Aesop

“When you are outraged by somebody’s impudence, ask yourself at once: ‘Can the world exist without impudent people?’ It cannot; so do not ask for impossibilities.” – Marcus Aurelius

“Let us train our minds to desire what the situation demands.” – Seneca

“He who cannot do what he wants must make do with what he can.”
– Terence

“If the alcoholic can truly accept the presence of a Power greater than himself      . . . and sustain that feeling of acceptance, he can and will remain sober for the rest of his life.” – Dr. Harry M. Tiebout

“Acceptance of what has happened is the first step to overcoming the consequences of any misfortune.” – William James

“We cannot change anything unless we accept it. Condemnation does not liberate, it oppresses.” – Carl Jung

“Once we accept our limits, we go beyond them.” – Einstein

“Some people confuse acceptance with apathy, but there’s all the difference in the world. Apathy fails to distinguish between what can and cannot be helped; acceptance makes that distinction. Apathy paralyzes the will to action; acceptance frees it by relieving if of impossible burdens." – Arthur Gordon

“Ah, when to the heart of man / Was it ever less than a treason / To go with the drift of things, / To yield with a grace to reason, / And bow and accept the end / Of a love or a season?” –
Robert Frost

“Being happy doesn't mean that everything is perfect. It means that you've decided to look beyond the imperfections.” – Anonymous

“Accepting oneself does not preclude an attempt to become better.”
– Flannery O’Connor 

“The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself.” – George Bernard Shaw

“For after all, the best thing one can do when it is raining is to let it rain.” 
– Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

“One of the many lessons that one learns in prison is that things are what they are and will be what they will be.” – Oscar Wilde  

“Part of the happiness of life consists not in fighting battles, but in avoiding them. A masterly retreat is in itself a victory.” – Norman Vincent Peale

“He is happy whose circumstances suit his temper; but he is more excellent who can suit his temper to his circumstance.”
– David Hume


“Only by acceptance of the past can you alter it.” – T.S. Eliot


“The beginning of love is to let those we love be perfectly themselves, and not to twist them to fit our own image. Otherwise we love only the reflection of ourselves we find in them.” – Thomas Merton

“When I accept situations as they are, not as I wish them to be, then I can begin to grow and have serenity and peace of mind.” – A.A.’s Daily Reflections


“It becomes easier to accept other members’ frailties when we remember that we ourselves rarely turn over our own character defects until we become painfully aware of them.” – Just for Today: Daily Meditations for Recovering Addicts

“Acceptance does not mean submission to a degrading situation. It means accepting the fact of a situation, and then deciding what we will do about it.”
One Day at a Time in Al-Anon

“’Yes, but . . .’ These two words have become a signal to me that I am refusing to accept something over which I am powerless.” – Al-Anon’s Courage to Change


“The proper relationship between understanding and acceptance then is that acceptance comes first. That is the point of departure. We can paraphrase Augustine and say that we accept in order to understand, and we understand the better to accept.” – PTP

“Self-acceptance is not equivalent to self-complacency. To accept myself doesn’t mean that I overlook, downplay, or resign myself to my shortcomings. On the contrary, those are the things I will do if I
don’t accept myself. Self-acceptance is a necessary condition for change . . . We have to accept who we are if we are to become who God wants us to be.” – PT
For more PTP passages on acceptance, click on excerpt and see pp. 76–79 and 202–213. For more BB and 12&12 p passages, click on and search acceptance and its cognates. See also entries under acceptance in As Bill Sees It

Additional Resources

  1. “Acceptance Was the Answer,” in the Personal Stories section of the Big Book, p.417 (lines 8-20)
  2. "What Is Acceptance?" in Language of the Heart: Bill W.'s Grapevine Writings, p.269
  3. Reflections for 01/05, 03/22, 05/29, 06/22, 09/19, and 11/01 in A.A.’s Daily Reflections
  4. Meditations for 05/08, 07/07 and 09/12 in Al-Anon’s Courage to Change 
  5. Acceptance: The Way to Serenity and Peace of Mind, booklet by Vincent Paul Collins

For other posts on the virtues and the disciplines, please click on Practice These.