A friend of mine who is an anesthesiologist relapsed on alcohol, because he had not truly surrendered to recovery during his first treatment (an impaired professionals rehab program). He told me his story. Instead of surrendering to recovery, he remained a “dry drunk” for a number of months, but when he went back into treatment a second time, he “got it.” That is, the fellow wholeheartedly surrendered and is now finally experiencing the peace of real recovery.
After our conversation, I decided to look up the word ‘surrender’ in the dictionary, to be reminded of its actual definition:
“surrender (v.): to give oneself up, as into the power of another; submit or yield.”
Upon reflection, I believe the act of surrendering is crucial to the success one will have in any substance abuse treatment program. In other words, giving oneself up is a requirement.
In my case, I had to completely let go of the notion that I knew how to “do” recovery. Being a former professor of psychology and considering myself a “smart guy,” this wasn’t easy. Reaching out for help was not normal for me, nor was being humble and seeing myself as helpless regarding my “partying” – in blatant denial, I conveniently considered myself “a hard-drinking recreational user.”
For a long time, though, the signs had been pointing to my being in the throes of addiction. Because of the severity of my justification and rationalization for drinking and using, it took time for me to recognize the truth, even though it had become abundantly clear to my loved ones and my employer.
In the end, it took a “tell-it-like-it-is” recovering alcoholic with many years of sobriety to convince me I did not know how to get and stay sober/clean for any significant length of time on my own. I recall how disturbed I felt when he added, “And you’ll continue to drink and use if you don’t unconditionally surrender to this fact.”
(I’m forever grateful for his candor that day, and indeed he eventually became my sponsor.)
Once I knew I couldn’t stop on my own, I found that submitting or yielding myself to a “higher power” came relatively easy. And I’m glad no one told me I had to subscribe to any particular religious dogma, but instead simply needed to find and surrender to a God of my own understanding – for me, at least in the beginning days of recovery, it was the “program of recovery” itself.
I see now, many years later, how essential surrender was in my getting and staying sober/clean, just as it was in the story of the anesthesiologist mentioned above, as well as it’s been in the stories of countless others (including doctors) seeking help with alcohol problems or drug addiction.
I’ve heard it said, “In recovery, we surrender to win,” and that statement, to me, says it all. On a daily basis, I recognize that all the benefits and gifts of recovery I’ve received (and continue to receive) come from my having adopted a sense of surrender when it comes to drinking or using drugs… and maintaining that sense of surrender. It’s crystal clear to me that the foundation of whatever sanity and serenity I enjoy today is built upon my yielding to a higher power of my understanding that guides me, gives me strength and keeps me free from the obsession and compulsion to drink or use, one day at a time. And for that, I’m grateful beyond words.
“An alcoholic has to give up willfulness in favor of willingness.” – David Berenson, MD, Professor of Family & Community Medicine at UC San Francisco