The Concept of Surrender and Why it is Important for Recovery

The Concept of Surrender and Why it is Important for Recovery


Yesterday we looked at an overview of how to overcome addiction using holistic techniques. No matter how you go about finding long term sobriety, the concept of surrender is going to be equally important. There is no magic shortcut in recovery that allows you to skip the concept of surrender. It is said to be the only step that you have to get 100 percent correct. Everything else can be fudged a bit, but you have to surrender totally and completely to your disease of addiction if you want to change your life.

How the addict or alcoholic plays games with the surrender concept

There is this huge barrier to entry in recovery, and every addict and alcoholic has to pass through this barrier before they can attempt to access a new life for themselves.

The barrier is all about the struggle for control. It can best be described by the concept of surrender.

The classic problem in addiction and alcoholism is that the individual knows that they have a control issue. They realize that they cannot control their drug or alcohol intake, and that they lose control and this creates major problems in their life.

So what do they do?

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They attempt to control it. They fight and struggle to control their drug or alcohol intake, rather than to simply eliminate. This approach is based on fear and denial. They do not like the idea of completely abstaining from all drugs and alcohol; this is far too radical and severe for their tastes. So they struggle to limit their drug or alcohol intake. They fight to control it. This is their denial in action, as they seek to prove to themselves and to the world that they can have their cake and eat it too. That they can enjoy drugs and alcohol without going overboard with it.

This becomes the great obsession of every addict and alcoholic. They think about such things constantly. How can I self medicate and get to that happy place without losing total control? They micro-analyze their drug and alcohol patterns and secretly believe that changing one little thing will allow them to suddenly be the perfect drug addict or alcoholic who never loses total control any more. So they might come up with the brilliant idea that they will only drink beer, and never hard liquor. Or that they will not combine certain drugs any longer. Or that they will only get totally wasted on the weekends, but never during the week. And so on.

All of this is the same basic garbage–none of it is going to make even a tiny bit of difference in the long run. Deep down, the alcoholic might actually realize this, but they have buried this truth under their fear. They are clinging to the hope that they can find this narrow path of self medicating–the one where they are able to have fun and enjoy their buzz but not suffer any consequences. It is a fantasy, of course, and the reason is because the drug itself causes them to lose control. They may have big plans about how they are going to limit or curtail their drug intake, but as soon as they start to imbibe, all the rules go out the window. The drug itself takes over at some point and their great plan about how to control their drug intake falls apart.

Therefore none of this is actually true surrender. All of it is just the addict basically saying “how can I continue to use my drug of choice and still hold things together and keep everyone happy?”

The premise is simple–the addict starts with the idea that they are NOT going to give up their drug of choice. Then they attempt to do anything and everything in order to make their life work. They will agree to try all sorts of ideas, so long as you do not take away their drug of choice. This is anti-surrender. This is denial. The addict holds fast to the concept that they are not giving up their drug of choice no matter what, and they will do anything and everything to try to regain control in their life around that idea. But they get to keep their drug of choice, that is what they hold fast too.

So when the addict is struggling and fighting for control of their addiction, they are not really getting any closer to true surrender. All they are doing is shifting ideas around the premise that they are going to keep using their drug of choice. They may agree to use less of it, or only use it on certain days of the week, or only in combination with certain other drugs, but it is all just a bunch of hollow promises. None of this is true surrender. It is all just a bunch of games to keep the hamster wheel of addiction turning. The addict knows deep down that as long as they are still using their drug of choice in some capacity that there will be times when they can get fully loaded, properly medicated, and get their “full buzz on.” What this really means is that they are going to medicate themselves to the point of losing control. So long as they keep their foot in the door and continue to use their drug of choice in any capacity, they are going to eventually lose control again and go totally nuts.

In other words, the alcoholic may not get totally drunk every time. But if they continue to drink in any capacity, eventually they will go on a total bender. They can control it for a certain length of time, but eventually it all breaks lose. The true addict or alcoholic cannot control their intake indefinitely. They can fool themselves (and sometimes others) by controlling their intake for a short while. But eventually they lose control. This is what defines the addict and the alcoholic–that after struggling to control it for a while, they eventually go all out and go back to their full level of consumption. They get loaded again at some point, and this creates negative consequences in their life.

