The Concept of Surrender in Addiction is Counter-Intuitive and Culturally Backwards
The entire concept of surrendering to an addiction is pretty much backwards in our society. It is counter-intuitive to the typical alcoholic or drug addict currently living in Western civilization these days. This is a huge problem when it comes to getting clean and sober, because surrender is necessary in order to break through denial and start building a new life.
We are not hard wired to surrender to anything in our current culture
We are simply not taught to surrender. All of the marketing messages that we receive growing up and all of our social programming tells us to do exactly the opposite of this. To fight, to be resilient, to never give up. We are taught this over and over again in many different venues throughout our lives.
We are never really told to surrender. To anything.
So what happens when a person in this culture finds themselves struggling with a drug or alcohol addiction? This creates a massive problem. They can’t overcome their addiction unless they let go and surrender, but on the other hand they are taught from a very young age to never give up, to never surrender. So they are trapped by this cultural programming that tells them that if they give up in any way that they are weak.
There are actually some cultures in the world that do not look down on the concept of surrender as much as we do here. In fact it can even be seen as being honorable or noble in some ways. But in the Western world we tend to look down on the idea of surrender and mentally label it as being “weak” and “bad.”
Our natural solution for an addiction problem would be to “toughen up and control it better”
So what is the alternative to surrender? We are taught instead to toughen up and find a way to press on through adversity. We are taught to overcome our problems, to deal with them ourselves. To “man up” and face our reality. We are not typically taught to back down, to reset our lives, to ask for help and advice.
I can remember dealing with this sort of mentality when I was struggling with my own alcoholism. I can remember thinking to myself “I am out of control with the alcohol and the drugs, but I should be smarter than this. I have to figure out a way to control it. I have to get myself back under control.” So inevitably I would make an effort to do exactly that, and this might last for a few days or even a few weeks. I would back off and control my drug and alcohol intake for a short time. But eventually I would lose control again as the power of the drugs and the alcohol took over again. And I would be facing more consequences and dealing with more chaos.
And this of course is the nature of the problem. The alcoholic cannot control their drinking in the long run. Not consistently. They can fool themselves and be stuck in denial by thinking that they can control it when they want to, but this is actually delusional. If they cherry pick their results they can find instances of control, but in the long run the alcohol will eventually take over and they will lose control again. This is really what defines alcoholism–the inability to control the drinking in the long run. In the short term nearly anyone can “hold it together.” But eventually the alcohol always takes over.
Our natural instinct in trying to overcome a problem of this nature is to regain control. So we fight and we struggle to assert our power. We try harder to limit the amount of alcohol that we consume. And in the end we always lose at this game because eventually the alcohol takes over again. It may not happen tomorrow or the next day but eventually the alcohol always regains control over us. We are a slave to the disease so long as we are drinking any amount other than zero.
“Surrender to win” – what does that even mean?
What does it really mean to surrender?
How can an alcoholic “surrender to win?” What does that even mean?
It means that at some point the alcoholic who is struggling has to throw up their hands and accept the fact that they need to be told what to do. That they need to be told how to live. That they need to accept what everyone around them is trying to tell them.
Deep inside the struggling alcoholic has this tight grip on their drinking. They are holding on to their drug of choice as tight as they can. They like to drink and they like to be drunk and they never want to let go of this crutch. So they are holding on to their alcohol with a kung-fu grip. They won’t let go of it for anything. It is the one thing that they can count on, that they know they can drink alcohol and transport to this magical place where they don’t have to feel, where they can escape reality.
The struggling alcoholic is holding on to their drinking as tight as they possibly can. And they never want to let it go.
Their friends and family see the problem. They can see that alcohol is destroying this person. So they try to talk to the alcoholic, tell them that they have this problem and that the solution is to be clean and sober. They try to tell the alcoholic how much better their life would be if they would just stop drinking.
But the alcoholic does not want to hear this. They are afraid of facing life sober. So they tighten their grip on the alcohol even more. They promise to never let it go. Everyone wants for them to give up drinking but they don’t understand that alcohol is the one thing that helps the alcoholic. Or rather, this is what the alcoholic mind truly believes.
