Surrender vs. Compliance by Sarah S.

by Sarah S., your NoVAtions editor

"In submission, an individual accepts reality consciously, but not unconsciously. He accepts reality as a practical fact that he cannot at the moment conquer reality, but lurking in the unconscious is the feeling: ‘there'll come a day’—which implies no real acceptance and demonstrates conclusively that the struggle is still going on…. When, on the other hand, the ability to accept reality functions on the unconscious level, there is no residual battle, and relaxation ensues with freedom from strain and conflict. "

- Dr. Harry Tiebout, “Surrender vs. Compliance in Therapy with Special Reference to Alcoholism

Whoa. This one is a tough concept, and sometimes difficult to define. There are great articles written by your fellows in this issue, and they do a fantastic job of putting into words the idea of “Compliance vs. Surrender” as it relates to members of the OA fellowship. Here’s my crack at the issue.

When I think of compliance, a few things come to mind:

  • Code compliance, as with health and safety regulations. You could do just what you need to in order to meet code (no rats or roaches in the food, an ADA-approved door handle here and there), or you could get that A+ rating from the health inspector and have a wheelchair-accessible stall in each restroom area. Going above and beyond isn’t necessarily surrendering; you’re still meeting the standards set by an outside entity.
  • Nonviolent protests. Demonstrators are sometimes advised to comply with law enforcement. Don’t fight back. Don’t resist arrest. The possibility of arrest and police brutality is always present for protesters, but the non-violent social change movement often means taking it without physical retaliation. Compliance doesn’t mean you’re abandoning your beliefs. You’re not surrendering to authorities or regimes; you’re just doing what you’re told during the act of expressing your values peacefully.
  • “Fake it until you make it.” We’re often told this in program, and it’s a way for those of us who aren’t able or ready to surrender to comply with the parameters of sober living until we fully give ourselves over.

Surrender is a little harder for me to define, but that last sentence contains a phrase that I strongly associate with it: give ourselves over. My paraphrase of the third-step prayer, “I offer myself to the program, to do with me as it will,” contains in it the essence of what surrender means to me. Giving over emotionally, physically, and spiritually. It’s one thing to realize that we have an illness that we can’t control, it’s another to work the steps, and it’s a whole other level to completely give yourself to the power of the program/a higher power. Complying or going through the motions of working the steps and using the tools may get us there, but surrender isn’t something that can be forced. And honestly, I’m not completely there. There are times when pre-program behaviors start to creep in, and instead of surrendering to my higher self/higher power, I become like Homer Simpson: “Shut up, brain, or I’ll poke you with a Q-tip.”

So for me, surrender is letting go of the ego and accepting life on life’s terms. Sometimes I just pretend to do it and act the part, but sometimes it comes naturally to me, and for that I am grateful.