By Steve K.
The experience of surrender is the gateway to recovery from addiction. To paraphrase the first Step of the AA 12-Step program, at this moment we experience an acceptance that we lack control and that our life is unmanageable. Our ego surrenders its will through the pain and suffering of addiction. Our denial is broken, and we experience a deep self-honesty and humility. We finally admit our human limitation and that we are in need of help.
In this respect we are now authentic and willing to show our vulnerability to others – to reach out and to trust that we can be helped, that we can recover. These principles of acceptance, self-honesty, humility, willingness and faith are essential if we are to maintain and progress our recovery. In relation to 12-Step recovery they enable us to access and practice the rest of the program.
Through the authenticity that comes from humility we are willing to be vulnerable. We are willing to drop the defenses of pride, arrogance, and our various other ‘character defects’ that usually stem from our shame and emotional insecurity. It is through our willingness to be vulnerable, and to admit our limitations and feelings, that we are able to connect with others in recovery. We connect to each other through our mutual identification of shared experience and feelings, our shared humanity. This is the unity experienced in the 12-Step fellowships.
Addiction is often referred to as “a disease of disconnection”. This suggests an isolated ego – a separated self. The authenticity, self-honesty, and humility that comes from our surrender is the bridge by which we can begin to connect with others and break free from our painful and lonely isolation. Through fellowship with other addicts we can learn to accept ourselves and our many limitations. We grow out of our low self-worth and its defensive false pride and arrogance that separate us from a genuine connection with ourselves and others.
In practicing the 12-Step program of recovery we continue to develop the above mentioned principles and by doing so grow in relationship with ourselves and other people. In continuing a journey of self-discovery and self-acceptance we can increase our capacity to be authentic and vulnerable – two qualities that are essential in relation to connection.
Recovery is a process of moving from a meaningless and painful isolation, to meaningful connection with ourselves, others and life. Through practicing spiritual principles we’re trying to transform from a feeling of fear, danger and badness about life, to a faith in love and the goodness in ourselves, others and the world. This is an ongoing and lifetime’s work that we can choose to commit to.
Ultimately, recovery is a process of honestly facing, feeling and being open about the more difficult emotions in life, such as fear, shame, sadness, hurt, rejection and loss without trying to numb them or run away. According to the researcher Brene Brown, “to feel is to be vulnerable.” To successfully recovery from the emotional illness of addiction we must be willing to be vulnerable and authentic in our lives. In doing so, we are able to deeply and honestly connect and feel a sense of peace and happiness within ourselves.
As practicing addicts we fear and avoid the difficult emotions of life, but by doing so we also deny ourselves the inspiring feelings that give it meaning and purpose. Brene Brown describes the importance of our willingness to be vulnerable in the following excerpt from her book, ‘Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead.’
“What most of us fail to understand and what took me a decade of research to learn is that vulnerability is also the cradle of the emotions and experiences that we crave. We want deeper and more meaningful spiritual lives. Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability and authenticity. If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper or more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path……If we want to reclaim the essential emotional part of our lives and reignite our passion and purpose, we have to learn how to own and engage with our vulnerability and how to feel the emotions that come with it.”
Often people with a history of addiction have been abused, neglected and deeply wounded by others close to them, and so have learnt to avoid vulnerability. They lack trust in others and in life and so are defensive and tend to push others away, often unconsciously. Their defenses are varied and include anger, criticism, social withdrawal, avoidance, arrogance, selfishness, and all manner of other shame and fear based behaviours. These reactions and behaviours are strategies for avoiding the underlying pain of their emotional wounds (rejection, shame and betrayal). Addiction in all its forms being a chief strategy.
However, as described above, these defensive strategies also prevent meaningful connection and intimacy with others, and result in a painful isolation and a feeling that life is meaningless. Our underlying wounds and their defenses prevent vulnerability and lead to being disconnected from our more positive feelings as well.