Can a person just decide to have a spiritual journey?
Can someone–out of their own free will and by their own decision–just decide to have a spiritual experience?
Or is this really something that gets decided outside of the individual?
To be honest I do not know the answer to this. I have searched for the answer and I still am not 100 percent convinced. I am not sure that a person can decide to have a spiritual experience and then make it happen based on their own force of will.
In order to help people, however, I have to assume that it is true. I have to assume that the struggling alcoholic can, in fact, decide to change their life.
When I look back at my own journey through alcoholism and recovery, I reached a point when I could not keep fighting. I could not keep struggling with alcoholism. It was done. I was finished. I had finally had enough. And I am honestly not sure if I decided on that point, or if it was divinely inspired, or what the case may have been. I have no idea. I just know that I was afraid to get sober for many years, but eventually I got so sick and tired that I no longer cared about the fear. I didn’t care about anything. And that was when I turned my life around.
This moment when I realized that I no longer cared about myself or others was what defined my journey. I had to reach that point before I could start to rebuild my life. I had to reach that point of complete and total despair before I could have any sort of hope again.
That point is known as “surrender.”
It is when you reach your darkest moment and you give up all hope. I realized at that moment that I would never be happy in my life if I were to keep chasing drugs and alcohol. I finally glimpsed the truth, I saw reality for what it was, I could see into the future.
In my moment of surrender to my alcoholism I could see the future. For the first time ever I really had this amazing ability to look into the future and I could see what my choices were.
I knew that if I kept drinking that no happiness would result. And I believed it. And I really grasped this future for the first time ever. I understood. I could see how addiction was a cycle. I could see how, if I was going to get drunk again some day and have fun with it, that I would not be able to have a “fun drunk” every single day. That if I continued to drink every day of my life that most of it would be miserable.
In the past I believed that if conditions were perfect then every day of drinking should be fun and exciting. But in my moment of surrender I finally saw the truth: that in order to have a fun day of drinking, I also had to have several days of misery surrounding it. You can’t have “super intense fun” every moment of your life. If you want to have a “peak experience” like you get with drugs and alcohol, then you are going to have some down days as well. I had been living the lie and believing that every day could, and should, be super fun and happy due to alcohol. This was not realistic.
In my moment of surrender I glimpsed the future and saw nothing but misery. And I didn’t want it. For whatever reason, my brain made a split second decision, and I decided to face the fear. To face the fear of going to rehab again. To face the fear of going to AA meetings again, even though I was not comfortable in them. To face the fear of trying to build a new life in recovery, where I might never be happy because I would be denying myself drugs and alcohol every day. I was terrified of sobriety. But I became more afraid of dying drunk and living the rest of my life in complete and total misery.
I had to reach that point where I could see the future. I had to get realistic about where my drinking and drug use was taking me in life. I am not sure how I reached that moment of surrender but I have a few ideas about it.
Why you need to surrender before starting your journey in recovery
The real truth about drug addiction and alcoholism is that you have to stop fighting to control it. If you are struggling to control it then it will eventually win that fight and it will control you. You can’t win against a chemical substance. It is too powerful.
Our brain wants the best of both worlds. It is hard wired to figure out a “win-win” situation. You know the kind–where you get to be sober in recovery and yet still drink and use drugs a little bit. And in most problems that we deal with in life, this is very possible. Our worlds are filled with opportunities for win-win solutions. In many cases we can reach this sort of solution.
The problem with addiction is that it happens to be a black and white area where no such compromise exists.
Recovery is entirely pass/fail.
You can’t go to the school of alcoholism recovery and get a grade of a B minus. If you do then you will relapse.
Recovery is pass/fail. You either surrender completely to your disease–and to a new solution in your life–or you fail and you relapse.
Think about this carefully for a moment because it is a really important point. Most people who try to get sober for the first time will relapse. The reason that they relapse is because they did not come to the game prepared to play. They did not surrender fully.
I can remember the first two times that I went to rehab. Both times I left rehab and then relapsed shortly after leaving. I was not ready for real change in my life because I had not surrendered fully yet.
