The first idea that I want to talk about is the idea of surrender.
Surrender is very important in terms of alcoholism and addiction recovery. You can’t really recover unless you surrender first.
But what does it mean to surrender? How does a person actually do that? What is the process by which someone stops struggling against their addiction and actually gives up the fight? How do they do it exactly?
My experience in surrendering to addiction was this:
I suddenly gave up the struggle. I suddenly got a glimpse of the future, and I could see clearly that I was not going to be happy in the future if I continued to drink and use drugs. I do not know exactly what brought on this moment of clarity for me. And when it happened this thing inside of me sort of fell away, it sort of died. It was the struggle to keep medicating myself, the struggle to keep chasing happiness with drugs and alcohol. That thing, whatever it is, just sort of crumbled inside of me and fell away. I did not tell it to go away. I was not sitting there wishing really hard for it to go away at the time or anything. I was not concentrating my will or my effort on the idea of surrender.
It just happened. The will to struggle and get more drugs and alcohol just fell away from me. I don’t know how or why it did it at that particular moment.
I can tell you that leading up to this point I had been experiencing some interesting thoughts about my addiction. One of the things that I can distinctly remember is that I was no longer trying to control my drinking. I had been trying to control it for a long time and recently (leading up to my surrender) I sort of went the other direction with it. Instead of trying to control it I decided that the solution might lie in the other direction. So I went the other way. I decided to deliberately NOT try to control my drinking, in a sort of sick desperation, in the hopes that this would somehow bring my situation to a head. I wanted peace. I wanted some sort of relief from the madness and the misery. And I certainly wasn’t getting it by trying to control my drinking.
When I tried to control it I just fell into this cycle….a trap of sorts. I would control it for a while and keep it mostly under control, then at some point I would go absolutely hog wild and have what you might call “an episode.” It was at these times when my drinking was at its worst, and my behavior was absolutely out of control. And so then I would tend to back off for a while and try to control things again.
And this sort of ebbed and flowed like that for years. And it was not getting me anywhere, but I was certainly miserable from it.
And so at some point I said to myself: “I’m going to just drink without any regard for my safety or health. I am just going to go all out and whatever happens will happen. I don’t care any more.”
When I took this approach I was very close to the time when I finally quit drinking for good. But I didn’t know that at the time. I was still struggling. But now that I look back on it I realize that even though I continued to drink alcohol and use drugs, I had already surrendered.
In a way I had already surrendered at that time because I was no longer trying to control my drinking. I had given up on that. And so I was sort of putting the idea to the test, saying to myself: “Screw it, I cannot really control it anyway, so I am going to stop trying to do so. And if that kills me then it kills me. And if it makes me happy then it makes me happy. But I am done wasting my energy on trying to control my drinking.”
I was halfway to the solution. No one would want to admit it, but I had actually surrendered in a way. The only problem was that I was still drinking every day.
But that was when I finally realized how miserable I truly was. And here I was, letting loose completely and holding nothing back, trying to go all out and drink as much as I wanted at any given time, and I was still miserable.
So in a way I think that this “pre-surrender” that I did before I stopped drinking is what led to my real moment of surrender. I had to stop trying to control it first while I was still drinking in order to realize that it really wasn’t any fun any more, even when I was not holding anything back.
Because you see, if I was still trying to control my drinking then I would never want to give it up completely, thinking that “if only I could really let loose and drink as much as I want without limits, then I could truly be happy.” But in reality I had already done that, I made that decision when I was still drinking and I decided that I would go all out, even if it killed me. And so I took away my excuse. I tested my own theory, that if I could really be happy with alcohol then go ahead and drink to your heart’s content, and see if you really are happy. So I had to do this experiment and I had to give myself permission to really go nuts for awhile with no limits, before I could get to that point of “true surrender.” The surrender where you realize how miserable you are in addiction, and you finally get sober and ask for help.
This idea is so hard to “get” when you are stuck in addiction
If you are near the beginning (or the middle?) of your addiction then the idea of surrender doesn’t make much sense.
Seriously, if the problem is that you drink too much then……just drink less, right?
I mean, that only makes sense. Why go all crazy and talk about total surrender and complete abstinence when the real problem is only the quantity that you are consuming?
Let’s not get too crazy and eliminate alcohol entirely! That’s too drastic!
