It is widely known that the struggling alcoholic or drug addict has to surrender in order to recover, but how exactly are they supposed to do this? How do you surrender? Can you force yourself to surrender when you don’t really want to?
I think most of us realize that we cannot force another person to surrender to addiction against their will. But what if we are struggling with addiction and we want things to change, but we cannot figure out how to make this happen? How do we force ourselves to surrender? How do we embrace change in the face of fear?
How to surrender to your disease when you are stuck in addiction
Every alcoholic and drug addict will eventually reach a point where they wish that they could live without drugs and alcohol. However this does not mean that they are automatically just going to surrender and get sober. This is because there are at least two distinct stages of surrender that must occur.
The first stage of surrender has to do with the typical denial we are all familiar with. This is the denial when the alcoholic says “I am not alcoholic! I don’t have a problem. I have it all under control!” Once you realize that this is obviously false in your case then you have been through this first stage of surrender. You have surrendered to the fact that you are a real alcoholic.
This is not enough to get you sober, however. There is a deeper stage of surrender that is necessary in order to insure sobriety and turn your life around.
This second and deeper stage of surrender has to do with the solution. Are you willing to embrace a new solution in your life? This is the real test in early recovery. The first state of surrender has to do with admitting to your disease. The second stage of surrender has to do with accepting a solution in your life.
Think about that for a moment because it is an important distinction and most people don’t get it at first:
Stage one surrender: Admitting you have a problem.
Stage two surrender: Accepting a solution in your life.
Obviously if you want to see good results in recovery then you need to get to that second stage of surrender where you accept a solution.
For me, that solution involved going to treatment, even though I had already been to rehab twice in the past and failed. What was different this third time around? The fact that I had finally reached that second stage of surrender, that I was ready to accept a solution into my life.
More accurately, I was willing to face my fear. No one wants to admit that they are afraid of sobriety, that they are afraid of recovery, that they are afraid to go to treatment and get honest with themselves. No one wants to look in the mirror because they might not like who they have become. We tend to act selfishly in addiction so we know that we are not going to like what we see. This is the recovery process, however. If you want to change your life then you need to get honest with yourself first.
So how did I get to this second stage of surrender? How did I get to the point where I was willing to accept treatment and long term rehab and AA into my life?
I was blessed to reach that point and I am not sure that it was anything that I specifically did for my own part. Rather it was an accumulation of pain and chaos and misery that drove me to that point.
I did not get sober because I wanted to be happy. That would not be an accurate way to say it. Rather, I was so sick and tired of being miserable and I just wanted the pain to stop. I wanted the pain to go away. I wanted to stop suffering.
Now the problem with addiction is that we are living in denial of this pain and suffering. The alcoholic does not want to admit that they are miserable. So they build up all sorts of mental walls against the fact that they are unhappy. For example, the alcoholic will blame their misery on other people instead of on their drinking patterns. They will argue that they would be perfectly happy if certain people would just leave them alone or go away or whatever. They will not admit that it is their drinking habits that are fueling the chaos and misery in their life.
In order to reach the second stage of surrender you have to do three things:
1) Reach the first stage of surrender where you admit that you have a major problem, and
2) Realize that your addiction is making you miserable and stop making excuses for it.
3) Become willing to face your greatest fear in order to avoid the misery you are living in.
This third thing is critical. Notice that you are pitting your fear against your misery. Fear is what holds the alcoholic back from recovery. Their misery and pain is what pushes them to want to change and get sober. So the pain and misery in their life must become greater than the fear that is holding them back.
So there are really two angles to approach it from, one is to reduce your fear of sobriety and the other is to increase the pain and misery in your life.
If you do nothing to change then the amount of pain and misery in your life will increase naturally due to your disease. This is because the disease is progressive and it always gets worse over time. The problem with using this strategy by itself is that it could kill you. Many alcoholics and addicts end up in prison or dead before they reach the point of surrender.
