How can you surrender if you are in the later stages of alcoholism or drug addiction?
Actually if you are an alcoholic who happens to be at an advanced stage of your disease, this can actually work to your benefit when it comes to getting the help that you need. This is because it is very difficult to get motivated to make drastic changes when there are no consequences. In other words, the motivation to change generally comes from misery and pain. The alcoholic who finally sobers up does so in order to avoid more pain, not to find some sort of happiness (although that is what happens). So they are avoiding a negative rather than chasing after a positive. This is a critical distinction to make because if you are in denial of your misery while drinking then you will never get sober.
The key to breaking through your denial after years of struggle
If you have been struggling for years with alcoholism and you continue to drink then the issue is one of denial. You are either in denial of the problem or you are in denial of the solution.
Some alcoholics will not admit that they have a problem at all. We might call this “outright denial.” They will not even acknowledge that their drinking is causing problems. They are in complete denial.
Some alcoholics have progressed further than this and they realize that their drinking has consequences. They know they have a serious problem. Yet they cannot bring themselves to do anything about it yet. They are not in denial of the problem because they freely admit that they are alcoholic. But they are in denial of the solution because they have all sorts of excuses as to why recovery will not work for them. So they refuse to get help, they refuse to go to AA, they refuse to go to treatment. They are in denial of the solution. They deny that any given solution might be able to help them. “AA won’t work for me because….(fill in the blank).” Or “I have been to treatment before and it doesn’t work for me, so why should I go now?” These are statements that show the person being in denial of the solution. They admit to a problem but they refuse to take action to fix the problem.
The key to breaking through this denial has to do with fear and misery. There is a balance between these two things. Every alcoholic has some amount of fear regarding sobriety. They are afraid to get sober for various reasons. Part of it is just the fear of the unknown. Part of it is having to face the world without the crutch of alcohol. Part of it is the anxiety of being in their own skin without self medicating. All of these things drive fear in the mind of the alcoholic.
On the other side of this fear is the misery and pain that the alcoholic is living with. Their drinking causes them to endure pain and suffering that they bring on themselves. Their addiction fuels this pain. Even if they are “lucky” enough to avoid major consequences they will still become miserable over time due to their addiction. This is because they equate drinking or being high with being happy, and they equate being sober with being miserable. So their goal is to be happy all of the time and eventually a tolerance shift will occur. In other words, if you try to stay drunk and happy every single waking hour of your life, you are going to be disappointed. Because what will happen eventually is that your mind and your body will get used to the feeling of being drunk, and it will no longer be special for you.
So that happiness that you normally get from being drunk will fade over time as you are drunk more and more often. Eventually you will be drunk every single day and it will be nothing special at all and you will not have that spark of happiness that used to come with getting tipsy. You will drink yourself miserable. And there will be no way to drink a little extra in order to feel that old happiness, because you will already be drinking as much as you can every single day. This is how tolerance builds. Your “happiness window” from drinking alcohol will continue to shrink and shrink over time until it disappears completely. Then you will be left with nothing but misery.
So any alcoholic who is in this situation and continues to drink every day is in denial. What are they in denial of? They are in denial of the fact that they could get clean and sober and thus escape from this cycle of misery. Yet the alcoholic will not see this possibility, they will believe that the only thing in the world that brings them any happiness at all is their alcohol. That tiny bit of happiness that they get from drinking is the only thing that they are clinging to. And they realize that if they sober up suddenly then they are going to feel awful for a few days. Furthermore, the alcoholic mind is taking that feeling of detox that is so uncomfortable and extrapolating it forward to apply it to the rest of eternity. In other words, the alcoholic mind believes that if they get sober for the next ten years that the whole thing will feel as bad as their detox feels. This of course it not true and it gets better in a hurry, and stays that way so long as you are sober. But it is so hard to see this when you are stuck in denial.
