* Denial and the struggle for control
* Can positive motivation lead to surrender?
* Hitting bottom as a method of release
* Discovering willingness and massive action as a means to sobriety
* The reward for surrender
I have written in the past about how to stop drinking, but I wanted to take a closer look at the mechanics of breaking through to sobriety. It is one thing to be living a great life in recovery, but how do we actually get there? This is the great struggle of the newcomer to recovery, and it is this attempt to cross the barrier that keeps so many alcoholics stuck in a miserable state of being.
Denial and the struggle for control
Photo by Panoramas
Denial is all about trying to stay on the hamster wheel and appear somewhat normal. The alcoholic tries to maintain and stay somewhat happy through being self medicated all the time. This becomes a difficult balancing act because the alcoholic will realize that they cannot really enjoy themselves with their drinking unless they let lose completely and drink as much as they want. But at the same time, they know that they have a tendency to get into trouble when they do so, and so they struggle to restrict their drinking in order to maintain control.
This struggle for control plays a central role in the life of the alcoholic and it cannot be overcome without complete surrender. The surrender is defined by the absence of this struggle for control. Once this is dropped, then recovery can begin. But if the alcoholic is still trying to maintain this struggle, then they are not ready to stop drinking. Until they do let go of this great struggle, they are still trapped in denial, believing that they might somehow both enjoy and control their drinking at the same time.
Surrender happens when the alcoholic transcends this struggle for control and accepts the idea that they could abstain from alcohol entirely.
This is not so much an action step. It is sort of like the opposite of action. Surrender is a release. The alcoholic is letting go of something.
Can positive motivation lead to surrender?
Let’s say that an alcoholic loves to paint and is quite talented at it. They have a dream of making beautiful paintings and maybe teaching art to children, or something similar. Could this become positive motivation for that person to help them to stop drinking?
No it cannot. The true alcoholic is locked in an epic struggle with their need to self medicate with drinking. Their need to drink replaced their true dreams a long time ago. It is true that they can one day get sober and get those dreams back and accomplish great things, but when they are still trapped in addiction, they have pushed their dreams a long ways back.
Think about it. How could an alcoholic drink for several years on end, while not chasing their true passion? The only way to do it is to push those dreams and aspirations to the side. They have done it for a long time. Yes, the dreams and the positive motivators are still there. They can even be named out loud. But they are not a driving force in the life of the alcoholic unless the person becomes sober.
In other words, those dreams do not serve as positive motivation for sobriety. They cannot be used as inspiration to motivate someone to quit drinking. This is not the path to surrender.
Hitting bottom as a method of surrender
If our dreams are not enough to motivate us to get sober, then what is?
As sad as that may be to contemplate, it is the truth. We are motivated by pain. When the alcoholic becomes miserable enough, they can become motivated to make real change in their life.
I wish it were different. I wish you could reawaken the dreams in a struggling alcoholic and thus motivate them to get sober. But that is not what I experienced, and that is not what I observe in others.
Instead, think carefully about the moment of surrender, and how a struggling alcoholic actually stops drinking. It is not a moment of positive action. Instead, it is a release. They are letting go of the need to control. They decide to stop fighting.
In this moment, the person is broken down. They have lost the will to keep fighting, to control their drinking. This does not happen when they have built up enough strength. It happens when they have been fully broken down. Their spirit is broken and they surrender to their drinking. They let go of the struggle. This is where recovery starts.
If you talk with recovering alcoholics who have successfully stopped drinking, they will explain that this moment of surrender only occurred at their lowest point. They were broken down in spirit and they were miserable with their lives. They did not really want to go on living this way.
If you want to help someone surrender to alcoholism, then do not help them to avoid this state of being. Let them find the misery that will motivate them to change.
Sad but true. The alcoholic is motivated mostly by pain (and the avoidance thereof).
Discovering willingness and massive action as a means to sobriety
It always seems to come back to this: the key to recovery is massive action. Anything less will result in substandard results and eventual relapse.
Another way to put it is to say that what we really need in recovery is drastic action. People are not willing to get drastic unless they have fully surrendered to the disease.
When you surrender to your addiction, it is a great release. You let go of the struggle to control your drinking. It is a tremendous relief and it frees up a lot of mental energy. The alcoholic is both at peace with themselves and ready to take new action. It is like emptying yourself out so that you can start to fill it back up with something. You have to let go of everything in order to reach this state of willingness.
Surrender must be absolute. If you are still hanging on to a shred of your old life, then you are hanging on to the whole thing.
This was evidenced in my own struggle with alcoholism when the counselors and the therapists suggested I go to long term rehab. I was not willing to do so at the time and I returned to drinking. I was on the brink of surrender but for some reason I did not take the full plunge at that time. I was hanging on to some part of my old life. Thus, I did not recover.
Later on, after experiencing much more misery and pain in my life, I was able to see the solution. I needed long term rehab (not every alcoholic will need this path, but it was clearly what I needed in order to recover). I fought to control my drinking up until this point, and I had resisted the idea of living in long term treatment as well. All part of my denial. All part of staying stuck in addiction.
I had to let go of my resistance. I had to let go of the resistance to go to long term rehab. And to be honest, this was not a positive action on my part. It happened because I was broken down to a point of misery. It happened out of desperation. This is the path to surrender.
It was through misery that I became willing to take massive action. It was out of desperation that I was willing to get drastic.
The reward for surrender
No alcoholic who is still drinking would possibly believe this, but the reward for total surrender is complete freedom. You can tell them this, and try to convince them of it, but they will either not believe it, or they will not care, or both.
Freedom is the outcome. It happens quickly after you surrender and then take action. This is completely baffling to the alcoholic, who fights and struggles to keep themselves trapped in their own prison. It is difficult for the alcoholic to see how they can surrender completely and gain total freedom.
It goes like this:
1) The alcoholic is miserable. They realize that drinking no longer brings them joy, or even happiness. They surrender.
2) In their surrender, they give up the struggle to control and enjoy their drinking. They take the advice of others and avoid alcohol altogether. They embrace abstinence.
3) They are still miserable. They are told that massive action will rebuild their life and bring them happiness.
4) They commit to massive action. This may or may not include a formal program of recovery. The key is in the action, not in the program itself.
5) The alcoholic follows through with new, positive action in their life. They do this out of their surrender, because their spirit was broken. They do it even without faith in the results. They do it out of misery; out of desperation.
6) Before they know it, they have changed their life, and have found freedom from drinking. Their life gets a little better every day as they walk a new path in recovery. At some point, they realize that they have attained joy and happiness in sobriety.
Recovery is freedom from addiction. It is born out of misery and desperation and it follows from taking massive action.