How Do We Recovery: Surrender vs. Compliance

How Do We Recovery: Surrender vs. Compliance

Addiction is a war within ourselves—it’s a struggle for control and to manage our lives the way we know how to, which is with drugs and alcohol. Surrendering is a critical step to win this war. It’s when we realize that we can’t be the General, soldiers and enemy all at once. Change is a part of recovery, and it’s scary and makes us cling to the familiar. We try to do everything we can to feel as if we have the power to determine the outcome of changes. When we surrender, we accept that the power is not entirely in our hands. Submitting, on the other hand, is to go through the motions with quiet reservations with a desired end date on the horizon. As Dr. Harry M. Tiebout explains, “Submitting is to think that one day, things will go back to how we want them to be.”


When we think of “compliance,” we think of following a line of others blindly and following commands. Complying is what we do when we’re submitting. We’re being the soldiers with an end goal of eventually coming back into power by playing every part in the war again. We obey, but only because we aren’t given the keys to the exit door. If the keys were in our hands, we could make an easy choice to take that opportunity to escape our circumstances. We know that complying doesn’t mean we are enjoying what we do or necessarily want it. Think about what we comply with on a daily basis just for the sake of avoiding consequences. We don’t want to pay taxes, but we have to because it’s the law. We don’t want to sit in traffic, but we do because we know that eventually it will clear up and get us to our desired destination. Many will comply with the wishes of loved ones to enter recovery, but they don’t have a true desire to be sober and may see it as a temporary solution to keep peace. They don’t want to be sober, but they will go through the motions thinking that eventually things will blow over or that they will regain control when the time is right. Understanding the difference between surrender and compliance is critical because it is what separates “those with long term recovery from those who experience only brief periods of remission.” (


Surrendering in recovery means that we aren’t looking for a side door or exit plan. We know there’s no other way and we’re okay with that, because we want to live happy lives. The other ways lead us to bad places and even death. When we can fully surrender, the changes we make are positive and we allow ourselves to experience the true, long-lasting rewards of sobriety. Surrender also involves a shift in our egos. Jim Stimson, a social worker specializing in addiction and the author of An Act of Surrender—Recover from Alcohol and Drug Addiction and Be Happy, Joyous, and Free!, explains that our ego is “the very thing that got us into trouble in the first place. Our ego is always coming from a place of fear, a lack of trust, and a desire to be in control. Bill W. said that humility is the hinge upon which the door of recovery swings. That’s why surrender requires an act of faith that involves moving forward without proof. It requires we let go of our attachment to outcomes and place our trust in the process.’” ( Our ego prevents positive changes within us, with grandiose thinking and defiance. Grandiosity is our natural desire to take on the roles of everyone involved in the battle of addiction. It’s a dangerous mindset that gives us unrealistic expectations for situations and others. Grandiosity makes us demand validation and for results to unfold as we imagined them. When reality crashes down on us or results aren’t what we envisioned them to be, addicts and alcoholics can react by self-destructing or defying for the sake of feeling in control. Defiance is our way of elevating our egos back to where we feel in control, but is counter-productive to the positive changes we’re trying to make. It is when we decide our time is up with being compliant. Letting go of our ego and accepting that we are powerless and not omnipotent is the best way for us to properly fight addiction and handle what life has is store for us.