Sunday, June 13, 2010

Giving Over

Two weeks into my final rehab stay, I was sitting in my counselor's office, curled up and closed down, angry at this woman who was trying to take my bottle away.

"Wouldn't it be freeing, Ellie, to relinquish control?" she asked. "You're hanging on tighter and tighter, because to let go is uncertain, unknown, and that makes you afraid."

I'm not afraid of anything, I thought. I left out the most important caveat, though: I'm not afraid of anything when I'm drinking.

"You think surrendering is cowardly, when in fact the opposite is true." she said, and I felt a hot flash of anger. "You're chickenshit. You want control over people, places and things, and because you don't have that control you settle for the next best thing and use alcohol to alter your reality."

I clenched my hands into fists and glared at her.

She glared right back. "You want to know what real courage is? Real courage is facing whatever life has to offer, not hiding in a bottle. You think you have all the answers?  You think you know what's best?  Then how did you end up here?   You're here because you're too afraid to be present in your own life.   You're afraid to live life on life's terms.   It takes real courage to trust in a power greater than yourself."

I hated all the Higher Power talk.  I need boots-on-the-ground help, not pie-in-the-sky help, I thought

"Give it over, Ellie," she said quietly. "Get out of your own way."


When I stumbled into my first recovery meetings, there was all this talk about surrendering, and it made me bristle.    To me surrendering meant giving up.  I pictured a bloodied and broken army, waving the white flag, turning themselves over to the opposition.    Brave soldiers who were willing to fight to the death, becoming prisoners of the victors.   Surrender meant one thing to me:   you lost

I'm strong, I thought.   I just have to fight harder

With time, though, I realized what was really going through my head:   the right to drink is MINE.   Nobody is going to take it away from me.    I was determined to figure out how to control my drinking, because defeat meant a life sentence of joyless boredom.    If I lost, I thought would never have fun again.


At one year sober, after going to many, many meetings and opening up to other alcoholics in recovery, I had accepted that I was powerless over alcohol.  I finally understood that when I drank I gave all my power to alcohol, and in return it gave me the illusion that I was in control.  Not a fair trade.   I still didn't understand the talk about a Higher Power, nor did I care to, but I could navigate through most days without wanting to drink.

But I still wanted to hide.

I wanted to hide from the tough feelings: anger, resentment, boredom and sadness. I had lost my anesthesia, but I found other ways to work around the tough stuff. I hid from anger by pushing my opinions to the bottom of the pile. I hid from resentment by being easy, agreeable, letting other peoples' needs come before mine. I hid from boredom by keeping busy, avoiding moments of silence and reflection by rushing onward to the next thing, and the next. I hid from sadness by immersing myself in other peoples' pain and ignoring my own.

I was still trying to control my emotions, except this time not with alcohol, but by stuffing everything down, keeping busy, investing my energy into other people and deflecting my own fears.

One year sober and I was just as lost, confused and empty as before, only now I couldn't drink to hide from it.

I talked about it with other people in recovery, and the advice I got was to let it go, to surrender. Again.


One day, about fourteen months sober, I got desperate.   All the problems in my life that I drank around were still there.   My marriage was still rocky, being a mother still terrified me, I still didn't know who I was or what I wanted from life.  And now the damndest thing had happened: I didn't want to drink.   There I was, successfully sober and completely miserable.

So I faked it. 

I got down on my knees, feeling like a fraud. I'm really unhappy, I whispered. I'm afraid. I'm afraid all the time.

I waited. I waited for some sign - a beam of light? An inner awakening? A vision from above?

After a moment I heard a voice- a baritone version of my own (of course) - echoing in my head:  What are you so afraid of?

Out of nowhere, it hit me.  The truth, I whispered. I'm afraid of the truth. That maybe I'm not cut out to be a full time mother, maybe I want more from life, and is that okay? That I'm afraid to stand up for myself, because I fear that people will leave me if I'm not giving them exactly what they want.

And then I cried. I cried for half an hour - big, ugly, snuffling sobs. All the tears I had held back, the sadness I had stuffed down, came pouring out. I felt better. I felt a loosening, a kind of letting go.

Where did that come from? A Higher Power? The Fates? The Universe? A truer, more divine part of self?

Does it matter where it came from?

My problems weren't solved in that moment; solutions didn't pour from the sky like magic raindrops. Something more helpful, more important, happened. In that moment I stopped running, hiding, stuffing; I got down on my knees and out of myself. I loosened the death grip I had on my pain, just for a moment. Getting out of my own way allowed some of the truth peek through.