All joking aside, this is one of the key concepts that defines addiction. If the alcoholic could simply reduce their consumption then there would be no problem. If the alcoholic could drink less and learn to control it then would they really wear the label of “alcoholic” to begin with?
And maybe you reject that label of “alcoholic” and believe that it is part of the problem. Some people get really angry with the label and think that it feeds into the disease. Or they talk about how “powerlessness” is so limiting in AA and how it tears them down rather than to build them up.
And to those people I would say:
You haven’t surrendered yet.
And maybe you don’t need to. It is really hard to get the concept of surrender when you are stuck in addiction. It is also really hard to understand the concept if you are not an alcoholic or a drug addict at all.
I certainly didn’t understand it before I was addicted, and I also did not understand the idea during the main part of addiction either. For example, the first time I went to rehab I was told that I had to surrender in order to get sober. So I wanted to know how to do that, and I felt stupid because I didn’t really get it. I was trying to surrender while sitting in this chair at an AA meeting, I was trying to surrender deep down in my heart, and I couldn’t figure out if I was doing it right or not.
I got news for you. That is not how surrender works.
You cannot sit in a chair at your first AA meeting and decide then and there that you want to surrender. I tried to do this and I failed. I went back and drank for several more years following this moment. You can’t just surrender because someone suggests it and you think it might be a nice thing to try. That’s not how it works.
You surrender when your spirit finally breaks and you get thoroughly sick and tired of trying to self medicate every day. You surrender when your finally glimpse your future and realize that it is nothing but misery and chaos if you continue to drink.
I am not so sure that this is something that you can just choose to do on a whim. I am pretty sure that you have to build up to, not just with a mental decision, but based on the consequences of your life and your actions.
In other words, it is misery and pain that fuels the moment of surrender. This is why I finally surrendered a while after I decided to “fully let loose and get as drunk as I wanted at all times.” I had to thoroughly explore my misery before I became willing to consider the alternative.
And the alternative is to face your fears and ask for help. The alternative is to go to rehab and face your life totally sober. This is scary. I don’t care who you are, this is scary to do. It takes guts. Surrender takes guts.
Breaking through denial is the key
In order to surrender you must break through denial first. You can do this by getting really honest with yourself about your drinking and your happiness.
People are motivated by misery. But in order to find this motivation you have to realize just how miserable you are.
The first thing that you should do is to remove your excuses. So you might say to yourself: “I know that I can be happy if the situation is just right and I have enough alcohol or other drugs and the people I am around are the right sort of people.”
OK, so start measuring your happiness in addiction. You are self medicating every day for a reason, because it feels good, right? Because it makes you happy. Because you can avoid pain and suffering.
So you need to get honest with yourself about measuring all of that stuff. I would recommend that you write it all down. Keep a daily journal. Write down how you feel each day. And start keeping track of just how happy you really are in life.
You might be shocked to learn that you are actually miserable about 99 percent of the time.
Really, this is the illusion that addiction pulls over our eyes. Our addiction tells us that we can self medicate at any time and become instantly happy, and yet when we really measure how often we are happy in life, we are miserable nearly all of the time. What is the point of this? What would happen if you eliminated the drugs or the alcohol entirely and started finding more “normal” ways to find happiness in life? Is it possible that you might actually be happy more often without the drugs or the alcohol?
You need to seriously think about this question, because your entire state of denial hinges on it. And instead of just thinking about the question, take action and start measuring your results. Start measuring your life. Document your happiness (or lack thereof). Keep a daily journal. Just jot a sentence or two down. Maybe you can do this at every meal time (if you even have regular meal times in your addiction, I know I didn’t!). Just keep a “happiness log.” This will expose your denial. You don’t even have to go back and read through this. Just the act of writing it down at regular intervals will be enough to reveal the truth to you. But you have to be willing to actually do it in order to get your brain to wake up and say “ah, I really am miserable I guess!”
How to give up the struggle and find a new path in life
At some point you have to stop struggling and find a new path in life. This is not an easy thing to do because you basically have to push your ego to the side in order to do it.
My suggestion is that you go to rehab. There are other paths in recovery but this is one of the best starting points. Sure, you can start by going to therapy or counseling or AA meetings instead, but going to rehab has several advantages.
