Thursday, January 22, 2015

I Surrender

I mean that generally. I surrender. It's something I do now. For me, it was the first step into recovery and the hardest step - not to make, because it was the only place I had left to go by the time I got to my rock bottom, but to wrap my head around and embrace. Surrender and acceptance are certainly subjects that are frequently discussed in recovery circles and at meetings, and I'm sure they mean many different things to different people. I'm slowly learning to surrender as I understand it, and it's quickly improving the quality of my life. I suppose I once equated surrender with weakness, with giving up, but it's only through surrender that I've become stronger and able to move forward.

Surrender - it sounds so dramatic. But truly it is just a new way of thinking. I admit I am easily frustrated, and my frustration comes when reality doesn't quite live up to my expectations. Which happens. A lot. I have said before that I'm an all or nothing kind of girl. It's the way my brain is wired. If I have a new thing (let's say a couch) and someone (let's say one of my kids) gets a tiny smudge on it (let's say it's happened), my first instinct is, "Well, it's ruined!" But come on - ruined? We can still sit on it, which is the idea, and, truth be told, knowing my family, it won't be long before it's more smudge than couch anyway. That is the cold, hard reality, and I'm okay with it because I want my home to be comfortable, not pristine. I mean, cleanliness is nice, but sometimes life gets messy. Fighting it (with strict couch regulations?) mostly just makes everyone tense and unable to enjoy the couch. Life gets unexpectedly smudgy all the time, but I want to live my life around all the smudginess, not be paralyzed by it.

Surrender is accepting my lack of control over most things in my world, like when and where my kids are going to smudge up my shit. I walk through life with expectations, big and small, every day. When things don't go my way, and those expectations are shattered, I have two choices - accept it and adjust my expectations or fight it and try to force the world to fit my mold. There was a time when I chose to fight every unwinnable fight, which led to frustration and disappointment, which led to more and more drinking to numb the anger and resentments, which led to complete and utter exhaustion and defeat. In my struggle for control, I lost control of everything, and I lost my will to fight. When I finally surrendered, I felt more relieved than I ever had in my life. Aha!

I have often told people that going away to inpatient treatment was instrumental in jump-starting real recovery for me. From a 12-step perspective, I really had no problem for some time admitting to myself that I had no power over alcohol and that my life was unmanageable. That happened months earlier, when I first attempted outpatient treatment, and to a lesser degree for years before when I would try to quit drinking on my own. The sticking point was moving beyond that first step. In order to do that, I had to accept that help would come from a power greater than myself and then turn my will over to that power. Forget the angst I felt about defining that power (which I came to find out wasn't necessary for me), turning my will over to anything or anyone seemed impossible. Going to inpatient treatment forced my hand.

I'm going to admit something right now that I'm not very proud of, but what the hell. I was recently watching an episode of some Kardashians take over the world or some such nonsense. I know, I know, but I was working out, and it was on, and . . . look, don't judge me. Anyway, the episode revolved around a character's downward spiral into the depths of his addiction. It was so hauntingly familiar - the downplaying, the rationalizing, the spiraling out of control when the drinks started flowing, the trip to the emergency room, the fear, the shame and regret, followed by the inevitable waffling over how to deal with what has obviously become a problem. Bottom line - what I'm telling you is that the Kardashians brought me to tears, and not in the traditional Kardashian sense. It was actually relatable and reminded me just how difficult it was to surrender that first time.

The day I walked into the treatment center in Virginia, I certainly felt the magnitude of it. Ashby drove away, leaving me with strangers in unfamiliar surroundings with no means of transportation or real communication with the outside world. But the hardest part had actually been the days leading up to it - making the decision. To be sure, I was ready, but I still struggled. How could I walk away from my life for 28 whole days? How could I leave my job at a very busy time with no notice? How could I be away from my kids for so long - longer than I'd ever been away from them since they were born? How could I miss Mother's Day? Who was going to write the checks for our bills that month? Who was going to do my half of the chores? What about that race I was registered for? What in the world was I going to tell people about where I'd been when I came back? And those concerns all seemed so legit at the time, but I really only needed to ask myself one question: "Do I want to go away for 28 days now, or do I want to give up everything and go away forever?" It seems like a no-brainer, but going through all those questions, explaining it to the kids, actually saying goodbye and walking out the door, and a very surreal three-hour drive into the middle of nowhere, VA . . . it was a gut-wrenching experience that I can still feel to my core when I think about it today. And yet, somewhere in that decision-making process, I surrendered. I accepted that this was my best and maybe only chance to save everything that mattered to me, and with that realization a tremendous weight was lifted.

Over the next four weeks, I turned my will over in a very real way. I no longer had the illusion that I was in control. My daily routine was decided for me - I was told when to get up, when to eat, when to go to class, when to do chores, when to go to bed, and a whole bunch of other things I wasn't allowed to do. Maybe more importantly, life at home went on without me. Successfully. Work, home, kids - they all went on just fine without me. It was humbling and comforting at the same time and probably something I needed to see to believe - that it was possible to let go without losing. 

As many a control freak will tell you, the reason it's so hard to let go is the tremendous fear that our worlds will crumble if we're not micromanaging them. Going away to treatment gave me an opportunity not many have - to step completely outside of my world, observe that it can function and thrive without me, and then be allowed back in. I had solid proof that I wasn't that important. Knowing that I fully wasn't in control of anything outside of myself gave me the freedom to focus on what I had neglected for years - everything on the inside and how I connect with and relate to others in my life - the stuff that matters. This was the work that would make it more and more possible for me to surrender and accept the things I can't control.

Surrender happens on a daily basis - from my acceptance of my disease to dealing with smudges. That doesn't mean it's always easy. I still have the urge to fight it when things don't go my way. About a month ago, I realized I was having an issue with my achilles. It was stiff and achy in the mornings, and running seemed to irritate it. Although I've been fortunate not to have any serious injuries in the past, I have a history of denial and pushing through pain when something comes up. I fight it. I openly admit that I spent about a week pretending I wasn't feeling what I was feeling and continuing to run while aggressively willing the pain to go away. Surprise - it didn't work. During that week I felt an old, familiar feeling - the angst of fighting the inevitable, trying to control the uncontrollable. And when I finally admitted to my coach there was a problem and made an appointment with a doctor, I felt that familiar flood of relief. Surrender. Of course it's better to invest a small amount of time in rest and treatment now in order to prevent a more destructive problem later. Obviously. The fact that it only took me a week to get to obvious is major progress.  

I used to be so afraid of the whole concept of surrender. I thought it meant giving up, quitting, compromising myself, but that hasn't been my experience. It just means I can accept the messiness of life and stop struggling to seize control of it, and in that acceptance I find moments of peace and contentment. By surrendering, I haven't lost. Instead, I've gained more than I ever thought possible.