I was once at a point in my recovery journey where I wished I had never discovered drugs in the first place. At the same time, I did not exactly want to take responsibility and give them up forever, either. I was stuck.
This is that same point when you are getting closer and closer to surrender, but you are just not quite there yet. You wish that things were different in your life but you are not willing to take massive action in order to change things.
The catch 22 that you feel before you surrender to addiction
Before you actually reach the moment of surrender you will likely be wringing your hands over a number of different things. One is the idea that you don’t want to give up your drug of choice forever, which has really become your best friend in some ways. The other idea is that you have this tremendous fear of the unknown, and simply facing the idea of recovery and abstinence can be overwhelming in itself. I know this because I have been there.
From what I can tell there is no good way to resolve these fears other than to plow straight through them. You have to realize that things are just never going to get any better on their own if you continue to self medicate, and then make the decision to go get some professional help. This is really the only way to move forward in recovery.
I can remember before I surrendered I was constantly going back and forth with myself, sort of fighting against myself, because I could not resolve the balance between fear and misery. I knew that I was miserable in my addiction and that it was not likely to get any better. On the other hand, I had a terrible fear of sobriety and what life would like if I could not allow myself to self medicate at all, ever again. So those two forces were constantly at battle with each other in my mind and I was full of unrest about the whole thing. I wanted so badly for the misery to end but on the other hand I had such a tremendous amount of fear regarding the recovery process.
It did not help my case that I had already been exposed to treatment twice before in the past. At those treatment centers I was exposed to AA meetings and I did not particularly like the format due to my level of anxiety. I did not like speaking in front of groups. And the horrible thing was that all of the counselors and therapists had basically told me that “it was AA or the highway.” Because AA had worked for them, they really believed that I did not have much of a chance unless I allowed AA to work for me too. They figured it was easier for me to just get over my anxiety regarding the meetings than it was to find another solution. For them, AA was pretty much it.
Looking back now, I cannot say that I blame them for this, because the 12 step solution is very widespread and it does offer a ton of support. If you can get past your aversion to meetings (if you have one, like I did) then you really can get a tremendous amount of help and support from the fellowship. I was lucky I suppose in that I was living in a treatment center that forced me to go to a certain number of meetings. I had to do 90 meetings in the first 90 days and I had to keep doing 3 meetings per week after that. Truth be told though I quickly started doing less than even the 3 meetings per week and was really only doing about 2. But interestingly enough, one of those 2 meetings each week was an in-house meeting at the rehab that I chaired myself. This was suggested to my from my sponsor and I chaired that meeting for over a year, trying to carry a positive message to newcomers who were still in detox. That was an interesting experience and I think it was also a valuable one, but I definitely do not feel bad about later moving on and leaving the meetings.
I was exposed to AA, I went to meetings, then I chaired a meeting of my own for a while, then I moved on entirely. Such a cycle is still self sustaining, even though I finally left. Many people give me a hard time for leaving the meetings because they argue “who will give back to the newcomer?” Well, I did! I chaired a meeting for almost two full years, and I did my best to carry a positive message of hope to people.
Anyway, if you are trying to get past the moment of surrender and say goodbye to your drug of choice forever then you have quite a battle in front of you. The journey of recovery starts out with surrender and it can be a rough road at first. But it does get better.
Saying goodbye to your old friend (drug of choice) forever
Your drug of choice is really your friend. You treat it as a friend, anyway, as someone that you can depend on. When you have a bad day or you feel upset, your drug of choice was always there to help make you feel better.
When you walk into detox that option is now out the window. You have made an agreement with yourself that you are going to give abstinence a try. This is not an easy thing for the average person to process and it takes some time. The reason that it takes time is because it is an emotional loss of security.
You have come to rely on your drug of choice in order to medicate your moods. You have come to rely on your drug of choice in order to get through each day. Now that you have decided to forgo that option, your world is now coming crashing down on you. Even if there is not much drama currently, you have no way to shield your emotions from the outside world. You have no way to medicate because you went to detox and made the decision for abstinence.
