Before I started to write an essay on surrender, I went to my twitter page and tried to send another one of my many “What are you doing” twitter messages. Up popped a mysteriously serious black-and-white message, “HTTP Server Error 503.” I was back in Kafka land, the world of high-tech jargon, a cosmos that leaves old-timers like me speechless and cantankerous.

By doing some google research, I found out that my provider (whatever that means) is allegedly “working on the problem,” but that I should expect a delay. Given the fact that I have no clue about providers, I was forced to surrender to the land of technological obscurity (And, by the way, I’m from New England: I’m a guy who doesn’t like to be “beholdin’,” especially to some invisible “provider”).

After experiencing this mixed curse of temporary high-tech impotence, I felt gently nudged to start writing my essay for a twitter-friend in Vancouver. So here I am, my initial procrastination morphing into foxhole surrender.

Surrender. Ah, yes. Not the bearing-of-a-dog’s-throat surrender. Not the giving-in-because-I-have-no-other-choice surrender (although foxholes have their place in recovery). Not the Okay-I’ll-give-in-now-but-get-you-later surrender. Or the You-owe-me-one surrender. But peaceful, no-agendas surrender, the kind that almost feels like an erotic giving in to the tenderness of the other, a gentle curling up into the arms of the unknown, which, in an addict-alcoholic’s world is the reality of what is now, what is real, what is present, what is to be experienced in all of its scary, fragile uncertainty—so much different that the surrender to the next hit or the next shot of vodka as I submerged the reality of what I did two weeks before when I got hammered.

In my alcoholic state, desire was the salt I placed on the food of all my expectations. For me, alcohol fed all my fantasies. When I surrendered to the next drink, I thought I would turn into this unrepressed Lothario perfectly capable of conquering every lust-object in my path. And I could dream about being the next Nobel-prize fiction writer (the Pulitzer or Booker prize would have also worked) or the next Pavarotti under-study.

When I drank, surrender was always to my deluded self who believed that every part of my fantasy-world could be conquered. When I heard the fatal words, “last call,” I would become frantic; I was still at the bar. Nothing was working. My novel wasn’t finished. I hadn’t become famous. No one came up to me. And the bartender always seem to stand in front of me, his eyes looking at the clock above the long rows of bottled booze. Time, in my alcohol-drenched-three-in-the-morning world, was always running out.

At the end of my drinking night, I was consistently in a frenzied, man-on-a-mission state. The next morning, I realized my mission, obviously, had never been accomplished, especially if I woke up with a stranger

And surrender today, in sobriety? Well, it’s qualitatively different than it was when I was drinking. I am much more rooted in reality. I actually experience the full-blown fears of not always knowing what I’m surrendering to. The “unknown” continues to put me on edge. But I no longer want to wash away the panic with a drink, and I am much more rooted in the full reality of the unknowns that I have experienced in sobriety.

Not-knowing-the-outcome is no longer a lottery for me. I generally don’t see the world as a collection of odds in my personal life. I have my occasional dreams, but I don’t fantasize my dreams into grandiosity, nor do I tend to “awfulize” many of my fears into fatalistic scenarios. The world, for me, is a much smaller village of expectations and normal fears.

During my 25 years sober, I have had encephalitis, a stent, and open-heart and carotid artery surgery. My father and two older brothers died. And I am now experiencing mild panic over my decreasing pension funds.

I was quick to find the irony in my paranoia over the carotid artery surgery. After all, the carotid artery is the vessel that delivers the oxygenated blood to the brain (I was less afraid of a heart malfunction than I was of a stroke—which says something of my own sense of priorities: metaphorically, the brain, for me, continues to dominate over my heart issues—I’m workin’ on it, my friends. It’s a guy thing, I think).

However, I must say that, in spite of all my intellectual training and a family heritage that taught me to pull-back, I consistently find myself surprised to experience moments of unadulterated compassion. I am pleasantly surprised to actually feel into somebody else’s grief. And this kind of surrender is becoming more and more frequent and immediate. It is an emotional giving-in that is magical, which, on so many occasions in my sobriety, has left me cathartically cleansed.

I can’t always predict, with any amount of mathematical accuracy, the intensity or duration of any of my surrenders. I know from experience, though, that my acceptance-level, grounded in real time and real events, has been getting stronger the longer I keep working on my issues in sobriety.

So, as the old saying goes, we have to “surrender to win.”


4 Responses to Surrender

  • Very well said John. Throughout my addiction I have always thought of myself as this undiscovered genius waiting for the world to recognize. And even though I have a couple of God given talents, my addiction would have me fantasizing about greatness but unable to follow through because drugs were the fuel that kept that fantasy alive. And I was so busy chasing money for drugs I never had time to do anything but dream, and believe that one day, the world would recognize my true uniqueness, and guru-like musings. What a schmuck I was.

    You mentioned your medical difficulties and being worried more about your carotid arteries than your heart. I thought about that and got to thinking about my own medical condition. I have PAD in my legs and need surgery to correct it. From the lower aorta down to my legs is closed off. But I have this one little artery that branches off from the aorta that is feeding my legs and has kept me mobile. But this condition has had me more worried than when I used to shoot up dope having no clue as to its real contents. That’s my irony, and the fact that I have worried about my heart more than anything else, yet I continued to assault it with chemicals for decades. And despite my passing a chemical stress test for the heart, it continues to plague me. Even my several years clean time doesn’t override my concern.

    Your article on surrender then, for me means letting these things go that continue to plague me, because I am a work in progress also, and far from having my game together. However, if I started using drugs again, I would be back to dreaming my same old grandiose fantasies that end up sitting on the shelf of life like an invisible trophy.

  • John,
    Enjoyed your article, and can certainly relate. Question however – Recovery is all about “God as we understand Him”. Where’s your “surrender” to Him – where’s your spirituality in this article? Sounds to me like you’re still in control, even of your own “surrender”. I, myself, can only surrender with the help of God (as I understand Him) – and even surrender is something I must “surrender” to the God of my understanding. Life, death and all between, I’ve found in my own journey of recovery, is completely out of my control – I am powerless – “but there is one who is all powerful. That one is God. May you find Him now.”
    Powerless Lee
    (powerless over your surrender as much as my own – and powerless over your choise to, or not to, print my comments.)

  • Lee, over the course of many years my understanding of the process has slowly become less about the ‘who’ or ‘what’ one surrenders to and much more about the surrender itself. Somewhat similarly, many people understand the following regarding faith: ‘It doesn’t matter much what one has faith in as long as one has faith in something’. For some this may begin by having faith in the power of the Group. For others it may mean a return to their religious roots. Over time my mind has become more open to a wide range of possibilities and I thank God I was able to discard the old ideas which had been forced upon me by the church regarding the nature of God and create my own understanding of that which cannot be understood. One of the attributes of God is that God is ineffable. Please take note of the past tense used in the First Step: ‘We were powerless over alcohol’. We gain new power once we surrender and let go absolutely.

  • what i will do to apply this to my life is open my heart to the possiblity that after trying to care 4 my siblings…perhaps these same traits would make me a good caretaker in a family and perhaps i know deep down i am an excellent caring and sacrificing girl. maybe its time to admit it and show it to a guy. but right away?? that will be hard. im not a big risk taker, so now i will grow as a person n take this risk. i will leap. i will open up. i will show him that i am an excellent partner in family…not just financially or emotionally….but as a caretaker who is muslim and would instill the best character in my kids. they would know their Islam just as my mother taught me. n i will be happy to express this to them…since this is what i didnt know. but thanks to this webinar, n my implementating mindset…im ready to do this. im ready 4 marriage inshA!!

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