Sitting in Traffic: A Story of Radical Acceptance

This is the story of how radical acceptance freed me from the anger that myself, and everyone else around me was so clearly feeling. The story starts with a long road trip from New Jersey to Illinois after a weekend of travel and very little sleep. I was driving that final stretch in one day, and trust me, it took the entire day. It was about 6:00 pm and suddenly I was sitting in standstill traffic. After 5 minutes of not moving, I checked my phone and discovered that an accident had just occurred a few miles ahead of me, and it didn’t look like I would be moving for quite a while. It was 90 degrees at the end of summer; I had already driven 10 hours that day, and was still a few hours from home.

Wishing things were different

Of course you can imagine that I was upset in this situation, and I kept thinking “what if I just left New Jersey 20 minutes earlier?” As I looked around I saw truck drivers, families, and couples all getting out of their cars, and all looking very angry. I felt the environment starting to impact my own mood as I noticed my breathing got heavy, and my thoughts were drifting towards how unfair this was, how miserable I was, and how much I just wanted to be home. It had been 45 minutes of being parked on the highway, surrounded by angry strangers, and I knew I had to do something different.

traffic to depict radical acceptance

It was in that moment that I caught a glimpse of myself in the side mirror, locked eyes, and thought “I don’t have to sit in this anger.” In that moment I turned my mental attention to accepting that I could not drive and that I would be home later than planned, literally repeating statements like “I am in traffic” and “there has been an accident” to myself to connect with my reality. I took deep, intentional breaths, and relaxed my body. Then I did something really radical…I smiled. I shifted the muscles in my mouth to smile just a bit, and I even considered what I was grateful for in that moment. I turned my attention to the warm breeze around me, and the beautiful sun that was starting to set.

Nothing changed.

I was in standstill traffic for another hour. What shifted was my relationship to my reality in that moment. If I did not lean on radical acceptance, I would have been subject to anger, frustration and agitation that would have lasted well beyond the traffic, and could have made my driving reckless. I saw how anger was impacting the strangers around me; they were becoming irritated with loved ones, and were sweating because their anger was causing their bodies to heat up. I was so proud of myself for leaning on radical acceptance in that moment, and I could clearly see how it benefitted me. I made the choice to maintain these cognitive and breathing practices for the remainder of the drive, and by the time I got home I was not angry at all, I felt only gratitude for my safety, and for finally being home.

A Dialectical Behavior Therapy or Acceptance and Commitment therapy counselor can teach you Radical Acceptance. Contact us today.

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