One of the biggest keys to beating alcoholism or drug addiction is the concept of surrender.
I do not believe that there is any way around this. In fact, I honestly believe that the definition of true addiction is based on the fact that a person cannot overcome it by their own power alone. In other words, if you can fight and struggle and beat an addiction by your own power alone, then you were never truly addicted. You may have had a serious problem but I don’t believe that real addiction can be overcome without some sort of surrender.
So what exactly is surrender then?
It is that moment when the alcoholic or drug addict stops struggling. They stop trying to control everything. And they just let go completely. They let go absolutely, as it says in the Big Book of AA. They let go with “complete abandon.”
I have never really been seriously suicidal in my life but I may have been getting closer to that point due to the misery of my addiction. But when I reached the moment of surrender when I finally let everything go, it was a little bit like “being suicidal.” It felt like a death of sorts, like I had finally allowed my ego to die. I was essentially pushing my ego out of the way and saying to it: “I don’t care how scared you are of facing life sober, because I am miserable from the drinking and something has to change so just shut up for a while because we are going to go to rehab and face these fears head on.”
And this felt like a death of sorts, like I was killing a part of myself. And in fact I think I was killing the ego. I was pushing it to the side and forcing myself to face my fears. In reality I no longer cared about my fears. I was beyond the point of caring. This is what surrender feels like. You stop struggling for control because you have finally become so miserable in your addiction that you just don’t care any more. Does that sound a bit dark? It is dark, and it felt quite dark, but it also felt like a bit of relief.
I can remember at the moment of my surrender that I felt relief. And it was funny to me at the time because I could not really communicate this relief to others. I had surrendered and I was going to get help and I was really going to follow through this time. But who would believe me? I had lied to so many people about wanting to change, about trying to quit drinking, about getting my life back on track. Who could I convince that I had achieved this moment of true surrender? It was my inner secret. And that was a bit strange, to carry the knowledge that I had finally given up the struggle, given up the fight. I was done chasing the high. I gave up and let it all slide. Something fell away from me, and that “something” was the need to chase drugs and alcohol and to self medicate. I was done chasing the high because I was so sick and tired of being miserable. This is what surrender felt like to me.
Does knowing what surrender feels like help anyone to achieve it? I am not sure about that. My gut tells me that it doesn’t really help. That said, there are some things that the struggling alcoholic can do in order to move closer to surrender (we’ll get to that in a moment here, keep reading).
But first, let’s take a look at denial and the need for change.
You cannot change your whole life if you are stuck in denial and trying to control things
I was stuck in my addiction for a long time because I was constantly trying to control things. I wanted to control my mood and my emotions. I wanted to control things in my life because I was afraid all of the time.
Addiction is based on fear, in my opinion. No one really wants to admit that. No one wants to look at how they were self medicating and that this was, in some way, covering up their fear and anxiety in life. We all may have drank or used drugs for different reasons to begin with, but over time the addiction takes on a life of its own. If you abuse alcohol or drugs for a long enough period of time (a few short years even) then it will start to change who you are as a person. What I mean by that is this:
Using drugs and alcohol every single day and self medicating with them will start to change how you manage your fear and anxiety. We all have various fears, worries, and anxiety in our lives. Even if you have very little fear or anxiety, every human being has at least some of this stuff. And if you are in the habit of self medicating every single day then you will slowly start to rely on the self medicating in order to deal with things.
This cannot be helped. You don’t get to choose if you are already in the habit of medicating yourself every day. You cannot tell the drugs or the booze to just ignore your emotions and not to medicate those as well. It is going to happen regardless. And over time this will change you. And you will come to rely on the chemical to regulate your mood. You will come to rely on the drug or the alcohol to get your happiness. It slowly changes you and defines who you are and what your reward system is. This just sort of happens over time and there is no way to prevent it other than to completely abstain and find recovery.
So when these things happen to the alcoholic or addict, they get stuck. Now they are trying to find a way out of the prison that they have made for themselves. And the trap is a very tricky one because the person initially believes that they can have their cake and eat it too. In other words, there must surely be a line somewhere that the person can both control their drug or alcohol intake while also enjoying it.