Therefore the key is to break through your denial and give yourself a chance at sobriety. The way to break through your denial is to realize that the fear of sobriety is not so bad, and that it is certainly less than the pain and misery of addiction. In other words you have to get sick and tired of being miserable in your addiction, and want to escape from this. And you have to want it so badly that you become willing to face your greatest fears. Which is to get sober and face life on life’s terms.
A suggestion for people who cannot seem to reach the point of surrender
My suggestion to you if you are stuck in denial is to start keeping a written journal each day.
Just write down your feelings and how happy you are. This is powerful if you actually do it each day and stick to it.
Maybe you will have a day where you drink just the right amount of alcohol and everything works out perfectly. Great, write it down. “I was happy today.”
But then force yourself to keep doing this every single day until you get sober. Because what will happen over time is that you will be writing down your feelings and if you are alcoholic and drinking every day then this will start to reveal the truth to you. You will be able to glance back at your written journal and see just how much misery your drinking produces. Our denial normally prevents us from acknowledging this misery and pain, but if you write it down then you expose the truth to yourself. You may not think it is necessary to actually write it down but you would be underestimating the power of this exercise by doing so. If you force yourself to write down your feelings then it will create change in the future.
Most people won’t take this advice because it is actually pretty difficult to do. It takes guts to write down your feelings every day, especially if you happen to be living in denial. It is like starting a battle within yourself. Most people would rather keep the peace and go about their business while being in denial. Writing down your feelings forces the issue and will make you realize that you need to get help.
Your next step if you have the willingness to try to change
If you have the willingness to change your life then you need to ask for help.
This is your next step after breaking through denial:
Ask for help.
Surrender is completely internal. Something inside of you falls away and you lose the tendency to struggle and fight against your addiction. You give up the need to control your drug and alcohol use and you open up to the idea of total abstinence. It is an idea that you have resisted for a long time now.
But in order to make this surrender become real you have to take action. You must do something. I would suggest going to inpatient rehab. There are other options available but none of them are as good as the inpatient treatment option. But perhaps most importantly you simply need to ask for help.
Ask people you trust. Ask people who are a good influence on you. Ask someone who is already living a clean and sober life. Call a 1-800 number and start asking questions. Ask for help and then get ready to do something about your problem.
It is not always easy to know when someone is really serious about getting the help that they need. One way to tell is if the person asks for help and then they are willing to go to any lengths in order to recover. If you suggest that an alcoholic check into rehab and they resist this idea then that is a bad sign. If someone is asking for help but they put all sorts of limitations on that help then that is not a good sign. They have to be open, willing, and ready to take whatever action is suggested. They must be desperate for change. Willing to do almost anything. This indicates a state of true surrender.
I have been at a point of “false surrender” in my own life before. I thought I might be ready for change but I was not. In reality what I was doing was breaking through that first level of denial. So my family wanted me to go to rehab and get help for my drinking, and I agreed to go. But when I agreed to this I was not at that level of “total surrender.” What I was actually surrendering to at that time was the fact that I was really an alcoholic. I had broken through my denial, but only through the first stage of my denial. I said “yes, I am really an alcoholic, I will go to rehab.” But I did not stay sober that time. Because I did not surrender to the fact that I needed a solution. I only admitted to the problem.
Later on in my life I reached a deeper level of surrender. At this time I felt like I had nothing to live for almost, I was devastated and completely miserable. It was as if I was throwing up my hands and saying “I don’t know how to live. Please show me.” That was my attitude. I was desperate. I wanted direction. This is when I was breaking through that second level of denial. The denial of the solution. At that time I realized that I needed a solution. I realized that I needed to be told how to live. And so I was willing to do whatever it took. This is critical.
Ask for help from others and then be willing to follow through and take action. If you are not willing to do this then you are likely not ready to get clean and sober just yet. You must be willing to accept a solution in your life.
How to create hope out of thin air when you have lost all will to live
So how can you create hope in your life when you are completely miserable and devastated? How can you pull yourself up off the ground when you are miserable and broken and feel like you have nothing to live for?
I can tell you what my experience was. I can tell you how it worked for me.
