What is Surrender? Why do many people have so much trouble with the concept, and why have so many of us reduced this first step into recovery to a once-and-for-all experience in our lives instead of the daily practice that keeps us on the path to sobriety?
In my active addiction I thought of surrendering as giving up when in fact it is simply allowing what is real to be real. According to Bessel Van Der Kolk, noted researcher on trauma and the author of the bestselling book, The Body Keeps the Score, we have to allow people to feel what they already feel and know what they already know. This is the beginning of true surrender.
Most of the time we know what is already broken in our lives and we also know how we feel about it. More often than not, when I hear the phrase, “I don’t know” as an answer to a question in my office it rarely means that someone doesn’t actually know the answer to my question. What it more likely means is, “I don’t want to deal with it or, the conflict that would come with acknowledging what I already know and feel to be true about this issue is more than I am ready to consider.”
For many of us, we came into the recovery experience believing that we were being asked to surrender our behavior, compulsion, substance, etc. when in fact, the things that require our surrender are the causes of our addictions in the first place. For example, instead of only focusing on surrendering our powerlessness over alcohol, we should be addressing how to surrender our need to be right, releasing our emotional hostages (those whom we resent and blame for everything that is wrong in our lives), our illusions of control, our resentments, our entitlement, our broken beliefs that God needs our help, and so on.
When a client comes into my office, my role is to give them permission to say the things out loud that they need to hear themselves say so that those things can become real. We can only be as honest with our Higher Power and others as we are willing to be with ourselves. Surrender at its very core is rigorous honesty which is also a cornerstone precept of 12-step recovery.
When we begin experiencing life through the lens of something greater than ourselves and understand that our powerlessness started long before our addiction took hold, we will be attacking the root causes of the problems that kept us sick.
Surrendering our broken coping mechanisms, our old habits that quit working, and our false beliefs will feel like loss at first. With loss comes grief. Surrender may initially be a deep grieving process but ultimately one that leads us to joy and freedom when we realize that our first steps toward surrender are acknowledging what we’ve known and felt all along.