Sometimes they enjoy their addiction but they go way overboard and get into trouble.
Other times they don’t use enough of their drug of choice and they are unhappy, bored, frustrated, or anxious. So they are in control but they are not happy.
And so the great delusion of every alcoholic and drug addict is that perhaps they can find the secret mixture of circumstances by which they can both control and enjoy their buzz.
And this is really insidious because every alcoholic and drug addict can think back in their journey and remember specific times when “everything was perfect.” They can remember a time when they were truly happy, truly enjoying themselves, and they were buzzed just perfectly so that they were still in control. No bad consequences. No fighting or drama. Just peace and happiness with the perfect level of self medication.
And so inside the mind of every alcoholic and drug addict, this little script plays out. This little scenario is stuck on repeat. It just keeps looping. And so the struggling alcoholic keeps referring back to this perfect state, and trying to figure out how exactly to achieve it again.
And they are looking outside of themselves, at the world, at other people, at outside circumstances and situations that are beyond their control, and they are blaming things.
They are blaming anything and everything outside of themselves and saying “If only these things would change for the better, then I could be buzzed and be happy and still be in control and everything would be all better.”
This is denial. This is exactly what denial is like. The alcoholic is clinging to this specific memory of when getting drunk or high was just perfect. And they want to go back to that. And they think it is possible, it must be possible, if only the stars would align properly and things would magically fall into place for them.
That the alcoholic clings to this hope, to this false promise, is the essence of denial. They want to go back to when it was fun. When things were “perfect.”
But you can’t go back. That is what defines alcoholism. If you could go back then it would not be a disease, a condition, a problem.
You can never go back.
You can only go forward. And going forward means that you have to honestly look at reality, and accept it.
And what is the reality?
The reality is, you haven’t had a “perfect fun buzz where you did not lose control” for a long time. Sure, you have had plenty of times when you stayed in control, but were you having fun then? No. Those perfect times are long gone. They are never coming back.
If you want a perfect buzz, here is what you can do:
Go a full week without drinking or taking any drugs at all. Completely sober up for a full week. Then, drink about 4 beers after that week of sobriety, but no more. Stretch them out over a full afternoon. You will be pleasantly buzzed and “happy” for a few hours.
After that you will be miserable again. Wanting to go get a fifth of hard liquor. You can substitute other drugs for the alcohol and it doesn’t change the experiment much. The idea is the same: Deprive yourself for one full week of agony, then you can “enjoy” about 4 hours of “fun” while getting drunk or high again.
But after that four hours, you are stuck again! Now you are miserable. And so you go back to self medicating every day, and it just becomes a grind again.
Really understanding this is how you break through denial.
Maintaining denial means that you are still trying to find a loophole in what I just described above. How can I get those 4 hours of happiness every single day? Can I shorten it to maybe three days of sobriety, followed by 12 hours of drinking instead? And on and on.
None of it works. If you really measure, if you really get honest with yourself and start tracking your actual happiness while you are drinking, you will find that you are only truly “happy” about 1 to 5 percent of the time. No more. If you really track it, the alcoholic or drug addict is miserable about 95 percent of the time or more.
To believe otherwise is denial. To accept this and decide to take action is surrender.
So then…..how do we surrender? How do you actually do it?
How to completely let go of everything with complete abandon
There is probably a bit more in your life than just drugs or alcohol.
You probably a family, a job, a career, relationships, education, friends, and so on.
Maybe you have some of those things or maybe you have very little of them. It doesn’t really matter.
At the moment of surrender, what happens is that you let go of ALL OF THAT stuff.
Now I am not saying that you completely abandon your family, for example. That is not the point here. I am not telling you to deliberately be a jerk or anything.
What I am trying to convey to you is that, at the moment of real surrender, you will let all of that stuff, including your friends, your family, your job, your career, and everything else that is important to you…..you let all of it slide for a while.
Just let it all go. Release all of that stuff. Let it fall away from you.
And then ask for help. This is surrender. You are essentially saying “OK, I can’t figure out how to live my life and be happy. I have screwed it all up and I thought I would be happy by self medicating all the time but I am actually miserable. And I want to change. I really am sick and tired of the madness. I am willing to do anything. I am willing to take advice and to act on it. Now, tell me what to do, and I will do it.”
