Yesterday we looked at one way to break through denial and thus make the decision to go to rehab.
Today we are going to look more closely at the process of surrender, and how that can tie into early recovery.
First, a bit of wisdom from the movies:
“It’s only when you we lose everything that we are free to do anything.” ~ Fight Club
In my opinion there are really at least two parts to surrender. The first part is the “giving up” part of surrender. You have to stop fighting, stop trying to control every little thing in your life, and somehow let go of that need for control. This is the first half of surrender.
The second part of surrender is what this article is about. It is the “action” part of surrender. It is the idea that, now that you have surrendered everything and completely hit bottom, now you are ready to take on the world, do anything, and follow any suggestion. It is the raw power that you get from someone who has abandoned their entire life goal and purpose.
Because this is essentially what you have when you surrender to your disease of addiction. At that moment you have cast away everything that you have built up and cared about over the last several years (and possibly decades). Our denial made us believe that self medicating with our drug of choice was the only way to live and be happy. We really followed this goal with enthusiasm and to suddenly surrender and cast this life purpose to the side is very significant. In many ways our drug of choice was our “closest companion” and our “best friend,” even though it had betrayed us in the end. That does not change the fact that surrendering to our disease is a huge emotional loss and can feel like the end of the world.
I believe that there is a fine line between feeling suicidal and surrendering to your disease. They are not exactly the same but the feelings are in the same ballpark. When you surrender fully to your disease it is a complete emotional release. You will feel intense relief because you have actually abandoned all hope that you can ever use your drug of choice successfully and be happy while doing it. This can be a relief but it is also completely depressing at the same time. It is a moment where you have given up hope, hope that you can be happy some day while self medicating. You finally let go of the idea that your drug of choice can lead to lasting happiness, and this realization is completely crushing. Done properly, you will not be jumping for joy or singing in the halls. You will be crushed.
And this is what it means to “lose everything and become free to do anything.” I can remember very distinctly saying “I don’t care” many times when I was first getting clean and sober. This was not a bad attitude on my part–I really did not care what happened! And this was a good thing, because it was the caring, the worrying, the need to control that was holding me back from recovery. I had always been so worried about my happiness, about controlling my own life, and this prevented me from ever giving recovery a fair chance. I had to somehow lose this need for control if I was going to find a new way to live.
So what happened is that I became more and more miserable as time went on in my addiction. I would try to medicate away my misery and this would work for shorter and shorter periods of time. It became more and more difficult to believe that my drug of choice was the key to happiness. Somehow it was no longer working, or at least it was no working very well. I was almost always miserable, a fact that was becoming harder and harder to deny.
This is why the “am I really happy?” question has to be repeatedly asked throughout your addiction. If you can consistently answer that question with “yes!” then there is little reason to seek recovery, and indeed no one in their right mind ever would seek it if they are truly happy on drugs or alcohol. I can promise you that no would ever do it, because it is such a difficult thing to achieve and the cost of staying addicted (in the case that they are happy all the time) is not enough to warrant change.
People change when they are in pain and misery (or not at all). Those are the two options. Either you get miserable and decide to change, or you just get miserable. Many addicts and alcoholics follow one of either path. Sadly, many addicts do get miserable, never change, and die while addicted. The other group of addicts and alcoholics gets miserable, realizes they are miserable, find recovery, and thus change their life. If you want to be in the second group that finds recovery and starts enjoying their life then you have to first realize just how miserable you are. This is difficult to do because our ego tries so hard to protect us from this truth.
So it is only when you have lose everything and truly hit bottom that you will become willing to rebuild your life based on someone else’s advice. Think about it: someone who has their life falling apart all around them will fight it out and stick to their guns the whole way down, always holding out hope that they can fix their own problems and straighten things out. This is simply human nature, we do not want to admit that we are wrong, or that we cannot figure out how to live our lives, and so we go down fighting until we have suffered total defeat. It is only at that point in which we have reached a total bottom that we can then swallow our pride and say “OK, I really don’t know how to live, please show me.” This is the point that must be reached if you are going to find a new way to live in recovery.
