The importance of the stories that we tell ourselves cannot be overstated. Stories can make the difference between recovery and being stuck in or dying from addiction.
Stories determine how we see the world around us. I have become aware of the way that the stories that I heard as a child have been carried into my adult life.
I grew up, like many of us, enjoying bedtime stories. Knights in shining armor, damsels in distress, fire-breathing dragons, trolls, wizards, brave warriors and scary villains all fueled my imagination.
I’m not sure what little kids hear nowadays, but in my day the good guy always won. He earned the heart of his true love and they lived happily ever after.
These stories usually had a hero that overcame an obstacle. It might have been a monster, a bully, or some difficult situation. It was common that the hero had to really try hard to get past the obstacle- either by strength and force or else by cleverness and cunning.
In the tales of the ancient Greeks (Ulysses, Hercules) to the modern movie heroes (such as Die Hard or The Terminator), the same message is given- just be strong enough or clever enough and you can overcome your foe.
This strategy works well for handling many challenges in life- it absolutely does not work in overcoming addiction.
Think of it like being in quicksand. A person in quicksand will sink faster if he tries to struggle- in fact any effort and movement will cause them to die faster.
The reason why effort is counterproductive in addiction has to do with the human ego. At its core, addiction is a disorder of the ego: it is overactive and oversized. If I believe that I can overcome my addiction by my efforts then automatically the ego gets involved and that is like fighting fire with fire.
This is why the only way to truly overcome addiction is to surrender and ask for help.
Just like the person sinking in quicksand can survive if they stop struggling and ask someone to throw them a rope- a person dying from addiction must stop fighting and ask for help if they want to live.
The idea of surrender goes against all of the ‘hero’ stories that we hear growing up. It seems an unnatural paradox that we can ‘win through surrender’, yet almost every addict in recovery (including myself) will say that they reached a point where the only option left was to surrender and that is where recovery began.
If an addict has any hope of living happily ever after, it must begin with surrender.