First of all I was miserable and felt like I was at a low point. The first step of course is to get past your denial and realize that you are miserable to begin with. If you do not acknowledge that you are miserable in your addiction then you have zero chance of escaping it. You will stay stuck if you believe that you are actually happy when in fact you are miserable. If you struggle with this then I suggest you start writing down your feelings as suggested earlier. This takes guts.
I was miserable and I was alone for a while and I had this realization. I had this moment of clarity. I realized that if I continued to drink that I would forever be miserable. I clearly saw this in the future, that it was never going to get any better. I am not sure why it took 8 years of heavy drinking and drug use for me to figure this out. But finally I saw the light. I realized that I could never be truly happy if I was self medicating.
So what I did next is critical. Two things:
1) I asked for help.
2) I killed my ego.
This second bit requires explanation.
How do you kill your ego?
It is pretty simple actually. What you do is you stop making decisions based on your own ideas. In order to do this you must make an agreement with yourself. You must tell yourself that you will not make any of your own decisions any more. I recommend that you do this for at least one full year. Commit to one year of killing your ego.
So you ask for help. You probably go to rehab. You go through detox. They introduce you to AA meetings and you start attending meetings. You find a sponsor. Or maybe you go to a religious based recovery program and you get involved with a different community. It doesn’t really matter. What is important is that you remove yourself from the decision making process. You must kill your ego.
This probably sounds bizarre. Do it anyway. Kill your ego and get out of your own way. The reason you must do this is so that you do not sabotage your own recovery efforts. Keep in mind that over 90 percent of alcoholics will relapse within the first year of trying to get sober. You don’t want to be in that 90 percent. The way to avoid this is to follow directions from other people. Which people? It doesn’t really matter so long as these people are NOT YOU. Find people you trust in recovery. People in AA, people in rehabs, counselors, therapists, or even people in a religious community. Anyone who wants to see you stay sober and get the help that you need. Ask these people for help and then do what they tell you to do.
You cannot keep your ego intact and stay sober in early recovery. You can’t do it. If you want your ego to thrive then you may as well just go get drunk. Instead, you must kill your ego and follow directions from other people. It is that simple. Make an agreement with yourself that you are going to stand down for one full year, you will not make any of your own decisions for the first year, you will always ask for advice from others and follow their directions. Do this instead of pursuing your own ideas.
What will happen? Will this lead to misery?
Of course not. Your life will get better and better. You will start to slowly recover and every part of your life will start to improve. You will eventually become happier in recovery than you ever were in your addiction.
No one thinks that this will work. Everyone believes that they will be unhappy if they kill their ego. Because they think that their ego is always right, and that their ego knows what is best to make them happy.
This is false. The ego is almost always wrong. We are generally poor predictors of what will make us happy in life. This goes for everyone. If you let your ego be your guide then you will always be disappointed. And in early recovery it is critical that you ignore your ego, because it will just lead you to relapse.
No, the way to build happiness and peace in recovery is to listen to others who are already living a life of recovery. They know the path and they can guide you. It can be annoying in that it takes time to realize the full benefits of recovery, but there is no shortcut to these benefits. Your ego will tell you that you should be able to be happy right now, and this is dangerous. Instead you need to slowly rebuild your life into something sustainable. This takes time but it is steady progress. It all begins with a baseline of abstinence. Then you start to build new healthy relationships and you start to take positive action on a daily basis. Over time those positive actions will add up and the tide will turn. You will find peace and contentment in your life. But it takes time for this to build. It doesn’t happen overnight. This is why they use the concept of faith in early recovery, because you do not instantly become happy and joyful when you first get sober. So there has to be a mechanism by which you can tell the struggling alcoholic: “It gets greater, later.” Because it does, in fact, get a lot better. But it takes time. So have faith that the positive actions that you take today will add up to peace, joy, and contentment in the long run.
What about you, were you able to surrender during the later stages of your addiction? How did you do it? Let us know in the discussion forums. It only takes a second to register!