Therefore you should concentrate your efforts on overcoming the fear of sobriety. I am not sure how I was able to do this myself other than subjecting myself to rehab 3 times over the years. In other words, I dipped my toe into recovery twice before I was willing to take the full plunge. It is a leap of faith to get clean and sober because you don’t know if you will ever be happy again. And the alcoholic might be miserable but at least they are clinging to the fact that they can get a tiny bit of happiness when they are properly drunk. The problem is that getting happy from being drunk becomes increasingly difficult to do and it also comes along with increasingly painful consequences.
How to surrender to the actual process of recovery
So how do you surrender to the process of recovery? In my opinion the process should look something like this:
1) Realize you have a problem.
2) Admit that you are miserable and your addiction is causing your unhappiness.
3) Become willing to accept a new solution in your life. A solution that is not your own idea, but someone else’s.
4) Ask for help.
5) Take action.
6) Seek professional treatment. Go to inpatient rehab.
7) Follow up with support systems.
8) Pursue an active life of personal growth and positive change.
That’s the entire process of surrender and recovery in my opinion. Nothing more is necessary in order to build a new life in recovery.
The problem is that you have to actually do it. You can’t just read a list and think it would be nice to be sober and then magically change your life. You have to actually take action. Furthermore, you have to ask for help and then take advice and put it into action. This is a lot different than declaring that you are going to do something and then just using your own ideas.
Our own ideas don’t really work for early recovery. If your own ideas can overcome your addiction then you are not really addicted or alcoholic, go enjoy your life and have a great time! But that is not addiction as we are defining it here. The reason that addicts and alcoholics get desperate for change is because they cannot figure out how to overcome their addiction on their own.
The third and fourth point in the list above illustrate this concept. You must ask for help and you must take advice from other people. Then, notice that the next step is to “take action.” You have to take that advice and actually put it to use.
Once you start doing this you will be in the process of recovery, whether you realize it or not. Of course at that stage you will probably feel quite lost but some day you will look back and realize that you were setting the foundation for a lifetime of recovery.
Creating a new life through taking action and suggestions
If you go to rehab and your goal is to stay clean and sober then that is a great start. But let’s say that you do this but you are hesitant to take advice, you are not willing to take suggestions, and you generally are not open to the ideas and suggestions that you are getting in treatment.
This is a bad sign. And I have watched this happen many times (as I worked in a treatment center for 5+ years). Many people who get to this point of the process shut down and are not willing to take suggestions. They are not willing to put the ideas into action.
I was at that point myself once. I went to rehab but I was not at that second stage of surrender. I was not yet ready to do what people were telling me to do. So my recovery did not work out at that time. I simply wasn’t ready for change. I was not ready to embrace a new solution.
I can remember what it felt like. I wanted to stop drinking but I did not want anything else in my life to change. I was so afraid of what sobriety might be like. I was afraid of change. I wanted to eliminate the alcohol but keep everything else the same: The same job, the same friends, the same girlfriend, the same everything. Just no alcohol. That was really what I wanted.
This was completely unrealistic. I could not keep any of that stuff if I was going to build a new life in recovery. Because all of it revolved around my drinking and drug use. They have a saying in recovery: “The only thing that you need to change is everything!” Funny but definitely a lot of truth to it as well. When I finally got clean and sober for good, everything in my life changed. All of it changed. I left my job, I moved into long term rehab, I left all my old drinking buddies behind, and nearly every single relationship in my life changed. Nothing stayed the same. Yet because of my fear I had resisted this for so long and it kept me from sobriety. I had to let go of all of it in order to move forward. It is simply a case of overcoming the fear of the unknown. We will not face our fears until we are uncomfortable enough to want to face them. Pain and misery is the motivator.
I had been afraid of AA meetings for a long time. I did not want to sit in them or be expected to speak at them. But I had to move past this fear in order to get clean and sober. I had to embrace the thing that I was most afraid of in order to move forward in my recovery. This is not to say that AA is my life long solution for recovery because it is not. But in early recovery I did not have a lot of choice, nor a lot of options. I had to embrace the thing I most feared in order to overcome my addiction. And in order to summon that courage I had to be really sick and tired of being miserable.
