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 in 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 recover 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 and avoidance, arrogance, selfishness, and all manner of other shame and fear-based behaviours. Their 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.
The healing process is not an easy one. It is a long and difficult journey and requires a lot of determination and courage, as well as faith in our ability to be healed. I believe that the 12-Step recovery process can guide us in this journey of healing our emotional wounds and regaining our capacity to be vulnerable. We can learn how to reconnect with ourselves, others, and the awe, wonder, joy, and mystery of life. We often need other help and support along the way, but once in recovery we intuitively know where to seek it. We learn to choose empathic, affirming and honest relationships, so we’re not wounded excessively anymore. Through these accepting and positive recovery relationships we can learn to love and accept ourselves and feel worthy of the connection that we all desire. We can recover.
About the Author:
Steve K. has been a member of AA for the past 27 years and lives in Cheshire, which is in the N. West region of England. He would describe himself as an agnostic, although open to spirituality. His home group is the Macclesfield Saturday morning AA group and he regularly chairs the meeting. He has a background in advice and counselling work, mainly in the areas of mental health and social welfare law. Steve is currently involved in group facilitation work for a local addiction recovery project, writes for his blog 12stepphilosophy and regularly keeps fit through hill walking, yoga and swimming. He has self-published a book entitled “The 12 Step Philosophy of Alcoholics Anonymous: An Interpretation by Steve K.” The Third Edition is available in paperback from Amazon.
Original artwork by Cope C. of the Many Paths group in Urbana, Illinois.