by Kyle Beard on Tuesday, October 20th, 2015
Last week, my therapy groups pondered the question: what’s the most important thing to surrender in recovery? The “thing” to surrender can be a concept, idea, or way of living – anything that can stand in the way of true recovery. My groups amazed me with a litany of concepts. The concepts ranged from surrendering one’s thoughts and shameful beliefs, to perfectionism, the idea of being normal, and control. Every group created a list of over thirty different important concepts to surrender in addiction recovery. The length of the list revealed that addiction infiltrates every part of oneself. Therefore, to live differently in recovery, your understanding of surrender must change in many areas of life.
What do I mean by surrender? From a recovery perspective, the definition of surrender is very similar to the general definition. Surrender means giving something up or letting something go. This definition appears simple, but when applied to the list of concepts my groups created, “giving something up” is quite a difficult task.
A look at two of examples will show how difficult surrender can be. Surrendering one’s “thoughts” was a common idea brought up in my groups. On one hand, this process entails giving up the freedom of letting our thoughts to go wherever they desire. Many addicts fantasize about their next fix for hours, days, or weeks before acting out. Giving up the passing thought of what another “hit” would feel like is no small task. Additionally, giving up thoughts of perfectionism – the belief one must do everything perfectly to be worthy – is a crucial step in recovering from an addiction. Recovery is not a perfect process and everyone will struggle in this journey, but this also does not mean everyone will constantly relapse. Even today in my recovery journey, I struggle with entertaining negative and addictive thoughts, allowing my mind to wonder where it shouldn’t go. Surrendering one’s thoughts and the idea of perfectionism can be monumental for any addict trying to live a healthy life.
The importance and difficulty of surrendering one’s “thoughts” and perfectionism is no small task, but a constant battle that leads to growth. These concepts, and many others needing to be surrendered, are powerful in the recovery journey. Yet a million dollar question remains: what are the two most foundational things everyone must surrender for recovery? A plethora of answers were given by my groups: shame, control, normalcy, perfectionism. They were correct, each one of these ideas are integral to surrender for a healthy life. These particular concepts are very important in the recovery journey, yet I believe that we were missing two key ideas one needs to surrender in order to enter deep recovery.
The two most foundational concepts one must give up for true recovery are the idea self-reliance and the fact that you are an addict. Were these two concepts what crossed your mind throughout the blog? Take a second to think about each of these ideas: self-reliance and the realization that one is an addict. These concepts often become stumbling blocks for individuals seeking recovery, for no one wants to believe they can’t do it themselves or admit they are truly an addict. Let’s take a moment to flesh these concepts out.
Self-reliance is seen as a highly desirable quality in western culture. Employers, significant others, and universities value individuals who can take care of themselves, work through a difficult situation, and discover a solution on their own accord. Self-reliance is instrumental to being an adult and living a healthy life. But we’re not talking about these aspects of self-reliance in this context. Addicts see life differently. Self-reliance means I can do anything on my own, use my rational thoughts to figure out how to solve any troubling situation, without the help of other people. With addiction, this belief will result in an endless cycle of trying the next “solution.” The problem with addiction is simple: addicts don’t think rationally on their own. There’s a saying in the Alcoholic Anonymous’s Big Book that describes this concept well: “My best thinking got me to AA.” Without help, no one can recover from an addiction completely on their own.
This brings us directly to the second foundational idea one must surrender for true recovery: admitting that you are an addict. What does a person surrender by admitting that one is an addict? Many things. First, you surrender a false view of yourself. You begin to understand the addiction isn’t simply out of control behavior, you can’t handle it on your own, and you don’t have it under control. Surrendering the idea I am an addict, that my addict lifestyle and thinking led me to the difficult place I’m at today, is a powerful act. This is no simple step. Accepting one is an addict does not just mean “I have an addiction, which is something external I choose to hold,” it means I AM AN ADDICT. I am broken, flawed, and I need help. And it’s okay.
Only when you surrender the beliefs “I can figure out my problem on my own” and that “I am an addict” can recovery truly begin. This stance is one of surrender and brokenness from which hope can arise. From this place, you can begin the journey of recovering from your addiction. No one is perfect. Everyone makes mistakes. We all need help. Understanding these simple realities becomes the foundation for true recovery.