It is very similar to quitting cigarettes. For the first few days, every few moments you catch your braining suggesting to you “wouldn’t a cigarette be nice right now?” And then you have to remember that you made the decision to get clean and sober, and that you are going to NEVER touch your drug of choice ever again, and so your brain sort of goes through all of this agony of losing your best friend all over again. This is why early recovery is such an emotional roller coaster. You have to keep going through this emotional turmoil over and over again because you have made this agreement with yourself that you will stay clean and sober.
There is not necessarily much help for this, other than to put yourself in a safe place (such as inpatient rehab) and allow yourself to go through this emotional process. Simply understand that it is going to be an emotional ride for a while, and that there is very little that you can do to escape it. You have to feel those feelings and deal with them sober; this is the great challenge of early recovery.
In the past we used to medicate our feelings. We generally did not like our feelings and emotions. We killed them with drugs and alcohol. We controlled them or covered them up with drugs or alcohol. So when you first get clean and sober you may feel a bit overwhelmed at the fact that you suddenly cannot medicate your feelings away. This can be rather disturbing for a long time and I believe that it is the main reason that people relapse in the first few months of recovery. They cannot handle their feelings, they cannot process their feelings, and they just want to find a way to medicate their feelings and make them go away. Well, you can’t do that. You have to learn to deal with them instead, and that is just difficult. There is no easy way to do it, it is hard work, it takes time, it means giving yourself a break and realizing that you are going to be an emotional mess for a while as you rebuild your life.
Saying goodbye to your drug of choice forever is not easy. But you still have to do it. And there is really no way to make it any easier. The best advice is to seek a safe environment in which to do it and then also try to get as much support as possible. Surround yourself with other people who have already achieved sobriety so that they can encourage you.
You can’t go backwards. You can only move forward
If there is one universal truth about recovery perhaps it is this: “You can’t go backwards. You can only go forward.”
This is a very pertinent quote to anyone who has been in and out of therapy, counseling, meetings, and treatment but continues to screw up and relapse over and over again. After a while the shame and guilt that this roller coaster produces can start to work against you all on its own.
So you need to find a way to break through that shame and guilt. They have a very simple saying which perfectly summarizes this process, though I have to admit that it never used to make much sense to me:
“Give yourself a break.”
What does that even mean? I used to imagine myself sitting down at a picnic table and eating a Kit Kat, to be honest. I mean, how else do you give yourself a break? What does that really mean?
Later on in my recovery I finally figured out what it really meant, and how it actually applied in my life.
Here is what it really means to give yourself a break, and why it is so important for you to do so:
When you “give yourself a break” you forgive yourself. You let go of all of those failed attempts of the past and you allow yourself to move forward without any emotional baggage. This is really the process of forgiving yourself, and if you want to get clean and sober then you definitely have to do this. You must embrace this forgiveness.
Take a step back for a moment and realize that you are always, and have always been doing the very best that you possibly could in life. Even when you lashed out at others in anger or may have done things or said things that you regret, you were still just doing the best that you knew at the time in order to get your needs met. So perhaps you acted selfishly in some moments–don’t we all? You were just trying to survive, trying to be happy, trying to make it through the madness without going crazy or self destructing. Who is really going to fault you for trying? That’s all you have been doing, really, is simply trying to get by. Even when you lashed out or acted selfishly, you were not really trying to hurt others. You were just trying to get by as best you could.
If you look at the outside world with this objective viewpoint, you will realize that this is the case with everyone. Every other person is just struggling like you are to do the best that they can in any given moment. Sometimes they screw up, sometimes they act selfishly, sometimes they hurt other people. But in the end they are not really mean or evil, they are just trying to get their needs met as best they can.
