Looking Honestly – and with Acceptance – at Our Inability to Stop Drinking or Using is the First Step to Freedom
Many of us who have found ourselves afflicted with a substance use disorder (a.k.a., chemical dependency, addiction to alcohol and/or drugs) know quite well the “internal voices” that can battle for dominance in our minds:
“Once I start, I can’t stop!”
“But this time it’ll be different… You can have just one!”
“I can’t quit, even when I want to!”
“You can handle it, though!”
“Everything related to my [fill in the blank (e.g., relationships, work, health) is falling apart!”
“Chill out! It’s not that bad!”
“I’m so tired of struggling with this!”
“C’mon! It’ll make you feel so much better!”
Indeed, there are countless ways the voices of our addiction can defend, justify and rationalize our continuing to drink or use drugs, regardless of how much trouble, damage or heartache gets produced as a result.
And those of us who have made our way into recovery hear often enough—from treatment center staff, our counselors and therapists, or our 12 Steps sponsor—that these voices will relentlessly persist until we surrender.
“So,” we may ask, “What does it mean to surrender?”
In this context, it means we admit we cannot, on our own, win this battle we’ve been having with addiction. We acknowledge that even with our best efforts, we return to substance use, regardless of the consequences.
In other words, surrendering amounts to getting honest with ourselves about our inability to stop substance use on our own will power. We surrender to this “fact” and open ourselves up to getting help.
The next question to arise may be, “How do I surrender?”
Well, if you’ve been having difficulty quitting (but want to), or you’ve found some sort of inner resistance has kept you from admitting you need to surrender, you can start by looking at how your life has been adversely affected by your chemical dependency.
Let’s be clear about this up front, though: overcoming denial is typically not easy! The point here is to realize accepting you have a problem is the first step.
Many of us have taken the suggestion of “putting pen to paper” and making a list of any and all consequences we’ve had as a result of our drinking and/or drug use. We need to be honest and thorough in creating such a list, by including not just such obvious examples as DUIs, going to jail, car crashes and the like; but also damaged relationships, breaches of trust or other recklessness or indiscretions at work, significant health issues, etc.
Getting honest with such a list can enable us to see how our inability to stop drinking or using has affected us and other people in our lives. Another dimension can be added to this list: we can go one-by-one down our list and reflectively write about how our lives would be different (i.e., in this or that regard) if we were “clean and sober,” if we were not drinking and/or using drugs. For example, instead of a troublesome, conflict-filled rapport with my significant other or my boss, I would enjoy more harmonious, productive relations with them.
Once we’ve completed the two portions of our list, we can sit with a counselor, member of the clergy or a trusted friend or family member and review aloud what we’ve written down. Many a genuine insight has come forward from such work, not just about our resistances or inner obstacles to surrendering, but also about ourselves and the nature of both addiction and recovery.
Surrendering to the facts about our inability to stop drinking or using drugs is the first step toward freedom from the enslaving obsession and compulsion of addiction. And while it’s actually a simple step, it’s not necessarily an easy one. Most of us find we need help taking this step, but ultimately it’s a personal decision and commitment to trying something different than you’ve been doing.
The bottom line is we eventually need to admit we can’t quit on our own… we’re accepting we need to surrender… and we need help moving forward with adopting new attitudes and new behaviors. Fortunately, these can most commonly be seen in the lives of recovering alcoholics and addicts found in treatment center recovery networks and at 12 Steps recovery meetings. If you’re “on the fence” about surrendering, consider talking openly with someone at one of these resources. It may end up being a life-changing phone call.