Brookside Center for Counseling and Hypnotherapy

 

The Power of Acceptance

by Gary Shapiro

A Note to The Reader: Not long ago, I asked Gary Shapiro, one of my patients, to write his progress notes. Gary then decided to go public and to use his name for the following article. Some clients have reported great therapeutic gains from this technique. Gary chose the title. --Dr. Kouguell

 

I first experienced symptoms of Parkinson's Disease about five years ago, two years before I was formally diagnosed. For those two years, I all but ignored the tremors in my right hand, leg, and foot and the stiffness in my entire right side. Today, it is remarkable to me that I was able to deny my condition. My present amazement is, in itself, a sign of how much I have changed, but it only begins to describe my growth. In short, with the help of Dr. Maurice Kouguell, whose wisdom, skill and patience guided me once a week for eighteen months, I have achieved a comfortable level of management of Parkinson's. Indeed, by learning to listen to myself and respond in a nurturing way, I feel an ownership of the disease. At the very least, I have learned how to retard the progress of the condition. In my most optimistic moments, I believe I can halt any further advancement of the symptoms.

Have no fear: I am not about to launch a self-congratulatory rant, full of new age mystical claims. I am proud and excited about my self-improvement, but I understand it to be a simple, positive step that may be taken by anyone. One way that Dr. Kouguell (whom I have always called Maurice) fosters growth is to define the mechanics of change in the simplest possible way. First, there is the daily business of neutralizing stress. To that end, Maurice has given me a wonderful bag of tricks to get through any stressful day. However, these techniques are all in the service of a much more profound task. For me, more insidious than any external pressure or annoyance is self imposed stress. For anyone, I suspect, they are not the "slings and arrows of outrageous fortune" that do the worst damage. They are the personal reactions to the stressors that amplify the power of stress to damage and destroy. I have learned that these reactions are rooted in my beliefs and, by changing my beliefs, I have been able to alter my reactions and eliminate the severest stress.

For one with Parkinson's, this stress is truly damaging because it simultaneously exacerbates the symptoms and facilitates the progress of the disease. As I understand it, Parkinson's is a condition where the area of the brain that produces dopamine deteriorates. The cells in that area die, reducing the production and distribution of dopamine, a chemical that is essential for coordination and fluidity of movement in the body. Hence, even in "early" Parkinson's, in which category I am presently, there may be tremors and/or stiffness that render one unable to sit, stand, walk, play sports or write without mild to moderate ache and discomfort. Medication has usually limited my discomfort to a mild level, but one of which I am always conscious. But then there were certain emotional or high-pressure moments to deal with, when I would automatically clasp my shaking right hand with my still steady left hand or hide the offending hand in a pocket. Other times, the stiffness in my right side would become so pronounced that I could not find, for several hours, a comfortable position in which to sit, stand or lie down. In recent months, however, my baseline functioning has been so relaxed that these moments are few and far between.

I have achieved this control by minimizing the stress of a situation through a change in my belief system. It was a system that had driven me to succeed in many ways, and I enjoyed my successes, but ultimately, there was a price to pay. Most simply, it was the belief that achievement, gratification and fulfillment could be reached only by setting extremely high standards for myself and everyone with whom I chose to interact. Moreover, there were equally high standards of accountability which, if compromised, would result in disapproval and recriminations I imposed on myself and everyone else involved. Therein lay the source of the greatest tension, not always experienced emotionally but nonetheless fueling the physical symptoms of Parkinson's.

Maurice directed me to change my fundamental style of reacting by using a variety of modalities: Hypnosis, Neurolinguistic Programming, the Emotional Freedom Technique, Focusing, and several others that were beyond my ability to label or even recognize. Maurice is an "anything that works" therapist, and it took his incomparable versatility and perseverance to cut through my resistances. In retrospect, the best umbrella title that I can give to his mixed bag of treatments is "Acceptance Therapy."

Acceptance is, like most simple concepts, a most profound one to understand and embrace. It is not a matter of tolerance or an exercise of patience. It is not forgiveness, although that might be a positive by-product. It is, for lack of a better phrase, not-rejection. It is a peaceful coexistence, an agreement to disagree with the world. One very deliberate way that Maurice fostered my ability to "accept" was to ask me repeatedly, "Can you accept that?" I would complain about some injustice or hypocrisy I had to endure and he would ask me, "Can you accept that?" Often I would say that I could, but even when I said that I had difficulty accepting, he would ground my thinking by asking, "Can you accept your difficulty?" Finally, it dawned on me that it would be a great relief to put aside my ego and my beliefs in certain imperatives. I could simply accept what I could not or should not change.

The only other clear directive that Maurice gave me was that guilt has no place in my self-improvement. For a while, I interpreted this as leniency, appropriate for the weak and fragile, not for the strong, tough individual I saw myself to be. Eventually, I realized that a strong, tough individual could effectively bully and beat himself. The defeat, then, is more detrimental to the individual than the victory is beneficial. So I don't fight much with myself anymore.

As for my future, it is hard to foretell. The medical community is at work researching new drug therapies, surgical procedures and even genetic manipulation to cure the disease altogether. In the meantime, besides remaining optimistic about the efforts of modern science, I am optimistic about myself and my ability to enjoy life. For even if I am wrong about my personal vision of controlling Parkinson's indefinitely, I can accept that.

9/20/99

 

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