That is surrender.
There was a time when my family was trying to convince me to go to rehab. I was coming up with all sorts of nonsense excuses. One of my excuses was about my job. “I can’t just go to rehab because I have this job, and I don’t want to lose my job, waa waa.”
Ridiculous. My job wasn’t even that great at the time. It was just a job. And actually, I don’t care if you have the best job in the world, it is not worth more than your life and your happiness.
More denial. I was in denial, so I thought that my lousy job at the time was more important than sobriety. How incredibly dense of me! But that is what it is like to be stuck in denial. You can’t see what is truly important in life.
And so when it came time to surrender, when I finally reached that critical point in my life, I let it all go.
I abandoned the job completely. Mentally, I just let it go. Totally and completely. I said “I need to get help and go to rehab” and at that time I had no intention of even trying to keep my job. I was finished. I was thoroughly done with my addiction and ready to completely change my life.
And I think this is what I am getting at in terms of what “real surrender” is like. You don’t just say “OK I will try to stop drinking now.” No, it is much more than that. Instead, you have this huge ego death inside and you become willing to change everything, all of it. They could have shipped me out of state and made me live in a rehab house thousands of miles away and I would have complied. I was willing to do anything at that point. This is real surrender. You must be willing to completely abandon your old life.
At the time I also happened to be in a toxic relationship that was no good for me, in which both parties were addicted to substances. I also had to let go of this, though that was much more difficult than I expected. It took me a few weeks to be able to do that, but within the first 30 days of my sobriety I walked away from that toxic relationship.
Now obviously if you are in a more healthy and supportive relationship then you don’t necessarily need to abandon it. That is not the point. The point is that you have to completely surrender and abandon the parts of your life that are no good for you. And that can mean a lot more than just walking away from a chemical substance. For me it meant leaving my home, my job, my car, my drug buddies, and my significant other. I had to leave all of that behind because all of it was a huge part of my addiction. Other parts of my life I kept, for example, my family. They were supportive and encouraged me to get sober.
Building a new life from the foundation of total surrender
When you surrender totally and completely, you open the door to building a strong foundation for a new life.
It is like creating a blank slate out of your life. You have to wipe away the bad stuff before you can fill it back up with positive energy. And I think this is a good description of the kind of transformation that you go through in early recovery.
You are exchanging bad habits for good ones. Not just quitting drinking, but the entire holistic approach that comes along with the drastic change in lifestyle. For me, that meant things like:
* Quitting drugs and alcohol (big part of the foundation obviously!)
* Quitting smoking.
* Fitness and exercise on a daily basis.
* Meditation and prayer.
* Writing in a journal daily and in the steps.
* Working with a sponsor and with mentors. Getting feedback and taking advice. Taking action in life. Setting and meeting goals.
* Resuming education. Finishing college.
* Starting a business. Building something. Creating something. Using positive energy to expand your world.
* Leaving toxic relationships and forming healthy ones.
And on and on and on. This stuff starts slowly during your first week of sobriety and then it slowly accumulates from there.
And of course it is not always easy. It takes time.
But my point is that you are not going to be able to do all sorts of positive things (like the list above) if you are stuck in denial and trying to control and manipulate everything.
Those are some of the things that I did in my own journey and I had to take a lot of advice and feedback in order to find that path. I had to be willing to listen. I had to be willing to learn. It took a great deal of humility to take on a lot of those projects and goals. I did not just land in recovery and act like some super hero and decide to take all of this positive action. I had to struggle a bit and take advice and find my path one piece at a time. And it was a process.
How willingness translates into action and real results
The results that you get in long term recovery are going to come from your level of willingness.
And that level of willingness is based on the depth of your surrender.
So the more you can let go of your old life, your old ideas, and your old way of thinking, the more you can fill up your new life with “the good stuff.”
What about you, have you found the key to recovery to be your surrender and willingness? What results have you achieved based on being willing in your life? Let us know in the discussion forums. It only takes a second to register!