Updated: Nov 10, 2022
Regardless of whether you attend traditional 12 step meetings like AA or receive recovery support from some other source, it is widely accepted that “surrender” is a vital part of living in recovery from addiction. However, many people struggle with what it means to surrender. What/who are they supposed to surrender to? How does a person do it? How does a person know when they have done it? What are the pros and cons of surrender? Frankly, for many people surrendering may seem like a really bad idea.
The first part of surrendering is realizing that things are not right in your life. Addiction has stolen your peace, your self-esteem, your health, your work, your loved ones, your future. The downward spiral leaves you reaching out for a lifeline—something, someone to help you out of the mess you find yourself in. When a drowning person is treading water and someone throws them a rescue float, they must stop moving both arms and reach out with one or both to catch the lifeline. In other words, they must stop doing what they think will save them (they surrender) and start accepting the help being offered to them. In other words, they must give up control.
Giving up control of our lives is never easy. It requires trust in whatever or whomever we are surrendering to. We must believe that another person or another way of living will do more for us than we can do for ourselves. That’s a challenge for most people regardless of whether they suffer from addiction or not.
When we are talking about addiction recovery, surrender means acknowledging that how a person has been living simply does not work, and that their own efforts to remain in recovery have not been successful over the long haul. Many people in recovery will acknowledge that they have “surrendered to God” (or their higher power), meaning they believe that God knows better than they do, and that they no longer exercise their own will, but instead defer to God’s will.
A person knows that they have surrendered when they stop trying to manage their recovery as they have done unsuccessfully in the past. When the person metaphorically raises up their arms in the air with their hands open to accept the help being offered to them by God or others around them, they are surrendering.
As a society we have been told that to surrender is bad. It means you are on the losing team. You have given up. You will be overtaken by the opponent. That may be true in battle, but when it comes to recovery, nothing could be further from the truth. Surrender is strength because it takes a tremendous amount of courage to say, “I need help” instead of “I can do this by myself.”
Today, stop treading water and reach out for the lifeline being offered to you by God and/or those around you. Know that you are being courageous even as you give up control. Be brave. Put your arms up and keep your hands open.