THE SURRENDER EXPERIENCE

Source:Step One: Surrender

Surrender is a key ingredient in the AA program of recovery, indeed it is the starting point. It is a paradoxical approach—surrender to the enemy you have been fighting. This concept is Eastern in its roots for Aristotle could never have conceived this route to victory!

What is the nature of this surrender, and what happens when you surrender? When you admit you are powerless over alcohol and that implies a surrender. It is a big shift from all those years of trying to control your drinking: the worse it got the harder you tried. In a society that worships the archetype of the Hero, fighting against all odds and winning is glorious. The alcoholic battling his addiction is indeed quite heroic, the heroic act being continuing to stay on your feet after thirteen drinks!

So what happens when you surrender? For one, you stop doing direct battle. Instead of trying to control your drinking you throw your hands up in the air and say: “I give up! This thing has got the better of me! It is out of my control!”

Until this moment you have filled yourself with “Yeah… but…”s Every attempt made by the Universe to reveal to you the nature of your problem has been resisted with denials, rationalizations and obfuscation.

Then, one day, something happens. It is like a muscle in spasm suddenly relaxing, suddenly letting go. A new world opens up. What we had been tensely resisting is no longer occupying our focus. We are no longer battling the notion that we cannot control our drinking.

Surrender implies a shift, a sudden change. Surrender is a global cessation of resistance: you stop fiercely defending your old ideas. All of a sudden, you don’t know anything any more and you are open to the new.

This surrender is also the path of many religious and spiritual traditions. Entering a monastery, taking a vow of service, shaving your head and taking on a new name, accepting Jesus as your Lord and Savior, accepting a Guru in Hinduism or a monk as your teacher in a Zen monastary—these are all moments of surrender. The value of surrender as an entry point to a spiritual path has been known and practiced by many cultures.

Science and rational thinking (Aristotelian logic) do not understand the value of surrender. Surrender is a quantum leap, not continuous, incremental change. Even our formal mathematics has great trouble dealing with discontinuous change.

In the human psyche, surrender happens on many fronts at the same time. Surrender is a transformation of posture, a major change of attitude. A dam has burst and outside thoughts, ideas and influences that had been kept at bay can suddenly seep in.

While it appears that the main aspect of surrender is an acknowledgment that I cannot control my drinking, there are simultaneous changes occurring on other fronts that are crucial in setting the wheels of recovery in motion. Our entire system of defense involving rationalization, minimalization, distortion and denial is fragile like a glass bubble. When we crack it open in one place the entire structure crumbles. New ideas can enter and transformation begins on many fronts.

Battling alcoholism is like wrestling a porcupine. The harder you fight, the more quills and needles get embedded in your body. When you surrender and stop fighting the possibility of healing opens up.

The moment you say: this thing I have been battling is bigger than me, I cannot fight it on my own, you are opening up to the possibility of help and support. There are people standing by to help you but while you were battling the porcupine they could not get near you. Now they welcome you and ask you to sit down while they take out the embedded quills.

The moment you say: this thing I have been battling is bigger than me, you are acknowledging that there are things bigger than you. Alcohol is a larger power. There may be other Higher Powers out there too, and perhaps you can enroll one of them on your side. I am not necessarily talking about Angels and Spirits and God. We will have this discussion later. The point is that surrender is a key step in creating and relating to the notion of a Higher Power (which comes later on in the Steps, so don’t start arguing just yet!).

Here in a nutshell, is the problem of NOT SURRENDERING. If you are in charge, then you can always decide to take a drink. No matter how convinced you are today that you cannot drink, there will come a time when the world does not look so bad and it seems OK to take a drink. Or, perhaps the world looks so bad that it is absolutely necessary to take a drink! In either case, if YOU ARE IN CHARGE, you can always make an executive decision to suspend the no drinking rule.

If you need protection from drinking at these moments, it is absolutely necessary to realize that the urge to drink does not originate in you, but comes from beyond you. It comes from millions of years of evolution and it is programmed into your genes, it is not a decision you are making in the moment. Just like a cat has no power over its attraction to catnip, just like a young hawk has to flap its wings and fly, just like the rabbit has to go find a mate and copulate, these urges are not things that an individual organism “decides” to act on. They come from beyond the individual. That is what a “Higher Power” is. Similarly one could argue that the urge to survive, the urge to get well and heal comes from such a higher power too. When you cut your skin the healing process is something that has been programmed by millions of years of evolution. You cannot merely “will” your skin to close up and heal. Similarly, when you surrender and accept that there are larger forces, you can let in the possibility that a larger force will aid you in your journey to health.

When you surrender there is a total collapse of the Psyche as far as the old organization of ideas. All of a sudden you don’t know who you are because all your old notions of “Who I really am!” go out.

Every notion of “who I really am!” conspires in keeping you stuck. When you surrender, you become a blank slate and in recovery, over the next few years you become a new person, you get to redefine who you are as a human being. You may bring back some of the old qualities you’ve always had—your sense of wonderment, your desire to be kind, your innate sense of joy and laughter, your mischievousness. But you do not have to pick up once again your anger and resentment, your sense of shame, your bitterness at having been wronged by the world, your paralyzing fear of being found out by other and exposed, your desperate need to be flawless and justify every action and behavior, your tendency to condemn others and feel better than them—these don’t have to be part of who you really are.

When you surrender, your boundaries are breached and you are connected to the outside. You are no longer alone. The moment you have acknowledge powerlessness over alcohol you have become one of us.

Surrender is an act of saying “YES!” Prior to that you were saying “NO!” “No, I don’t want to give up alcohol! No, it is not out of control! No, I don’t need help, I will manage this myself! No, I am not an alcoholic!” Now you say, “Yes, I can see that it is out of control! Yes, need help! Yes, I surrender! Yes, I am an alcoholic!”

There is power in saying Yes! Yes is positive, No is negative. When you say “Yes!” you are affirming something, you are letting something in. There is something inherently satisfying to the human organism in saying yes, rather than saying no. Try it just now… say NO! and see how you feel, then say YES! and see how you feel. There is a release of tension with yes. Surrender begins with a yes!

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