There’s a saying at many recovery meetings that resonates with me: “Take what you need and leave the rest.”
And there is a lot to take. I’m immensely grateful to my recovery program; the people I’ve met through my recovery have taught me how to live one day at a time, address the past, get through cravings, and enjoy life as a sober woman. But then there are the parts, especially within the literature, that I’d rather leave behind. I bristle at certain stories, wishing there were more century-appropriate versions to insert, and some key phrases are undoubtedly tone-deaf at best, and sexist at worst.
This is especially true with regard to the concept of “surrendering.” It’s the idea of letting go of a challenging situation and essentially saying to the Universe or your Higher Power “what happens, happens.” You let go of the struggle.
Although there have certainly been times that this advice has helped me, as a woman, I still struggle with the concept. And lately, I’m choosing to put the idea of surrendering in the pile of what I leave behind.
As a woman living in today’s society, it’d be difficult to avoid the pressures of remaining quiet and small, especially if you’re a black or brown woman. It’s that ferocious ideology that we should accept the status quo, especially under the guise of “Just think, you could be a woman from X Third World Country with dismal women’s rights. Be grateful!” So, when I hear women talk about surrendering in recovery, I feel conflicted and frustrated.
On one hand, I see and have felt the beauty in not fighting everything. Not everything needs to be a struggle, and sometimes it’s helpful to surrender to situations like, Will I get accepted to this program? or Is the landlord going to choose my apartment application? I might not get the outcome I want, but it’s liberating when these issues don’t take up valuable headspace.
But then there are those other situations. Those microaggressions that come up more frequently where I have to ask myself, “When does letting go slip into complicity?”
I don’t think the answer is cut and dry. But I believe I do myself a disservice by surrendering too often to seemingly innocent but damaging societal habits that we carry across generations. Habits that I wish had been buried long ago.
When we’re sober, we have the lucidity of mind where we can really feel our emotions and process our thoughts without the veil of alcohol.
Recently, my female boss told me my tone on the phone with a client was too harsh. I nodded, but felt the anger rise. But after a few nights of sleeping on it, I chose not to address it in our follow-up.
Afterward, I felt like I’d made a mistake. I could just let my boss’s comments go, but if I don’t have a respectful conversation about how I felt, then am I just continuing the cycle of tone policing in a corporate setting? Since my male coworkers take similar tones when they deal with a challenging client who’s going outside the scope of the service, I think so.
Another example: My mother made another comment about the timeline she wants for my engagement and marriage so I can “give her” grandbabies. Do I keep the family peace and just accept that, like my two siblings before me, I must put up with my mother’s statements? Or do I sit her down and discuss how what she says is frustrating, painful, and why I don’t want it to be a part of our mother-daughter relationship? Surrendering to my mother’s habit continues the pattern of judging a woman’s worth by marriage and children. Plus, it’s just plain annoying. The other starts to dismantle that ideology, even if the change just begins with my mother.
We’re all human, so many of us struggle with similar issues. It’s why I can understand the feelings of fear, loneliness, and inadequacy shared by a 50-year-old, white male who drank cheap whiskey, even though I’m a black woman in my late twenties, and someone who used to exclusively down $15 cocktails at really nice restaurants.
But I can’t deny that women across the country and around the world face different barriers than men. Or that a lot of recovery literature, both past and present, is mostly written for men by men, even if it’s done so subconsciously.
So, the idea of surrendering again and again as a sober, American woman living in this day and age just doesn’t sit well with me.
I don’t think women need to surrender more in recovery. Quite the opposite, actually. When we’re sober, we have the lucidity of mind where we can really feel our emotions and process our thoughts without the veil of alcohol. Sure, the lens might not be fully formed, but we’re able to look at situations and say, “You know, that actually isn’t okay, and I’m not going to let it consume me to where I want a drink to calm down. But I’m not going to let it slide by, either.”
I think, as women, there is a healthy balance. And we need to trust ourselves to find it.