One, you get a full medical detox at most rehabs. Most people don’t realize that physical detox from alcohol and certain drugs can be dangerous or even fatal. I was in a rehab one time and a person was in detoxing from alcohol and they fell backwards into a brick wall. There was blood everywhere and it was a very scary ordeal because this person had a seizure. Even while people are getting medications for withdrawal there is still the potential for complications. Alcohol withdrawal is nothing to mess around with so it is best to have medical supervision in a rehab setting. Some other drugs have similar complications when you are detoxing from them as well.
In order to build a new life you first have to tear down the old one. You can’t do this overnight, it takes time. And so the starting point is the baseline of physical abstinence. You stop drinking, then you start taking suggestions in recovery. People might suggest that you go to treatment, go to meetings, go to counseling, go to therapy, and so on. If you don’t take any suggestions then there is no way that you are going to improve your life. If you try to use only your own ideas then you are almost certain to fail in recovery. This is because we have a tendency to sabotage our own efforts. We can’t always see the path to sobriety, but the path to relapse is very easy to stumble down.
Who should you ask for help?
Ask people that you trust.
Ask family or friends who have expressed an interest in seeing you get sober. Ask them to help you get to rehab or to professional treatment services. Ask them to get on the phone and call up a rehab for you to see what you need to do in order to attend.
If people drink or use drugs with you then those are probably not the best people to ask for help.
If you truly have no one then find a local AA meeting and go to it. They should have a list of all the local meetings in the area and you can start going to all of them that you can get to. This is certainly better than nothing. If you have the means to get professional help in treatment then I highly advise you to do so.
Not everyone who checks into rehab has private insurance. In fact, most people actually don’t (at least in the U.S.). And not everyone who checks into rehab has the cash to pay out of pocket. There is a great deal of help and assistance available for people who may be seeking help in recovery, but you will never know if this is available to you unless you get on the phone and start making calls.
Call up a local treatment center and ask for help. Ask them questions. “What will it take for me to come into treatment there? What kind of help might I qualify for? Who do I need to contact?” And so on. These are the kinds of questions that can help you get started on the right path in recovery.
Ask for help, then if someone can’t help you any more, ask them who you should contact next. If you run out of contacts then start over from scratch: Either call a local treatment center, a local help line, or go to an AA meeting and ask about local treatment centers. People there should have at least some direction for you.
Persistence is key. Don’t be rude or pushy, but also, don’t give up easily either.
Why you can’t do it alone
You can’t recover alone because you don’t have the information that you need.
And you can’t just read a book (or a website…ha!) and have all of the information that you will ever need to recover.
This is because recovery is dynamic.
In other words, you may need a certain kind of help when you have 4 days sober. And you will almost certainly need a different kind of help when you have 4 months sober. And the same will be true when you have 4 years sober. You still need help in recovery, and you may still need direction, but your needs are changing. And the particular challenges that you may face will continue to change and evolve.
I am a completely different person from when I had four months sober. Now I am over 13 years sober and I still have problems in my life and face challenges, but it is a completely different set of problems than when I was in early recovery.
And I would like to think that my problems today are much better than they used to be. When comparing to my active addiction this is most certainly true. When I was drinking every day my problem was that I wanted to die and I was nearly killing myself with drugs and alcohol on a daily basis. Today at 13 years sober I still have problems, but they are far, far better than those old problems.
I had to surrender in early recovery in order to get to where I am at today. I had to have a whole lot of help from other people in order to learn the things that I have along the way. If I tried to do it alone I never would have made it this far, I never would have learned the things that I needed to learn, and I would almost certainly not still be sober today.
As it is, I am lucky that I was able to surrender at some point, and in doing so I was able to listen to others and really learn from them. To listen to them and really take their suggestions to heart and really act on them. This is what surrender is all about, it is about pushing your ego to the side so that you can take some wisdom from someone else and put it into practice for yourself.
And this is how recovery really works: It is like finding a magic shortcut to wisdom. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel. There are others who have recovered before you, and they are willing to show you how to do it. But in order to make it work you have to listen to them.
And most of us don’t like to listen. Our ego doesn’t like being pushed around.
So we have to show it who is boss. Put it in it’s place, and listen to someone else’s ideas for a change.
What about you, have been able to surrender in recovery? How has that surrender led to your success? Let us know in the discussion forums. It only takes a second to register!