Surrender to win

The act of surrender is key if the addict is to recover. The identification statement that one is an addict, allows the small self to open to surrender to the self. This stage is critical, as it opens the door to the self, which is the paradoxical nature of surrender for when the addicts rationalising, denial and justification breaks down, this then allows the possibility to be surrendered.

Surrender is a massive admission of “I can’t do this”, “I am broken”, "I can’t go on”, “I feel I am dying”, and “I am loosing my mind”. Tav Sparks (1993) has described this as an ego death, and a rebirth to our ultimate authentic identity, the self. The thought of death of the ego seems to cause problems with western concepts of identity, but Sparks clarifies his ideas by linking the false self with ego and describes it further as a case of mistaken identity, that the false self has to die to the true self which he describes as our deeper identity. The addict has formed a personality that is alienated from this deeper identity and the ego self of the addict forms structures that separates him or her from others and are made up of character defects, shortcomings and subpersonalities, that Sparks say can all be transformed through the 12-step model of recovery. However, he is clear that unless the addict is able to admit defeat and to own that they need help and that they are able to make the “I am” statement of being an addict, then the prognosis is not good for recovery.

Christiana Groff (1993) is very clear concerning the movement of surrender in the psyche of the addict.  She says that the process of hitting bottom and releasing the illusion of control is a mandatory step out of the pain of addiction. She describes surrender as:

"The experience of surrender is key to redemption, the gateway to recovery, healing, and the discovery of our spiritual potential. It marks the transition from a limited experience of who we are to an expanded one, and it happens to different people in different ways." (Groff 1993, p.117)

Groff describes addiction as a state of spiritual emergency and that the rock bottom is the crisis that touches every level of our being. The ruinous cycle of addictive behaviour brings self-destruction and the realisation of complete powerlessness in the face of it. This is what propels the addict forward to being ready to surrender, to admit defeat. Groff says that in surrender, all reference points of who we think we are, our ego, defences, resistances and denials collapse. What remains, is the essential nature of who we are.

Groff says that every addict knows their point of surrender, which she says is the addicts spiritual bankruptcy. She offers that the first three steps of Alcoholics Anonymous address the experience of complete surrender of the ego and the beginning of identification with the self:

1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol and our lives had become unmanageable.

2. We came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

3. We made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood him.

(Alcoholic Anonymous 1939, p.68)

These first three steps are described as essential, if addicts are to recover and build an identification with their spiritual authentic self. Once the addict has an experience of surrender, then often material from the unconscious (Sparks 1993, p.125) breaks through in the form of symptoms. These can be addressed through the use of the 12-step model and also with the help of a therapist.

A transpersonal therapist would be able to hold the client bi-focally without the wish to pathologize the symptoms, but as a way to connect to the soul trauma that is at the heart of all pathology the separation of the ‘I’ and self.  The transpersonal therapist will hold the context that the addictive self is searching for the self and that the soothing action of substance abuse is an attempt to anaesthetise the pain of the ‘I’-self split.


Alcoholics Anonymous. Big Book . AA Services. (1939)

Grof, C. The Thirst for Wholeness. Harper Collins. (1993)

Sparks, T. The Wide Open Door. Hazelden. (1993)

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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London N14 & NW4
Written by Jason Ward, DBT Therapist
London N14 & NW4

I am a senior UKCP accredited psychotherapist and therapeutic counsellor.

I have an interest in addictive disorders and my last published article 'The Treatment of the Addictive Self' was printed in the BACP Journal in June-July 2010.


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