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.”