There are a number of AA groups in the world that are called “back to basics.” There is a message that you often hear in recovery that we need to get back to the basics if we want to succeed in our recovery journey.
Is this really the best approach? Should we be getting back to the basics, or should we be striving for more advanced recovery topics? And what is an “advanced recovery topic” anyway?
Let’s take a look.
First of all, I would argue that there is really only one fundamental and basic idea in addiction recovery, and that is the idea of surrender.
All of recovery is based on this one fundamental idea. If a person has surrendered fully then that person has a real chance at recovery. If a person has NOT surrendered fully then there is nothing that can be done to make up for this. Lack of surrender is a deal breaker in recovery. They simply are not going to get it if they do not surrender completely.
This is the basic idea of recovery and based on this you can extrapolate some other ideas. For example, when I first got into treatment I realized that my own ideas were tripping me up and causing me to want to relapse. I also realized that I had some toxic “scripts” in my mind that were threatening my recovery. One of those scripts (for me) was self pity.
So in order to get past those hurdles in my early recovery I had to take advice from other people. One, I had to stop making my own decisions because I would just get myself into trouble otherwise. Two, I had to figure out how to get past the problem of self pity, because if I let it run wild in my mind then I could easily talk myself back into a relapse.
So the whole key for those 2 problems was in the basic idea of surrender.
I can remember making the mental decision to let go of my own ideas and to only trust the advice of other people. This was essentially the third step of AA in which I “turned it over.” What I was turning over was my own self will. I had just got into recovery and I did not really have a higher power established yet, so I had to put my faith and my trust in other people. So I looked to the advice of people in AA and professionals at the treatment center I was at to guide me.
So the basic idea here was surrender, and I was surrendering my self will so that I could effectively “get out of my own way” and avoid talking myself into relapse. I had to trust other people to guide me and advise me in my recovery.
Now the second problem was that of self pity. In order to conquer self pity I had to trust in the advice of my therapist, who talked me through how to eliminate it. First, I had to become more self aware–I had to notice when my brain was getting wrapped up in self pity “mode.” So I had to first notice it happening before I could decide to do anything about it.
Second, I had to make the decision to do something about it. That “thing” was to make the decision to not tolerate self pity. As soon as I noticed it I had to mentally shut it down. And I learned how to do that by practicing gratitude.
So there was a specific technique that I learned about in order to conquer my problem, but in order to learn that technique I had to trust the advice of another person. And in order to do that I had to…..you guessed it…..surrender.
Surrender is the key, and it is the fundamental concept that precedes all growth in addiction recovery. You must surrender to win. Our condition is one that is self defeating, so in order to conquer it, you must first defeat the “self.” Which is another way of saying that we just need to figure out how to get out of our own way in recovery if we want to succeed.
To me, getting back to the basics means that we get back to the concept of surrender.
So you can look at any problem in your life today, any issue that you might be having in your day to day life right now, and you can ask the following question:
“How can the concept of surrender help me to overcome this particular challenge or problem I am having?”
In most cases when we are experiencing a problem in our lives, we know darn well what the solution is–we just don’t want to do it!
For example, take the recovering alcoholic who continues to smoke cigarettes every day. They are getting sick, hacking and coughing constantly, suffering greatly because of their nicotine addiction. Deep down they already know what they need to do. They don’t need any kind of “advanced techniques” in recovery to overcome their nicotine addiction.
All they need to do is to get back to the most basic of techniques and to surrender completely. Admit that they are powerless over cigarettes, and that they need real help. Then they can humble themselves and ask for help. They can ask people in AA meetings, they can ask their sponsor, they can even ask their doctor. At that point people will tell them what to do, and then they can surrender fully and actually do it. This is how they can surrender and conquer their problem and finally quit smoking.
And notice that they don’t have to figure out anything, they don’t need any revolutionary idea, they don’t really need to do a thing other than to surrender and ask for help. Just stop struggling and go to their doctor and say “I really need help getting off these darn cigarettes.” That is the fundamental idea, that is how you get back to the basics, you simply surrender and you ask for help and then you do what you are told to do.
It is not very glamorous or exciting to surrender.
It does not make us feel empowered to surrender, to give up, to humble ourselves and to ask for help.
But this is it, folks. This is the fundamental skill in recovery.
We can be headstrong and stubborn and forge ahead blindly, insisting that we are right and that we are strong and that we are on the right path.
Or, we can surrender and be humble and ask for advice. Then we can take direction from others and do what we are told to do.
If you consistently surrender and humble yourself then you can easily and quickly transform your life. This is especially true if your behaviors are self defeating (as they always are with addiction).
In fact, I would argue that you never necessarily need another recovery “strategy” other than this basic and fundamental principle of surrender. This is because all of your problems in the future that are actual problems are likely to be self defeating kinds of problems (otherwise they are not really problems at all!).
So even after 5, 10, or 20 years sober you can still benefit from this technique. You can still go to your mentor, to your therapist, to your sponsor, to your AA home group, and you can say “Look, I am struggling with this issue lately, and I need some help. Someone please tell me what to do.”
And then you humbly accept the advice you are given and you test out the solution using real action.
That’s it. That is the fundamental skill in addiction treatment. You surrender, seek advice, and take positive action.
Keep doing that over and over again and eventually you will have an amazing life in recovery.
You can try to get fancy and use advanced techniques to recover, but really all you need is surrender.
Surrender to win!