Surrender in the Process of Recovery



“We try to ward off fear by desperately avoiding or destroying whatever seems to pose a threat to our well- being.” Stephen Batchelor

Surrender is the foundation and ground upon which recovery is built. Recovery begins with surrender since without it there is little possibility for change. It is the platform on which we build new, changed, and sober lives.

Few of us welcome the idea of surrendering to anyone or anything. We view surrender as a sign of weakness – a coward’s action in the face of a stronger and overpowering enemy. We’ve been taught to believe that the strong, brave, and courageous among us fight to defeat their enemies, so we resist surrendering for fear of seeing ourselves – or being seen by others – as weak.

The act of surrender in recovery from addiction is a willingness to give up the fight against a perceived threat and to feel whatever our addictions have allowed us not to feel – fear, pain of the unknown, and lack of certainty. Addiction is often driven by a desire – for more happiness or less pain – that has become self-destructive and out of control. The disease of addiction continues to progress in a fruitless journey of avoidance, regardless of the consequences. By continuing to use, the fear of facing ourselves and the struggle associated with abstinence pushes recovery into some imaginary time in the future.

Almost every religion, spiritual path, or quest for freedom begins with a surrender. The journeys may be different, but almost all of them begin with a surrender. Admitting powerlessness over addiction and considering the possibility of abstinence and sobriety is like walking through a door into the unknown. To take the first step of surrender is to lose our known sense of self as defined by the ego, which is protected by the strongest human instinct: survival. A willingness to begin recovery is to walk blindly into that unknown – an enormous act of courage, hope, and trust. What is most feared – an admission of defeat and a sign of weakness – comes to be truly understood as a sign of great strength.

The paradox is that that first step in recovery – a surrender of pride and admission of defeat – leads to a life of freedom. We give up the battle going on inside of us between the counter-productive strategies we believe are leading to happiness and our efforts to ward off the demons of the unknown. The first steps toward recovery mean facing the challenge of not knowing and present the possibility of losing many of the ways we define our self-identity. “Who will I be if I let go of my addiction?” “How will I act?” “What will I feel?” “What will others know and think of me?” Many of us are very afraid to make such a deep psychological transition. We cannot trust ourselves to make such a profound change or give up perceived control that substances once offered. “What will happen if I ask for help and admit I have a problem with drugs or alcohol or gambling of over eating or over spending?”

Another paradox is that we have to put in a lot of effort in order to be able to surrender. The good news is that there are many practices that help us develop the qualities necessary for surrender and sustained recovery. The Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous is one of these. They are designed to guide us through ever-deepening levels of surrender through which we gain a growing confidence in ourselves, in others, and in the wisdom of letting go into a profoundly more satisfying way of being. Using tools like these, we see ourselves and the world in a new way. With change, we are more conscious of ourselves and the realities around us – the more deeply we see into the truth of things. We begin to see through our self-created illusions into freedom.

“If we are facing in the right direction, all we have to do is keep on walking.” Proverb