The reason this is so rare and difficult to achieve is because our ego tries so hard to keep us from making this admission. It takes guts to ask for help and realize that we don’t know how to live effectively, that our best ideas about how to be happy have actually made us completely miserable.
The first thing we have to do is realize that our path in life is not working, that we are miserable, and that we do not have the answers for how to fix our own happiness. But the next part of this process is that we have to swallow our pride and ask for help. We have to take direction on how to live. Keep in mind that this humbling action is not permanent–later on you can start to think on your own and design your own course in life again. But in early recovery you need advice, and you need it badly (otherwise, you could just fix your own problem, which you have proven to yourself repeatedly that you cannot do!).
So suck it up, surrender to your addiction, and ask for help. In that order.
What the addict is clinging to
The addict is actually clinging to something that prevents them from getting the help that they need. It is not really several things, but it is a whole bunch of ideas that all come together to create one massive ball of fear. This is how to define it. This is what they are clinging to:
* The need to control their own life.
* Their pride.
* Their drug of choice, because it has the power to make them happy (they falsely believe anyway).
* Their relationships that are based on their drug or alcohol use (which may be real friendships, contrary to what everyone tries to argue).
* Their lifestyle that is based on drug or alcohol use (which they believe is the only lifestyle worth living, even though they are miserable).
So it is more than just giving up the drug. They addict or alcoholic is really surrendering all of these things and more, and it is all wrapped up in this huge ball of fear.
It is fear that keeps the addict trapped in addiction. The flip side is that it is PAIN that will motivate them to surrender and ask for help. But so long as their fear is greater than their pain they will continue to self medicate.
Part of the problem is that using their drug of choice can medicate both their pain and their fear. However, the effectiveness of this wears off over time. Eventually they build tolerance and then it becomes more and more difficult to medicate their pain away, and using more and more of their drug of choice simply creates more consequences and pain in their life.
At some point what has to happen is that the person has to stop caring about their fear. They have to surrender all of this stuff and the end result of that is their fear will no longer hold any power over them. This is why I say that surrender is in the same ballpark as suicidal thoughts–because you will no longer care about yourself, about your fear, about protecting your ego. This is what the quote from Fight Club was getting at–complete and total destruction of the ego. “It is only when you lose everything that you are free to do anything.” They are not talking about possessions necessarily, they are talking about the total death of the ego itself–that annoying part of your brain that normally cares about everything, about protecting you, about calming your fears, etc. When you finally reach the point of surrender this ego must be entirely crushed, such that you no longer care about your fear. You step back from your fears about recovery and you just look at them plainly, without excitement or interest.
So maybe the idea of going to detox and being without your drug of choice and basically going crazy and climbing the walls all night–maybe that used to terrify you. Maybe you had that mental image in your mind for years and so you promised yourself that you would never subject yourself to “that kind of torture” that people go through in detox. So this mental image defined a large part of your fear about recovery.
When you reach the point of surrender, this fear is completely obliterated. It may still be there, but YOU NO LONGER CARE ABOUT IT. Seriously. I know this to be true, because I lived it. I walked into detox with the mindset of “I really do not care what happens to me. I just don’t care.” And you have to realize that this was not a bad attitude on my part–that is not it at all. I just was so beat down from my addiction and I was sick and tired of being miserable that my ego was finally completely destroyed. I had tried my best to be happy in life and I had failed miserably, and there was just no more denying that anymore. So I my ego was destroyed and I found myself almost watching as an outside observer, watching myself go to detox, watching with much disinterest actually. I just didn’t care much. So I might be miserable in detox, so it might be a rough ride, so I might have to sit in AA meetings and they will expect me to speak and I will be all nervous–so what? Who cares? I was so miserable and my ego was so completely destroyed that it could no longer rush to my defense and get me all worked up and worried.
