My life before recovery looked something like this: Every time the craving for my addiction hit me I felt I had two options: act on it and feel miserable afterwards or use all the willpower I could and not act on it (until the next time). This brought me to the realization that no matter how many times I would be able to resist in the moment, I knew that right around the corner I would have to man up again with the great possibility that this time I would act out. That would bring feelings of discouragement and then my will power would weaken and like a self-fulfilling prophecy I would act out more easily the next time. This created a vicious circle with which we are all too familiar.
I thought I only had two options, do it or not do it. I didn’t know that there was a third option, what we call “surrender.”
When we attend 12 steps groups we hear others with lengthy sobriety talk a lot about surrender, “surrender my right to lust in this situation….” or “I surrendered to God that look.” What? What does surrender mean?
I’ll explain this concept, which took me a while to understand, but like so many concepts in our healing process, you will gain through the help of the Spirit your own understanding of surrendering as you move towards a change of heart.
When we talk about surrendering we are not talking about stopping the addiction but how to not start again. Again, surrendering is more about how to find ways to stop the addiction from starting again. It takes very little to stop a train from rolling but once it gets moving it’s over.
We practice surrender when we give up the right to have a computer without filters, using a computer when alone or having a phone with access to the internet. We practice surrender when instead of giving in and turning our head to look at someone, we talk to the Lord in silent prayer. We surrender when instead of indulging in pornography we call someone in the group and get out of that thought.
From the White Book:
“Most of us had tried stopping countless times. The problem is we couldn’t stay stopped; we had never surrendered. So, the first time the craving hits again, when we get the urge for a fix, we give it up, even though it feels like we will die without it. And at times, in our frame of mind, the craving may seem stronger than ever. But we don’t fight it like we used to; that was always a losing battle, giving it more strength to fight back. Neither do we feed or give in to it. We surrender. We win by giving up. Each time.”
At this time we simply acknowledge our powerlessness. We pick up the phone, we ask for help, we go to a meeting. We talk to God. We even admit we may not fully want victory over lust; most of us don’t (always) have pure motives in wanting to stay sober.
There is power in the humility of admitting that we cannot do it in our own. There is power in acknowledging to God and to another human being that we are powerless over our weakness by admitting this to God and to another human being.
Some of us have become more comfortable talking to God about our addiction than to another person in the group, but if you really want recovery it is essential that in the crucial moment of domination by lust, we pick up the phone and talk to another human being and surrender our obsession at that moment. What a power this brings!
Again from the White Book:
“The first time we walk through the stress of withdrawal without resorting to the drug, we discover that we don’t die without that fix. Instead, we feel better, stronger, that maybe there’s hope. We talk about the temptation in a phone call or/and at the next meeting and tell all. Total honesty. Telling the deep truth in an attitude of surrender helps break the power the memory of the incident holds over us. And if we are hit with lust again, we keep coming back and talking it out regardless of how shameful and defeated we feel. We’ve all been there; we know how it feels. We also know the release and joy that surrender brings as we come back into the light.”
There is power in humility.
“And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness, I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me…”
The first time that I practiced this principal of surrender and didn’t die (sometimes I thought I would die unless I acted out), was the first time that I felt grace in my life. I felt a new power was working on me, allowing me to let that craving pass like a ship in a storm and feel the sunlight return. I wanted that again. But I was the one who had to take that first step of surrendering in humility to another human being and to God.
Because we live with “the god of this world” one of the thoughts that often comes to my mind is the fact that Satan is saying, “that was great today, your surrender was a good thing but, you know, I’ll be back. How many times do you think you can stop the storm?”
Later on we will talk about the importance of taking our lives one day at the time. To break down our journey into a 24 hour period and only worrying about the surrender process for today and not focusing on “I will never do this again”. As the Savior said, “take therefore no thought for the morrow, for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient the day is the evil thereof”
When we first start in the program of recovery we usually think it is all about a sexual addiction. As we gain more understanding we realize that it is more about lust. Some in the group will say I’m not a sexaholic as much as I am a lustaholic. Lust is the power behind the addiction. But as we gain more understanding we also realize that lust is propelled by what I call negative emotions: resentment, fear, jealousy, rejection, self-pity and other weaknesses we will discuss later. Sometimes, while not necessarily looking for anything sexual, we get hit by one of these negative emotions, we may feel rejected or hurt in some way and of course we know how to make ourselves feel better, and quickly. We may feel even deserving of our fix.