When I was a drunk, I used to tell people: “Why would you want me to give up alcohol, this is the one thing that makes me a little happy! If you take this away I will die of misery.”
Of course I had it all backwards. I thought that I was miserable and that alcohol actually helped relieve this a bit. I could not see the truth, which was that the alcohol was creating the misery. This is denial.
So the alcoholic is being told to “just stop drinking” so that they can fix their life, but they are terrified of facing life sober. So they continue to tighten their grip on the alcohol. Their mind is telling them: “Do anything that they want, so long as we can continue to drink alcohol and medicate ourselves.” It is me against the world. Me and my alcohol. And they tighten their grip even further in spite of their friends and family trying to help them (by advising them to quit entirely).
And so based on this struggle the alcoholic in question will try to moderate. They will try to control their drinking. They will try to cut down a bit, but not quit entirely. Never that. Never to give up alcohol entirely, that is too scary, too radical. Too extreme. Everyone drinks at least a little, right? It is hard for the alcoholic to imagine nothing, no drinks at all, total and complete abstinence. It is a scary thing for a drunk mind to contemplate.
And we all know what happens when the alcoholic tries to moderate.
They fail. This is what defines alcoholism. If you can moderate successfully, good for you! You are not an alcoholic at all. You are normal. Go live a happy life and drink a few beers each month. Maybe a glass of wine for dinner once a week. Or whatever passes for “normal drinking” these days (I actually have no idea or frame of reference for that!).
But if you try to moderate your drinking and you find yourself eventually slipping back into your old habits, if you eventually find yourself going overboard again, then you are most likely a real alcoholic. Not just a problem drinker, but a real alcoholic. And so you are dealing with a problem that cannot be solved by fighting back against, by struggling against it, by fighting for control or power over it.
None of those strategies work against alcoholism. You cannot fight back against addiction directly and beat it. You cannot fight alcoholism head on and win. You cannot declare against your alcoholism: “I am going to drink like a normal person, no matter what it takes.” You can’t do that. Alcoholism will drag you down to its own level and beat you senseless. The alcoholic who tries to fight back directly will always lose. Because the nature of their disease is that alcohol gets into their body and then they lose control. Once they lose control the alcohol is back in charge and it will cause the person to keep drinking until chaos and real consequences occur. This will keep happening over and over again until the person is either dead, imprisoned, or locked up in a mental ward. Those are the only possible outcomes to alcoholism that goes unchecked. You can avoid destruction in the short run but not in the long run. In the end the alcohol always wins. It is too powerful. You can’t fight it directly.
So what is the solution then?
The solution is what no one wants to hear.
The solution is what no on wants to do. No one wants to go through with it.
You have stop fighting.
This is very counter-intuitive. It feels wrong.
Surrender feels like a little micro-death. It is almost like a suicide of sorts. You feel like you die a little bit when you surrender to addiction.
And part of you does die. It is the part of you that struggles to control your drinking. It is the part of you that feels like you need to self medicate every day. It is the part of you that feels terrified that you might have to face life sober, without your crutch of alcohol.
You can let go of that part of you. It is possible. Anyone can do this, though you may not be able to do it on demand. You may not be able to surrender right now, this very second.
You may have to build up to it.
You may have to work your way up to surrender.
How do you do this? How does an alcoholic surrender when they are stuck in addiction?
How does a struggling alcoholic figure out how to let go, how to truly let go of everything and let it all slide, to throw caution to the wind and become willing to face their fears?
How does the alcoholic ask for help and walk into rehab, go through detox, while casting their fears of sobriety aside?
How do you force yourself (or someone else) to surrender?
The answer to these questions is frustrating. Because ultimately you cannot just force surrender on yourself or others.
But what you can do is to move closer to surrender.
Every day, you can bring yourself closer to surrender by working through your denial.
There is this spectrum, this virtual line. At one end of the spectrum is surrender. At the other end of the spectrum is denial. Most of us are somewhere in the middle. If you are an alcoholic at the very start of your drinking career then maybe you are in “full denial” at that time.
The person who is getting clean and sober today is at the far end away from denial. They are starting a new life in recovery because they finally broke through their denial completely.