Becoming addicted to personal growth and positive change
It is my belief that living a passive life in recovery will eventually lead you to relapse. This is because your natural state of being is to drink or use drugs. We self identify as alcoholics and drug addicts for a reason. They may be a negative label to some people but they are also very accurate. I don’t care how long I have been sober, if I take a drink of alcohol I will turn into a monster. That is alcoholism. My natural state is to be drunk. My addiction is always there in the back of my mind trying to convince me to relapse.
Because this is my natural state of being (to go nuts and get drunk), I have to put forth an effort to overcome this tendency.
It is important to realize that this addictive nature never goes away. We don’t “cure” it. It is always going to be there.
I have been sober now for 13 years and I can still imagine what it would be like to get really drunk again, how nice it would be (at first), and how much fun it would be (at first). Of course, when I “play the tape all the way through” I realize that this only leads to misery and pain, but that doesn’t change the fact that it would be fun at first. For a day or two it would be fun. And my brain knows this. And so my brain will always try to tempt me with it. That doesn’t change.
Therefore I need a strategy for living that allows me to overcome this temptation. I have to be able to say “no, I don’t need or want that day or two of fun that would then be followed by pain and misery.”
But in order to say that and really mean it requires some work. It requires effort. You can’t just use logic to prevent relapse. You can’t just tell yourself that drinking will lead to misery. Because there will be times in your life when you will overlook that detail, you won’t care about the misery, you will just want relief right now. So you need a better system in order to overcome this threat of relapse.
That system is based on personal growth. Relapse prevention is personal growth. You must continue to make positive changes in your life long after you get sober.
I am sober today (after 13 years) based on the fact that I keep making positive changes. If I had stopped pushing myself to make personal growth over the last six months then I may very well be drunk right now. You are never cured.
When you first get clean and sober, you ask for help, you go to rehab, and you reinvent yourself in recovery. Everything changes.
When you are at 13 years sober (as I am experiencing now), the same thing is true. You keep reinventing yourself. You keep seeking positive change. My peers in recovery have shown me what happens when you stop doing this. You get complacent and you relapse. We don’t want that to happen. Therefore the key is to keep pursuing personal growth. We must keep reinventing ourselves.
Creating your new life in recovery
In order to overcome an addiction you have to build a new life for yourself in recovery.
Think back to my initial idea about recovery, how I wanted to eliminate drinking but keep everything else the same. That is totally unrealistic and would never work. Instead, you have to rebuild your life from the ground up. Everything must change.
People often think they understand what it takes to be happy in recovery, they believe that they just have to chase their goals and then meet them. This is actually a bit counter-intuitive. If you simply chase after happiness it will always elude you.
The key to happiness in recovery is to first prevent misery. Does that sound obvious? There are a million ways to be miserable in recovery, though. And there are many negative patterns of behavior and patterns of thinking that we have to overcome in our journey.
For example, when I was first sober I realized that I engaged in self pity. This was stealing away my happiness. So instead of chasing after my goals or pursuing happiness directly, I had to take a step back and look at what was going on inside. I had to eliminate this self pity. And so that took some work and deliberate effort on my part.
And there are normally many different things that can trip us up and cause pain and misery. Maybe we are out of shape. Maybe we have a toxic relationship in our lives. So no matter how happy we are in sobriety, if we have something negative holding us back then we have to eliminate it.
Therefore, happiness is about eliminating negatives as much as it is chasing positives.
This is counter-intuitive. We tend to believe that if we just chase our dreams that we will be happy. Instead, the key to happiness in sobriety is to examine our lives, get honest with ourselves, and then put in the work to correct the flaws in our lives. This is a major reason why a balanced approach to recovery is important. If you ignore one aspect of your life, such as relationships, spirituality, or physical health, then there will always be something holding you back from true happiness. The holistic approach is a comprehensive approach. You must cover all of the bases in order to eliminate sources of unhappiness.
Have you surrendered to a new solution in recovery? How has that worked (or not worked) for you? Let us know in the discussion forums. It only takes a second to register!