Let’s go back to the White Book:
“Sooner or later the urge strikes again, sometimes out of nowhere, like a tidal wave crashing over us.
Often it begins in the privacy of our innermost thoughts, when we are alone, when we’re living inside our head and the emotions we could never face overwhelm us. So what do we do? Naturally, we want to reach for the drug again; that’s what we programmed ourselves to do. Instead, we surrender. Again. Just like the first time. And the cry for help goes up again: “I’m powerless, please help me.”
And we take the action of getting out of ourselves and making contact with another member. As soon as possible. The closer to the heat of the action the better. We use the phone. We make the call. Not because we want to, because we don’t want to. We call because we know we have to. Our survival instinct comes to life. And we go to a meeting as soon as possible.”
At times we may think this is too drastic saying, “this time I can take care of things myself,” or “if I call this late I will be bothering him,” or “I don’t need to talk to anybody this time, it’s not that big of a deal.”
No matter how long my sobriety is and how I may think sometimes that I got this, I came to realize that this program is all about humility and that no, I don’t “got this.” I need to surrender. Humility is at the root of the issue and waiting until I need to call a lumberjack is not a good option.
Again the White Books quotes:
“When the craving hits again, we repeat this surrender at the very point of our terror, in the pit of our hell. For that is where the admission of powerlessness really works, when we are in the raw heat of temptation and craving. Again, it’s the change of attitude and perspective that brings relief. Instead of, “I have to have it or I’ll die,” our attitude becomes, “I give up, I’m willing NOT to have it, even if I do die.”
And we don’t die! We get a reprieve. Again. For seconds, minutes, hours perhaps even days and weeks. The tidal wave is spent. The craving passes. And we are okay. We are learning the program maxim “One day at a Time”.”
The realization slowly dawns on us that we may always be subject to temptation and powerlessness over lust. We come to see that it is all right to be tempted and feel absolutely powerless over it as long as we can obtain the power to overcome through surrender, “by His grace.” The fear of our vulnerability gradually diminishes as we stay sober and work the Steps. We can look forward to the time when the obsession-not the temptations-will be gone. We will have a choice.
We begin to see that there is no power over the craving in advance; we have to work this as it happens each time. One day at a time. Therefore, each temptation, every time we want to give in to lust or any other negative emotion, is a GIFT toward recovery, healing and finding union with God.
Think about it. How can something that was so bad now be so good? Each temptation gives us the opportunity, one day at the time, one temptation at the time, to connect with our Father in Heaven, to feel His grace.
I remember years ago a situation that created a great temptation for me, I did call my sponsor but I also found myself connecting through prayer over 27 times in one day in order to not dwell on this particular thought. That day was difficult yet it provided me an experience, that even these many years later, I remember with sweet memory. It did pass and I didn’t act on it.
Surrender is a constant thing, practice, day by day, hour by hour. When put into practice often, it becomes habitual. That is how we receive an attitude change, the different perspective that lets the grace of God enter our hearts to expel the obsession. And isn’t this true for our other character defects or negative emotions? Can you imagine surrendering to God in prayer every time you feel resentful against someone that has hurt you? Or admit powerlessness to your wife for your temper? How would our lives change if we recognized our negative emotions and brought them to God in prayer 24/7.
Sometimes we cannot imagine what our lives would be without our negative emotions, but you don’t have to for now, we move into this program progressively, one day at time.
I knew that the 12 Steps, when applied, would truly help me change. Though I hated my life in addiction I just didn’t know what it would be like without it. We prefer the devil we know than the devil (or the Savior) we don’t know, right? But that is where faith comes in, that is where we are tested in the basic, simple, first principal of the gospel, “faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.” We are asked to give up our little “blankie” while asking, “What lack I yet?” and we come to know. And this in not just about lust, it is about the little (and not really so little) weaknesses in our lives.
From the White Book:
“Surrender is giving up of something specific. Of course, we all had to give up the right to think and practice our habits. What we didn’t realize was that we come to this crossroads burdened with a load of other negative attitudes. We found that if we tried surrendering our lust while holding on to our resentment, anger, pride, or dependency, for example, it didn’t work.”
Surrender is not only the key to the Twelve Step program and sexual sobriety, but to a joyous and purposeful life with others.