Does it happen every day? Not necessarily. But the pattern is there, and this pattern is what defines their addiction. The struggle for control followed by episodes of trouble, where they go overboard and self medicate too much and lose control.

The only way to break out of this cycle is to surrender fully to their disease.

What they have been trying to do has not worked. They’ve tried repeatedly to sort of “half surrender,” to control their drug or alcohol intake. But it is a failed experiment. They always go back to the chaos eventually, they always lose control in the end and use way more than what they had planned on.

Full surrender is the answer that they do not want to hear. They will embrace it eventually when they have had enough misery in addiction.

The entry to a new life in recovery

The answer is to “let go absolutely,” as they describe it in Alcoholics Anonymous. Whether or not you agree with that program or not is besides the point; their definition and concept of surrender is spot on. You cannot hang on to the idea that you can one day control your drinking or drug use and still manage to get clean and sober. It just doesn’t work.

Surrender feels like you are giving up everything. It is a release of your ego, you sort of let go of the caring and the pride aspect of your life. You just let it all slide and agree to get help and take some direction.

This idea of willingness is very important to the concept of surrender. You have to become willing to let someone else tell you what to do and how to live. If you are still struggling for control of every little detail in your life then you are not in the right state of surrender.

I have seen this happen over and over again while working in a drug rehab. Someone would come into treatment but I could tell that they were not fully surrendered yet to their disease and therefore they were nowhere near ready to get clean and sober. The reason I could tell was because they were still struggling for control in nearly every decision. The person was so concerned with what they could and could not do while in treatment, what they would have control of, who they would have access to, and so on.

When they talk about “letting go absolutely” they are talking about letting go of EVERYTHING. Seriously, I know about this because I did it one day (the day that I started my journey to recovery). I actually let go of everything, all of it, my entire life and everything that I thought I cared about–I let go of all of it absolutely, totally, and completely. I let it all slide with the idea that I was going to ask for help, do what I was told, and see if it did not end up helping me somehow.

I say “everything that I thought I cared about” because at the time I was still stuck in addiction, I was stuck in denial, and my priorities were 100 percent screwed up in life. I thought certain things were important to me but looking back I can see that I was confused. I thought that the most important aspect of my freedom was whether or not I could use my drug of choice without feeling persecuted. I thought the freedom to self medicate was more important than surrendering completely and walking into a rehab center. This is why the concept of rehab and treatment felt like the same concept as jail or prison to me–because my priorities were so messed up in my addiction. I felt like depriving someone of drugs or alcohol was the equivalent of locking them up in prison.

If you are a struggling addict or alcoholic who has yet to surrender, you have to stop for a moment and take a look at the battle that is raging inside of yourself. Here you have this addiction, and you are using drugs or alcohol to the point that it is detrimental to your life. There are people in your life (friends and family and peers) who realize that you are slowly self destructing and they want you to get help so that you can stop using drugs and alcohol and be healthy again. You are trapped in fear of having to face life without self medicating and therefore you see all of this as a threat to you, the people who are urging you to get clean and sober are actually threatening to you because they would have you put yourself in rehab (which you think of as jail or prison).

And so this battle rages on within the addict. They know that they are abusing their body, they know that what they are doing is not healthy, and yet they see no way to stop it or overcome it without having to face this massive fear, this fear of facing life without their drug of choice. (Note that most addicts will not actually admit that it is FEAR that holds them back. Their ego will deny this).

Well the whole key to recovery is that at some point, the addict or alcoholic becomes so miserable in their addiction that they get to this point where they just don’t care. Some would describe this point of “ultimate misery” as being very close to suicidal.

It is at this point of extreme misery that the addict finally becomes willing to let it all go. They run out of fight. They surrender to their addiction and they let go of it, they let go of everything, they let their entire life slide out of control and thus become willing to take direction and advice. Up until this point they were never really willing to take advice from others unless it involved them still using their drug of choice.