Surrendering isn't giving up, it's giving over.   Surrendering yourself to whatever is next, not by your design, but to whatever life has in store for you.  

I try to give over the feelings that threaten my sobriety and my sanity. I take my pain, sadness and fear and carve them away from myself, drag them into the light, and give them over. I still don't know what or who I'm giving them over to, but it doesn't matter. As long as it's not me. And it's not you, either. It's something bigger than any one person, an energy that flows around us and, of course, through us.

Sometimes I'm on my knees, but not always. Sometimes I'm lying in bed, waiting to fall asleep, and my mind won't leave me alone. Perhaps I'm in the car, thinking horrible thoughts about the person who just cut me off, or standing in my kitchen with my face in my hands because the kids are driving me crazy.

Here, take it, I think. Take this anger, frustration and pain and get it away from me, until I'm ready to handle it.

I surrender.


  1. wow what a journey. thank you for sharing, this post is beautiful and honest

  2. Surrender remains my biggest bugaboo. I feel like I want to but am faking it as well, unsure I'll recognize it when or if it does happen. Could someone else surrender for me, and just let me know? Thanks. Anyway, I'm at 13 months, and still wrestling. Thank you, Ellie, for more thought provoking words. You do make it sound, if not easy, do-able.

  3. Surrender is such a difficult word.... I love reading your journey with it. Thank you.

  4. I sure can relate to this post.
    My biggest fear was that if I surrendered to Something Bigger Than Me and if that Something ended up disgusted with me then what? Then Who would I turn to?
    Some days when surrendering is hard I make myself physically plant my feet on the floor (instead of cross legged and closed off) and open my palms upwards. There is something about physically putting myself in a position of openness that usually undoes me.
    I love your honesty.
    My little word that needs to be typed into the space is "obuts". LOL Not surrendering is a long chore in "Oh, buts."

  5. Thank you for this, Ellie. It's amazing that when we're beat practically to death by our disease we still think we have power over it. The one thing I knew the minute I walked into my first meeting was that I had the addiction of my particular recovery program. No doubt. I recognized myself in every story. And I've learned that my most potent prayer is my simplest: "help."

  6. Thank you for sharing this journey with us. The details are so powerful and it feels like every aspect of the story can help out someone different.

  7. VERY insightful about going on overdrive to help others as an unconscious way to avoid one's own sadness and challenges. Thanks as always!

  8. That fight, I very much understand that fight and the desperate attempts to control the drinking. Surrendering sounds terrifying. Do I even want to know who I in there? Your post has helped me on another first day.

  9. Man, oh man did this hit home with me today. I've read it three times and have shed some tears throughout my day (with my head in my hands while the kids are driving me crazy). Some of it is about the alcohol but the bigger part of it is letting go of the people pleasing, the I'm not sure I can be a full time care giver for one more day thought but wait, now I feel guilty for even thinking that, what's wrong with me? Ugh. I surrender. Please! Giving over but not giving up is such a great thing.
    I really hope I'll get out of my own way soon.

  10. The biggest lie they tell is that motherhood is rewarding.

    Sometimes it is, sure, and for some people (extroverts?) it is most of the time.

    But for the rest of us, we spend a lot of time wondering if we're the only one who just wants to get away for a while ans have a cup of tea and NOT have to deal with someone else's needs and wants for a while.

    Kids are a pain in the ass. Yes, yes, they're cute, we love them, yadda yadda yadda. But seriously, a pain in the ass. In our mostly patriarchal history, there are reasons men didn't stick themselves with the job of raising kids; they're not stupid. :)

    I was thinking of you yesterday, Ellie, as we had to tell someone she couldn't take care of our son anymore because of substance abuse problems, or potential problems. It was so incredibly hard, especially because she couldn't actually hear what we were saying, since that would interfere with her denial, and decided instead that we were judging her. Ugh.

    Thanks for your honesty. It's been so helpful.

  11. What a wonderfully honest, moving story. Thank you for sharing it.

    I have a jewelry question and looked for a way to contact you offline, but did not find it. I'm wondering if you have anything with butterflies in your line. It's for a gift for a sponsee. Her taste is small and simple. If you have anything that would fit the bill, I'd love to hear from you. My e-mail address is Thanks.

  12. VERY insightful about going on overdrive to help others as an unconscious way to avoid one's own sadness and challenges. Thanks as always!