I can remember what “partial surrender” felt like. I felt like I wanted my life to be different, but I also was not willing to let go of certain drugs in my life. And I was not willing to let go of certain friends (who were really bad influences) and I was not willing to do things such as go to AA meetings or intense treatment programs. I wanted things to be different but I was not willing to do the work. I was not willing to do what was being suggested to me. I went to rehab and they offered me solutions, but I resisted those solutions.
If you are resisting the solutions that are offered to you in early recovery then you are probably not in a state of true surrender.
Your level of surrender determines your level of willingness. And your level of willingness determines what actions you take. And those actions will turn into positive habits and that is what will ultimately keep you sober on a day to day basis. So if you are not in a state of total surrender then you will not have the willingness to take the actions that you need to take to build a new life in recovery.
I know that probably sounds a bit convoluted but it is absolutely true. Everything starts with total surrender.
Surrender is the point where you throw up your hands and say “I don’t know how to live any more, please show me how.” And you really have to mean it. You really have to be at your wit’s end and be desperate for someone to show you how to live. This is true surrender. If you are at this point then you can get clean and sober and build a new life in recovery.
Many, many people come into treatment centers and they are in a state of partial surrender. They have not surrendered fully to their disease AND to a new solution. Understand: You must surrender fully to a new solution in your life. So if they are pushing the idea of AA meetings on you then you have to embrace that as a solution. If they are telling you to go to a religious based program then you need to embrace that. It is not so much about finding just the right program that fits your personality, because I have never watched that work out for anyone. Instead, it is about getting to a point where you no longer care what the solution is and you are willing to embrace anything because you are so desperate. You are desperate with misery so you will cling to any program that they throw out there to you. This is real surrender. If you are defensive and demanding a certain recovery program or a certain treatment center or a certain sort of therapy then you are probably not in a state of total surrender. Total surrender is not manipulative. Total surrender is desperation. You will be desperate for change. And you won’t be making demands as to what those changes are. You will be asking for help. That is real surrender.
Surrender is the only gate through which you can enter recovery.
Is surrender really a spiritual principle?
I believe that surrender is fundamental to alcoholism recovery. It is also a spiritual principle and one of the cornerstones of learning.
The moment of surrender is when you finally let other people into your life to help you. Before surrender, you are like an isolated island: You won’t let anyone else into your life to really help you. You will let them into your life if you can get something from them, such as money or drugs or alcohol, but you won’t be open to getting any sort of wisdom from them.
Surrender is like the start of wisdom. It is admitting to yourself that you do not have all of the answers. The stubborn alcoholic is insisting that they either have all of the answers or that they can figure it all out as they go along. They don’t want or need outside help. They don’t want to learn from other people. They just want to drink and be left alone.
This all changes at the moment of surrender because the alcoholic will finally realize that they cannot recover under their own power. It is a crushing thing to admit that you cannot control your own drinking. The ego resists making this admission for a long time.
In order to recover from addiction you have to push your ego to the side. This is not an easy thing to do. The ego will resist it heavily. And even after you surrender and get some form of initial help (such as going to treatment), you still have to find a way to push your ego to the side in order to keep making growth in recovery. If you let your ego take over again in recovery then you will stop making progress. This is because the ego is not willing to learn from other people. It just wants to make itself happy. This is not helpful for recovery.
One of the things that you should know about addiction recovery is that you can really only overcome your problems if you are willing to borrow the wisdom of other people.
How does this work?
First, you must surrender. This means that you kill your ego off (temporarily, it is never gone forever!) and then you can ask for help. Surrender, kill your ego, ask for help, and start taking advice.
Does that sound complicated? It’s not. Again: Throw up your hands and say “I don’t know what I am doing any more. Please show me how to live.”
Then, when people give you advice, you take it. Take it and act on it. It really is that simple.
Most people do not like to take advice from others. It makes them feel “less than.” They would much rather follow their own ideas than to take the advice of others.
But you must realize what you are doing when you take advice in early recovery. You are borrowing the wisdom of others. You are drawing on their massive amounts of experience and wisdom.
It is crazy not to do this.
If you get clean and sober then you have two choices: One, you can reinvent the wheel. You can figure out all of the fundamental principles of sobriety, all over again, from scratch. Or two, you can listen to the advice of people who are already successful in recovery, and learn from their wisdom.