From this viewpoint you should be able to make the leap to forgiveness. When you take this huge step back and look at all of humanity and its struggle, you should be able to realize that every human being has struggle in their life, and every one of them deserves forgiveness. Including you.
This is what it means to give yourself a break. You must take this giant step back from your life and realize that you are struggling to do the best that you can, just like everyone else. And even though you have made certain mistakes, you were not actually trying to hurt others or be evil. And you deserve forgiveness. Furthermore, you deserve to be happy in this life, and if you can get to a place of happiness and peace in recovery, surely you will be able to help other people to achieve the same thing, right? This is another tactic of forgiveness, realizing that you are more useful to the world and to others when you are happy and healthy than when you are miserable and self medicating. Again, this is why you need to give yourself a break. So what if you have done terrible things in your past and you are now beating yourself up over it and self medicating all the time? That is not serving the world in any sort of helpful way.
But you can turn all of that around by taking a more positive path in life. If you can forgive yourself and get to the point where you are willing to give yourself a new chance at life, then you may even become helpful to other people in your journey. It may be hard for you to imagine that you will actually be useful and helpful to other people, especially to other struggling addicts and alcoholics, but this is exactly what often happens. Our journey and our story about recovery can serve to help others in the future. This is why it is so important to take action and give yourself permission to be healthy and happy again. If you don’t do it, who will help the next person who may be seeking the same sort of transformation?
What you should do if you feel like you are ready to surrender finally
If you feel like you are at that breaking point of surrender then it is time to take action. Stop fighting with yourself internally and make a decision to take serious action.
The question for many people is: “How exactly do you do that?”
My number one suggestion for anyone who has reached this point of surrender is to ask for help and get to professional treatment services.
There are alternatives to that course of action, but none of them give you the same odds and advantages at getting clean and sober. In other words, going to rehab is going to be the single best choice for anyone who has finally reached surrender.
Now you may wonder if you are truly at the point of surrender. My advice in this case is not to wonder, just go through with it and seek help. If other people are urging you or trying to force you into treatment then that is one thing, but if you actually initiate the request for rehab then do not second guess yourself. Just go. I can remember back to my own moment of surrender and the time that existed before I actually got into rehab. It was a scary time and I was sort of half on the fence with it. It took me a day or two to get into rehab and during that time I could have easily been convinced to go back to drinking. But I had crossed that point of surrender and I had asked for help and so there were people who were helping me to stay sober and get into treatment.
So what I am really saying here is that you may have mixed feelings. A small part of you is definitely going to want to go back to your drug of choice. That is OK! Remember the mantra: “Give yourself a break!” In other words, don’t keep beating yourself up because you still sort of want to go back to your drug of choice. There will always be that tiny voice in your head that wants you to relapse. At some point you have to surrender and realize that you are sick and tired of the misery and that you want to try a new path in life.
Your goal after you surrender should be to get into an inpatient treatment center, the kind that has a medical detox and groups every day and they will likely also have AA and NA meetings. Or it may be a religious based treatment center without any meetings. And you know what the amazing thing is? It doesn’t really matter. Most people think that it does matter a great deal, but what they fail to realize is that it is really all about the depth of your surrender and your commitment to recovery. The actual method of sobriety and the treatment model that you follow is not nearly as important as the fact that you have surrendered or not.
Most people who fail in treatment do so because they failed to surrender. If you have reached the point of surrender then do not squabble about which rehab you will go to or what their treatment methods might be. None of that actually matters, I am sorry but it just doesn’t. What matters is that the individual in question is ready to get out of their own way, ready to push their ego to the side and go get the professional help that they really need. Any program of recovery that is based on total abstinence should work just fine, so long as the person is truly in a state of full surrender.
And this is how you take responsibility and give up drugs or alcohol forever. You get to a point where you are so miserable and so sick and tired that you are willing to do just about anything in order to get away from it. Even if you are afraid of treatment, you have to get to the point where you are no longer caring about that fear. The misery in your life must overcome that fear and drive you past it.