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  • Marty Lythgoe

Surrender Again

When abusers of alcohol or other drugs make a decision to stop using (as opposed to the countless failed attempts to just use a little less), they do not embark on this radical change of behavior because everything is going well. They are experiencing problems in some area of their lives related to their abuse -- family problems, job problems, health problems, legal problems, emotional problems, etc.


They have undoubtedly been trying for some time to manage and control their usage, limiting amounts, establishing starting times and cut-off times, switching drugs, and making vows they sincerely intend to keep. They are coming face-to-face with the truth of Step One of the 12 Steps, that they are powerless and their lives are becoming unmanageable. They are at the point of surrender again, having been there before, but what exactly does this mean?


According to the dictionary, surrender may mean any of a number of things. For most people it probably means to give up, to concede, to submit, to cease resistance. They are giving up their use of substances, conceding that their attempts to manage have failed, and admitting defeat. They usually feel like a loser and often get confronted by the stigma that accompanies the disease of addiction -- that they are weak and lacking in character. They are relinquishing their right to drink or use, often renouncing alcohol and other drugs as "evil."


As long as their surrender is limited to their drug use, they are likely to fail, one more time.


Another definition in the dictionary says this: "to abandon oneself entirely to a powerful emotion or influence." It is this surrender of self that is the challenge. I think what that means is the surrender of our ego, our self-will, our "false self," that image we project to others, even the surrender of our need to be right and the belief that we are right. I am thankful that in my early recovery I was introduced to the truth that the spiritual aspect of addiction lies in self -- self-centeredness, selfishness, self-absorption, self-will.


In his book, Breathing Under Water, author Richard Rohr says the following: "Self-made people, and all heroic spiritualities, will try to manufacture an even stronger self by willpower and determination -- to put them back in charge and seeming control. Usually most people admire this, not realizing the unbending, sometimes proud, and eventually rigid personality that will be the long-term result."


They try to "fix" themselves, not recognizing that the end result will be something repaired, refurbished, MacGyvered, and jury-rigged, which will be makeshift and temporary. True recovery, as Bill Wilson defined it, requires a "vital spiritual experience." Christians might use the term "born again." Others may prefer the term "mindful," meaning actually being present in the moment. It is a spiritual journey. All mature spirituality will involve some process of letting go, unlearning, surrendering. It will always feel like dying, but is the path to liberation.


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