Surrender Does Not Mean Give Up

by Bill Brenner on September 8, 2010

In my journey through Faith and recovery, I hear the word “surrender” over and over again. I used to hate the word for the same reason you might hate it. To surrender means to give up, toss in the towel and go home defeated, right? Not exactly.

Mood music:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5e04OBJzbvc&fs=1&hl=en_US]

Let’s see if I can sort it out by the end of this entry.

If you look up the word in the Merriam-Webster dictionary, you see all the wrong descriptions:

1. a : to yield to the power, control, or possession of another upon compulsion or demand (surrendered the fort)
b : to give up completely or agree to forgo especially in favor of another
2. a : to give (oneself) up into the power of another especially as a prisoner
b : to give (oneself) over to something (as an influence)

 

2 b comes closest, but it’s not enough.
They are accurate descriptions, mind you. They just don’t do justice to what the word means in faith and recovery.
Here’s what I’ve learned about the word so far: It DOES NOT mean to quit life and stop trying to be better and stronger. In the context of Faith and the 12 Steps of Recovery, it DOES NOT mean  that you stop thinking for yourself.
It IS about admitting you can’t control everything and that you need the aid of a higher power. For many of us (for me, anyway), that higher power is God. It IS also about putting your trust in others.

As addicts in the grip of the demon, we trust nobody. We picture everyone with a knife in their hand, ready to stab us in the back. We see someone trying to tell us to clean up our act even though they could not possibly understand what it’s like to be truly out of control. We also watch over our shoulders because we expect someone to swoop in and steal our junk at any moment.

When we start to realize we have a problem, we labor unsuccessfully under the delusion that we can clean up on our own, without any help. In that regard, we refuse to surrender. We think our will is enough to get the job done, even though the art of will power has eluded us repeatedly. That’s the insanity of being a control freak.

I tried all kinds of things to clean up from a binge eating addiction. I thought I could tame the beast by chain smoking and drinking 14 cups of black coffee per morning. I thought I could do it by fasting twice a week. I even thought I could do it by drinking wine instead of eating.
Since I grew up with a chip on my shoulder, I looked at the word surrender with pure hatred. To surrender meant to do whatever my mother told me to do. Since her desire was for me to always play it safe and never take risks, it would have been the wrong thing to surrender to.
To surrender also meant to do what my father told me to do, which as a teenager simply didn’t fit into the joys of staying up all night getting high. He had a lot of good things to teach me, but no fucking way was I going to heed his advice. That would mean surrendering.
Surrendering to God seemed like the worst idea of all. That meant giving up my free will and following some unseen being over the cliff.
Motley Crue bassist and lyricist Nikki Sixx once described a similar reaction when he was asked to get on his knees and pray for help to break his heroin addiction. His reaction went something like this: “Fuck God!”
Let go and let God? Screw you.
As I got older and my addictive behavior was about to destroy all my hopes and dreams, I reached a point where I was willing to do anything to stop the pain.
Some would call that giving up, and I guess that’s what it was.
One time I was at a party listening to a group of moms talking about the pain of childbirth. Someone noted that in that moment of agony you lose all modesty. You just want that baby out of there. After a while, you stop caring if the doctor is male or female.
I wouldn’t know, but it is a pretty decent description of an addict who has maxed out their tolerance for pain.
Suddenly, the word surrender doesn’t sound so bad.
Professional life coach Rich Wyler nails it in his write up on the 12 Steps. He brilliantly boils it down to this:
–Effecting a spiritual awakening in which God does for us what we cannot do for ourselves, as we humbly submit our self-will and our heart to his will (Steps 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, and 11).
–Overcoming pride and resistance to change through rigorously honest self-examination (Steps 1, 4, 5, 6, 7 and 10)
–Making amends and repairing the harmful consequences of our self-destructive behaviors – especially the harm we’ve done to others (Steps 5, 8, 9, 10 and 12).

There it is, all laid bare. To surrender isn’t to give up and stop thinking for yourself. It’s exactly the opposite. It means doing a gut check, finally being honest and realizing you need help. When you surrender to God, you’re letting in the people who can help you.

It’s about honesty, trust and taking a leap of faith.

Here’s the truly whacked part: In doing so, I suddenly experienced more freedom than I ever had before.

I stopped being afraid to leave my room, getting on airplanes, taking on challenging work assignments that previously would have made me sick to my stomach, and I stopped being afraid to get up and talk in front of a room full of people. I also stopped being afraid to speak up when I disagreed about something, particularly in work.

In other words, I finally started becoming the man I wanted to be.

I still have a long, long way to go. But this beats the hell out of what life was like when I was clinging to that old, stupid will of mine.

Yeah, I surrendered. I gave up the idea that I could go it alone, without people who know better and without God.

Some might think that makes me weak.

I don’t care.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Jennifer Pratt September 9, 2010 at 2:39 am

It certainly does not make you weak. You are stronger to be able to surrender. Bravo!!!

David Holland December 18, 2010 at 1:37 pm

Loved this part – “We think our will is enough to get the job done, even though the art of will power has eluded us repeatedly. That’s the insanity of being a control freak.”

And – “Here’s the truly whacked part: In doing so, I suddenly experienced more freedom than I ever had before.”

Reminds me of – we must loose our lives to gain them.

One of the things that I really enjoy is when Ancient Wisdom stands up. We think the old stuff was written before we really understood how the world worked. Truth is it works the same as it always has, independent of our toys.

I enjoy your posts, keep working it.

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