So therein lies the answer. If you want to surrender (and you don’t know how) then you need to focus on your denial.
So how do you do this?
First of all you need to start reaching out to other people. Talk to them. I know this is hard because we want to be defensive. So you need to find people that you can trust, people who will not judge you. Tell them that you just want to talk, that maybe you are not ready to stop drinking just yet, but you want to talk about it anyway. Tell them not to push you and that you just need support.
So then if you can find someone like this you need to start talking about your denial. What you need is for your brain to realize that your misery is a result of your addiction. If you are stuck in denial then right now your brain has this mixed up. Your brain has you convinced that you are miserable without the drugs and alcohol, and that you would be even more unhappy if you were sober. This is a lie. The truth is that you are happy when you are sober and the addiction is creating the misery in your life. But you have to somehow wake up and realize this.
So you can help your brain to realize this by talking with other people, by having them reflect your life back to you. So that you can see the truth. So that you can see the truth of how miserable you really are when you are stuck in addiction. You might also start writing down your feelings each day. Keep a journal and write down how happy (or miserable) you are. Even if you are drinking every day you can still write these things down and learn something.
What you are doing when you talk to others about this or write down your feelings is you are waking up your brain. You are breaking through your denial, one tiny bit at a time. You are slowly waking up to the fact that your drinking has made you miserable.
If you keep doing this then eventually your brain will have this revelation. Your mind will realize one day “hey wait a minute….I am truly miserable in my addiction and it is not getting any better. There is no hope for happiness in the future if I keep drinking or taking drugs. This is pointless.”
And once your brain reaches that point you will finally be free to let go of it all. You will let go of the need to self medicate, of the need to get drunk every day, and you will go ask for help. You will say to others “I no longer know how to be happy, please show me how to live.” This is the essence of surrender. This is how you truly let go.
At this moment you may scare yourself a bit because you will no longer care about yourself or others. You will abandon everything. When you surrender and let go, you truly let go of everything. You let it all slide. Nothing matters any more. You become overwhelming sick of it all. Just sick and tired beyond belief. And there is this tiny shred of hope left in you that maybe things could get better. So you grab on to that tiny shred of hope and you ask for help.
And then you start following directions. You listen to what you are told. You take orders. Someone suggests going to AA, or they suggest going to rehab, or they suggest detox, so you do it. You do whatever is suggested. Because you are at the end of your rope and you have nothing left to fight for. You have realized that alcohol and drugs are a dead end and will never make you happy. So you let go of everything and become open to change.
What happened for me when I finally surrendered and let go of everything
When I finally reached my moment of surrender I realized that I would never be happy in the long run if I kept drinking.
I did not really know if I could be happy while sober. I was leaning towards the idea that if I were sober I would probably be miserable. But I was truly at the end of my rope with addiction and I knew that I did not want to keep chasing drugs and alcohol. I knew for sure that this was a dead end.
So I asked for help. My family took me to rehab. I went through detox and residential treatment. The counselors there suggested I live in long term rehab. So I moved into a long term facility. I have not had drink or a drug since and it has been over 13 years now. In order to reach this point I had to surrender fully and completely.
That moment of surrender was scary because I had stopped caring about myself and others. I no longer cared about anything or anyone. I had ceased to care entirely. For me, this is what it meant to really let go. I let go of everything, and did not even care about my own happiness or well being any more. I cared about nothing.
But I was still willing to try recovery. I was willing to ask for help and take advice. What is the worst that could happen? I was already at zero. I was already at my most dismal point in life. I was at my bottom.
And this is when the transformation occurred. This is when everything started to get better, slowly. I went to detox, stayed in rehab, went to long term. I started to rebuild my life from there, one day at a time. The days turned into months and the months turned into years. And things kept getting better and better.
At some point in my sobriety (during the first year) I realized that I was now happier in sobriety than I ever thought I could be. I was happier sober than I ever was drinking. And this was a miracle for me because I never believed that this was possible, that I could be happy without alcohol and drugs in my life. And yet here I was, clean and sober, and living a new life of freedom and happiness.
I didn’t even deserve it. I was just lucky enough to finally surrender.