This is why Al-anon groups teach the friends and family of the addict to step back and stop enabling the person. They also teach you how to allow the addict to start experiencing the natural consequences of their actions (without someone stepping in and minimizing those consequences for them, bailing them out of jail, etc.). The addict or alcoholic who is still stuck in denial and stuck in addiction could probably use a little more misery.

Why? Because it is their misery that will drive them to the point of surrender.

Now some people may object to this, and argue that “the addict’s misery may also drive them to the point of suicide, or to the point where they overdose.”

There is some truth to this idea, but it is not necessarily any more true than the idea that the addict may suffer fatal consequences if you deny them of their misery by trying to rescue them all the time. In other words, if you continue to enable the addict or try to mitigate their consequences, this might kill them in the end as well. Enabling them might be their ultimate undoing.

So in the end what we should try to do is to move them closer to surrender (since this is the only thing that really works, in the end).

If the addict is experiencing consequences from their addiction, we should not try to rescue them from those consequences. When we do so, we only allow the addict to bounce back quicker from their episode and go back to self medicating again. Our attempts to “help” the addict are actually making things worse, and driving them further away from surrender.

People do not surrender to addiction when things are going good. They only surrender when they have finally had their fill of misery and pain. This is the only motivator, unfortunately.

How to let go of pain, chaos, and misery

So how does the individual finally surrender and overcome all of the pain, misery, and chaos of addiction?

They face the fear.

This is the only way forward. They face the fear of recovery, the fear of dealing with life clean and sober. The fear of facing life without their drug of choice.

Most addicts deny that this is the real hurdle, because they are protecting their ego. So if you say to them:

“Go to rehab and get clean and sober and overcome your fear.”

They will likely respond “I am not afraid, it is not fear that keeps me from sobriety.”

And so you say “well then why don’t you go do it, and get clean and sober?”

And then they give you a list of excuses that is all B.S.

This is because fear holds them back, fear keeps them from taking action, and they will likely not even admit this to themselves. So they cover it up with excuses and rationalizations. They talk about the stuff that bubbles up from the fear, stuff like their anxiety, how their drug of choice makes them relax, how they need it to be functional, etc. But under it all is the fear of facing life sober, and they generally refuse to look at this.

I am not sure how it works for every person, but for me, I got miserable enough that I became willing to abandon all hope and just face that fear. I went into rehab, asking for help, not caring about my well being any more. I was so sick and tired of being sick and tired and miserable that I abandoned all hope for my future. This is true surrender.

In order to get to this point I had to overcome that fear, that fear of sobriety. That fear of facing life without drugs. I did this through sheer weariness. I was so beat down from my addiction that I did not care about my future or my well being. Not very heroic, I know–but this is the truth. This was how I actually surrendered to my addiction. Through misery and weariness. I was sick of it all, and I no longer cared about myself, about my fears, about my future. I let it go, all of it. Totally and completely. This was how I was able to find recovery. Because I was willing to let go of it all, and then rebuild my life from that point forward.

Why holding on to a tiny reservation will trip you up eventually

A reservation is when you are holding on to an idea that you want to retain control of something in the future.

So maybe you have this idea in your head that you will get clean and sober, but that your real problem is alcohol, and that some day you will return to using marijuana. So this is a reservation, this idea that you can use marijuana again some day, and medicate yourself without the consequences of addiction.

If you come into recovery with a reservation in your mind like this, there are two choices. One is that you deal with the reservation and work through it and get rid of it. So you would talk with people and do some research and come to the conclusion that marijuana is mood-altering and will eventually lead you back to your drug of choice. You would have to realize this fully, accept it, and write the drug off in your mind, treating it the same as your drug of choice.

The other choice would be to hold on to the reservation, and eventually it will cause you to relapse. The reason this will happen is because eventually in your recovery you will have to face every single one of your reservations, given enough time. The random nature of life will eventually present it to you, and you will have to deal with it.

And if you have not dealt with the reservation then it is going to trip you up, and you will very likely relapse at that point.

Thus, full surrender is the only foundation upon which to build a new life in recovery. If you are hanging to a reservation then this will only serve to trip you up down the road.

Total surrender is a necessary starting point for recovery.


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