Surrendering to My Alcoholism
By Amy Oathout on March 18, 2013
“At least you’re fighting it, “she said. “Good for you. My father wasn’t able to fight his alcoholism and it killed him,” she went on, her voice lowering to a whisper. “And if I can’t fight my alcoholism I’m going to die just like he did.” The word “fight” immediately set off alarm bells inside my head. “Not fight,” My mind whispered. “Surrender.” As I repeated this word to myself I was able to silence the clanging alarm inside my skull and devote my attention back to the conversation.
I was having coffee with a young woman who I met through mutual friends. Although I don’t generally walk into a room full of people and announce that I will not be imbibing, I am also not secretive about my alcoholism (in light of the fact that you are reading this on my blog, I apologize for stating the obvious) and she contacted me a couple of days after we met to ask if we could talk. We met for coffee— diet coke for me—and I was saddened to hear yet another story about an adult child of an alcoholic…who has in turn become an alcoholic as well. She seemed perplexed by this; it was the only thing that she detested about her father and had grown up swearing it would never happen to her. But I was focusing on what she had said when we sat down. The memory triggered by her words was more than just a memory; it was more like a sudden understanding–an epiphany, I suppose– I had after being sober for almost two years. I didn’t mention it to her that day; but I very much want to discuss what she first said to me about fighting this disease, and what I mean about surrendering to it instead.
First off I want to emphasize that I am not a particularly wise person, by any standards. With hundreds of hours of AA, therapy, rehab, reading books, and enough introspection to make me more than slightly nauseated by myself, I have learned a lot about the diseases of alcoholism and addiction and why I may have gone down this road, but when it comes down to it I still know relatively little. I go to meetings and the way some people can articulate their demons and addictions moves me beyond measure and makes me wild with jealousy at the same time. The only way I can articulate myself is to spend hours putting everything on paper. I only hope that I can manage here what many others do effortlessly in a lot less time.
The memory I’m referring to is crystal clear: I was walking through my front yard one day in the late summer, almost 2 years into sobriety, bemoaning all of the things I had to miss out on because I no longer drank. Even though I have never missed being drunk or the misery that went along with it, I missed the light and easy social aspect of drinks with friends in the summer time–a beer at a cook out, margaritas with Mexican food, a glass of wine at a cocktail party–even though I knew damn well my drinking had never been light, easy or remotely social.
I was looking at the grass, noticing that it was freshly cut, when I heard the word, “Surrender.” I can remember exactly where I was in my front yard when I heard it. I was alone and it came from nowhere, but I heard it as clearly as if it had been spoken out loud. It is a moment I will never forget. The world around me seemed to still, and everything around me—trees and shrubs, a patch of chipping paint on the house, the cat in the front window–clicked into sharper focus. I stopped walking and stood absolutely still. Surrender. I would spend days analyzing this moment. It shook me to my core, even though I didn’t understand what the significance was or even what it meant.
I understand it now. The meaning of the word (verb)surrender is to yield, give in, submit, capitulate, to give up completely.Think about that. To give up completely.
The last thing I will ever do is fight my alcoholism.
The single most important thing I have learned and now know about my alcoholism is that I can’t fight it. I won’t even try. I have to surrender to it. There is a movie that plays in my head when I think about what this surrender looks like—how I explain it to myself, I suppose. Imagine this: Alcohol is a ruthless immortal serial killer in a horror flick, and I’m the dumb—although wickedly stacked–naked bimbo who keeps going back into the slaughter-house. That bimbo never makes it. Even though it’s always a different actress in a different movie, it makes no difference; the result—her gory demise–is the same each time in each and every scary movie. No matter how many times we in the audience yell at this chick to stay outside, she always goes in the house anyway. We can’t believe how stupid she is, because we know what’s waiting for her. She always dies. The ending never changes.
Just like it will never change for me.
If I try to fight Alcohol, if I even step into the house, I will not come back out. Alcohol will win every single time. I have no chance of survival. None. The only way I know I can stay alive is by not fighting it. I have no choice but to “give up completely.” Surrender.
Knowing this is true, though, doesn’t mean it’s an easy thing to do. Surrendering required letting go of pieces of myself I wasn’t sure I was willing to live without. The “light, easy, social” piece–the false notion in my own head that I had ever been that type of drinker–was one such piece. I’m tough; I will take on anything that tries to take me down! This is what we are raised to believe, right? You want me to just give up? What do you mean not fight? I can do anything I put my mind to! My pride requires that I fight.
But because I know fighting, for me, will result in death, I must surrender my pride. I must surrender my belief that I can outwit a bottle of booze. Surrender my identity as a carefree, fun-loving, party girl who will always host the party. These pieces of my identity were just the start, and in the end I was wrong anyway.
It wasn’t “pieces” of me I had to surrender at all. It was everything.
Sober alcoholics often use the expression “one day at a time.” Do not think about next year or even next week; just get through today. One day at a time, one hour even. This has been an invaluable mantra to me around times like the holidays. Even so, the bottom line is that if I can’t commit to an alcohol free life…then I must be considering going back in the house. And going back in the house = death. I had no choice. I had to surrender the rest of my life—the actual rest of my life. Offer it up on a silver platter to show whatever gods or judges are watching that my life is now, and will always stay, alcohol free.
This took a very long time for me to accept, which I believe is what happened on the day I heard the word “Surrender”. Acceptance. There in the sunshine, on a beautiful yet otherwise normal day, acceptance just…happened. Acceptance that I am not smarter than any bottle of booze, including those with the lower proofs. Acceptance that I was not, and never had been, a light, easy, social party girl; I was a drunk. Period. Acceptance that this is the fight of a lifetime, and if I take part, not only will I lose; I will die. The world is full of people who can have a few beers on a Saturday without getting or looking to get completely plastered. People who can drink one glass of wine with dinner and/or enjoy a brandy afterwards without it taking over their lives. I am not one of these people. I will never be one of these people.
(I surrender the rest of my life.)
As I said earlier, I have not known many things in this lifetime. I have rarely been so certain of something I would swear by it, but I know this beyond a shadow of a doubt: Alcohol is still there, patiently waiting for me in the horror movie house, even as I type these words. Waiting to see if I ever change my mind about trying to outsmart it and venture back inside. Alcohol is immortal; it will never, ever get tired of waiting. The key is knowing that the minute I decide to call its bluff I’m as good as dead.
(I surrender my life.)
One last thought: Surrender can also be defined as the act of an army ceasing all resistance to the enemy, followed by completely submitting to the enemy’s authority.
When this happens, the state of war changes to a state of peace.
Before that summer day in 2010 I never understood that this change doesn’t just happen on the battlefield. Peace is the result anywhere surrender takes place, whether on a remote field in a faraway country or in the heart of an addict. This was unexpected; I had never known peace before. I continue to “give up completely” every single day so I never have to live without this peace again. I can only say now that it is worth every bit of the life that surrendering may have cost me.
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