There is no peace without surrender.
I’m a recovering alcoholic and love addict. The love addiction is actually what drove the alcohol consumption (though, of course, there’s a genetic component to alcoholism as well), and I was not able to address one addiction without addressing the other simultaneously. Learning how to process my feelings was both the key to motivation behind and the key to my recovery, and it all comes down to surrender.
What is surrender? Many people equate surrender with passivity, resignation, or defeat. It is none of those, though it may feel that way from a position of clinging to the edge of the abyss.
Surrender is basically just radically acceptance of what is. If pain is the reality of the moment, then it is accepting that reality without resistance, judgement, hope for a certain future, will, or any concept of “supposed to”. It is about just experiencing the situation without trying to make sense of it or otherwise control it.
It is also necessary to give up all beliefs about how awful or hopeless everything is in order to surrender. This is, perhaps, the hardest part! Beliefs such as, “I will always be in pain,” or, “Things will never get better,” or, “I will never be enough,” are JUST as much a defense mechanisms as addictions and other forms of escapism. They prevent us from the most intense and terrifying of all vulnerabilities: happiness.
Surrender is releasing the notions that drive our suffering. It’s acknowledging that we don’t understand and can’t know or control what will happen and that we can no longer pretend that we’re capable of adequately preparing for or shielding ourselves from all of the intensity and pain in life, that sometimes things just really, really suck for a bit.
It’s accepting that that the experience of the present moment just is whatever it is in THAT moment, and we don’t know what to do about it, how long it will last, if there’s a way to prevent the same pain in the future, or even why it’s happening.
This is why it’s possible to be in pain and be at peace at the same time. In fact, inner peace is not dependent on the presence or absence of pain. Peace is truth. When we’re struggling to hold onto our untrue ideas about a situation, we experience turmoil in direct relation to how strongly the situation is showing us our error. When we release those beliefs and open ourselves to experiencing the situation for whatever it truly is right then and there, we have peace.
The trick is that there’s a physical component to this, too. For example, some people’s brains are wired in such a way that their emotions are overwhelming and drive their thoughts to be unrealistically negative. The unrealistically negative thoughts, memories, and beliefs then feed the emotions which feed more unrealistic negativity, and it just continues to spiral. In their case, mindful acceptance of what is can be impossible at times because intense emotional suffering is currently their natural set point.
For people who do not experience fast, incredibly profound relief from just allowing themselves to experience the reality of their pain for a bit (10 or 15 minutes), a different approach is necessary. For those individuals, steps must be taken to gradually re-wire their brains and heal their nervous systems so that they will be in a position to experience distress without being sucked into a vortex of pain and spiraling downward. Their brains are wired to remain stuck in turmoil, so pushing themselves further into it may only make things worse for them.
For such individuals, studies show that the most beneficial things they can do are to join a DBT group and learn DBT skills, to receive treatment from qualified professionals, and to have the ongoing support of loved ones who have learned about how their brains work and are committed to doing what they can to support their emotional needs. Many of the responses involved in providing this type of support seem counter-intuitive, but over time they have an incredibly healing impact on the individual. (The brain is, after all, plastic.) It takes time and practice to learn them, and it takes time for them to work. Understanding and accepting that mistakes will be made and progress will be gradual is important for success, but if you love someone with this type of struggle, it’s well worth the commitment, effort, and patience.
It’s worth noting that sometimes, a person isn’t even for DBT or even professional help yet, and in those cases, the knowledgeable and loving support of the people closest to the individual is the most critical factor for healing.
For more information, I very highly recommend checking out book Overcoming Borderline Personality Disorder: A Family Guide for Healing and Change.