Seriously, those are your choices. Either figure it all out yourself, or take a massive shortcut and benefit from the wisdom of others.
But in order to take this shortcut you have to swallow your pride. You have to admit that you need help and direction. You have to listen to other people and do what they tell you to do.
Can you do that?
Can you listen to the advice of others and do what you are told to do?
Even if it doesn’t make perfect sense to you? Even if it sounds like a lot of extra work without much immediate benefit?
I was told to exercise every day. I really did not see how that would help me to avoid alcoholic beverages.
I was told to go back to college. I really did not see the point.
I was told to go to meetings every day. I did not like the meetings.
I was told to get a sponsor and to take advice from that sponsor and work through the steps. It all sounded like drudgery.
I was told to do a lot of things in early recovery. And I did them. And I did not let my ego get in the way.
At least not at first.
And this is a key point: I was willing to follow directions for a long time in early recovery. I killed my ego and surrendered fully and completely, for a certain amount of time.
I think it was several months. After that, I started to get my confidence back. I started to let my ego come back into play a little bit. I started to allow myself to have ideas again, ideas of my own, and to follow those ideas.
But not at first. Not in the first six months. During those first six months, I squashed my own ideas. I killed my ego. I made an agreement with myself that I could only listen to other people and their advice, never my own.
And this started working so well that I was honestly shocked. By the end of 30 days I realized that I had discovered the secret of sobriety. You simply get out of your own way and follow directions! It was really that simple. Not so easy to do, but dead simple. And I was reaping the benefits.
How to move closer to surrender if you are stuck in denial
So what do you do if you are stuck in denial?
How do you move closer to surrender?
First of all you must learn how to let go. You have to let go of everything. In order to get to this point you have to be really honest with yourself.
I can remember when I was getting close to my moment of true surrender, I was still out of control and drinking every day. And I was miserable. And I can remember that I was starting to embrace the misery.
That probably sounds a little weird: “Embrace the misery.”
But this was what I was doing. I was getting sick and tired of being so miserable. I was sick and tired of dealing with chaos in my life. And I was still drinking and trying to medicate my emotions and run away from my problems.
But I was starting to change. Something was happening. I was no longer struggling to control things as much. I was throwing caution to the wind a bit. Maybe this was because I had finally had enough and I either wanted to crash and burn or force myself to reach a breaking point. But I started to embrace the chaos and the misery in my life.
A small part of me realized that if I tried really hard to control my drinking every day that I would be stuck forever.
So I threw caution to the wind. This is probably not good advice. But this is what happened to me, this was the path that unfolded for me. I started to care less. I started to not care at all. And so I threw caution to the wind in terms of how I self medicated. If I was going to crash and burn, then let me crash and burn.
I think this attitude shift is what finally allowed me to reach a point of surrender. Because I was sort of “going all out” in my addiction, I was able to reach a point where I realized that things were never going to get any better. I had tested the limits. I had tried–really tried–to squeeze more happiness out of my drinking. I had pushed myself to the limits and found more chaos and misery there.
Before this point I had always been holding back a bit. I had been trying to control my drinking. And so there was this idea that if I really was miserable and I really wanted to be happy that I could cut everything loose and really go nuts and then I would finally be happy. But then I tested this assumption and found nothing but more misery.
I hope I am explaining that correctly. I don’t want for anyone to be dangerous or to go overboard and hurt themselves or others on purpose. But I had to reach this point of desperation with my drinking, and I could not do that until I made the decision to “go for broke” in terms of making myself happy with alcohol. In a sense, I removed my excuses. I created the perfect drinking episode, the one in which I could drink to my heart’s content, and yet I was still miserable. And this allowed me to prove to myself that I would never be happy if I kept drinking and using drugs.
Surrender will make or break your success in recovery
Surrender will make or break your journey in sobriety. If you surrender fully and deeply then it will allow you to truly learn a new way of life from others. If you fail to surrender fully then you will always be hanging on to your old ideas about how to make yourself happy, and thus happiness (and recovery) will remain elusive.
Surrender is the start of any spiritual journey.
What about you, has surrender been crucial for your own journey? How did your spiritual journey begin? Let us know in the discussion forums. It only takes a second to register!