And this is what it took. This complete death of my ego is what was necessary because otherwise I would never have made it through rehab. I was too scared of the meetings, too scared to face life without my drug of choice, too scared to believe that I might be happy again without drugs and booze. My fear had been so overwhelming and this fear had kept me away from these first vital steps towards recovery for so many years. Well the point when I was able to get clean and sober was the point at which my ego was completely destroyed, and I stopped caring about ALL of it. This is what they mean when they say “let go absolutely.” It is a total and complete destruction of the ego that allows you to take your first steps in recovery.
I had to stop caring about everything, including my fears. It was then that I could allow myself to be motivated by my pain–when I had pushed my fears out of the way. Then I could finally say “OK, I am miserable, there has to be a better way to live than this.” But I could not do this when I was still being dominated by my fears.
I could not overcome those fears one by one. The only way I could get started in recovery was the total surrender, the total ego death, I had to stop caring about everything. All of it. I surrender entirely, totally and completely, because I had completely abandon it all. I had to stop caring, stop struggling for control. I had to let go of everything. Everything!
This is true surrender.
How to truly let go of everything
The only way to get to this point, from what I have experienced and what I have observed in others, is to embrace your misery and force yourself to realize the full extent of your pain. This can be tricky to do and it sounds somewhat dangerous, but it is the only way that you are going to finally smash through all of your fears. You have to force yourself to realize just how ineffective your drug of choice has become at making you happy.
First you can think back to the early days with your drug of choice. It is easy to see that the drug worked very well back then–it made you happy and probably even corrected some of your personality flaws. I know my drug of choice did all that for me, at least in the early days. But then you have to realize that as your addiction took over, all of that changed forever.
You have to realize that you can never go back. Your addiction is irreversible. Once you have become addicted, you can never use your drug to produce happiness again.
Oh sure, you might starve yourself for a week with complete abstinence, and then suddenly use your drug of choice and get a real buzz again from it, but this will be short lived. Just try it. That first high after the abstinence will be a bit like old times, and you will undoubtedly enjoy it. But within 24 hours or even less you will find yourself back in the same old pattern, scrambling to get just a bit more medicated, and never truly being as high or as happy as you want. That hole will be back, the one that you can never quite fill by using more drugs. And it will take less than a day.
Do this experiment and then realize that you are projecting that “perfect high” onto your entire life, believing that you can have that “perfect high” every time that you self medicate. But you just proved to yourself that even if you go an entire week without any drugs, then suddenly use, you only get that “perfect high” for a very short time period, then it is back to business as usual. Then it is back to being miserable and scraping by each day just to feel normal, rather than to have this fantastic buzz all the time.
The only way to truly let go of everything is to increase your awareness. If you continue to stay under the delusion that your drug of choice can make you happy at the drop of a hat, then you will stay stuck in addiction forever. So you must force yourself to realize the truth: that most of the time you are miserable, and that your drug of choice is ineffective. It can make you happy for maybe 1 hour each week at the most. Seriously, start timing this! Measure it! How much happiness do you get from your drug of choice each week? If you were really happy as a clam and out dancing in the streets then you would definitely not being reading this kind of article, right?
Be honest, and figure out how happy your addiction is making you. This is the only way to move closer to surrender–you must fully realize your misery and pain.
Faith in something other than yourself
Some people may be turned off in recovery by the idea that they have to have faith in a higher power. This should not be a roadblock for anyone because ultimately the path that you choose in long term sobriety will be your own.
The point of surrender is a leap of faith, whether you want it to be one or not. You have to abandon hope and believe that maybe, just possibly, there is a better way to live. This is the only “faith” you really need to get started in recovery. That’s it.
Then you simply ask for help and start letting others help you. This is part of the paradox of freedom, that in order to find true freedom in recovery you have to first surrender everything and start taking direction from others. In doing this you give up total control but eventually find yourself in a position of power because you will clean and sober and back in control of your life. This is the paradox of freedom that you must transcend in early recovery.
The way to transcend it is to not care so much. Stop fighting for control and let go of everything. This is how to find freedom in recovery.