Pornography addiction recovery – what does it mean to surrender?

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In recovery from pornography addiction – and any other kind of addiction – we’re reminded that we are powerless to overcome this addiction by ourselves, and that in order to recover, we need to surrender. This is hard to understand, and even harder to do.

Addicts often resist the idea of powerlessness or “turning their lives over” (surrendering) to a higher power. Even as Christians, we often give lip service to the idea of turning our lives over to God — but when push comes to shove in the areas of our lives where we really want something, we try to go our own way.

“The quality of your recovery is proportional to the quality of your surrender.” – Anonymous Recovery Saying

Surrendering to God, but not the group is self-delusion
Addiction clouds our ability to understand that we can’t control our sexual lust. In an amazing irony, many Christians use their concept of God as a buffer between them and people in recovery groups. When people in a recovery group challenge them to change behavior, or question the wisdom of some course of action they want to take, they will find spiritual reasons why that group is not very good, and/or not really helping them. I’ve heard people go into theological diatribes about the problems of a certain group, only to learn later that the real problem was that they didn’t want to submit to the course of action being suggested by that group.

To surrender means that you are willing to agree to the terms laid out by the party you are surrendering to. When people say they want to recover, but then are unwilling to do the things they are called on to do as part of their recovery (make calls, attend meetings, work the program, get honest, etc.) … the bottom line is obvious: they are NOT surrendering. They want to recover on their own terms. It never works.

Surrendering doesn’t mean doing nothing

Surrender does not mean someone is no longer responsible for his or her actions or doesn’t need to take action. In fact the opposite is true. To surrender often means being willing to do things that you might not want to do … it might mean taking action when you’d rather do nothing.

Maybe for the first time in their lives, addicts have to take on real accountability for their actions. As a first action step in finding recovery they must reach out and ask for help. And then they need to keep taking action – going to meetings, finding a sponsor, making phone calls… whatever are the next indicated steps for them.

Pornography addiction recovery starts with that first act of surrender, but it is also an ongoing process of surrendering our ego and placing our trust in God as we encounter challenges in life. The more we do this, the more we can experience happiness, joyfulness, and freedom.

I love how Judith Smith clarifies the point that surrender doesn’t mean passivity: “Today I will surrender to that which I cannot control. Surrender does not mean giving up when I need to be persistent; it means letting go of that which I can’t change. Surrender doesn’t mean I stop trying; it means I try, and then I surrender to the outcome.”

Get started working the twelve steps – or the core principles of LIFE groups or Celebrate Recovery groups – by first of all attending meetings regularly. If you are in an area where you have no meetings to go to, send me an email, and we can talk about your options. You will discover what millions of other people have learned: recovery is a group activity.

9 thoughts on “Pornography addiction recovery – what does it mean to surrender?”

  1. Mark:

    After having been sexually sober six years surrender is still remains an intriguing topic for me. It is definitely a paradox. In the early days I never understood how surrendering led to victory. Surrendering is giving up isn’t it? What I have learned is that surrender means to surrender the right to fight this on my own terms in my own way.

    When I did my first step it was a process of being faced with the fact that my best thinking got me where I was and my best thinking was not going to get me out. I realized that I was going to have to submit to the authority and wisdom of those that came before me. I needed to replace my best thinking with the best thinking of others that have succeeded.

    I really appreciate your point that surrender means not doing nothing. It really means doing the things that others (who know what they are talking about) guide you to do. It means giving up on my own plan and following the best thinking of others that have been successful.

    Thanks for the good post.

  2. Thanks for the comment VIP. I love how you put it there at the end: “[Surrender] really means doing the things that others (who know what they are talking about) guide you to do. It means giving up on my own plan and following the best thinking of others that have been successful.” That encapsulates it very well. I appreciate you comments.

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  4. I am beginning to understand that the use of pornography is a very bad solution to a developmental problem which begins with early isolation. Some children, growing up isolated emotionally, elect to use sex as a source of comfort when none is forthcoming from caregivers. Pornography is one source of sexual arousal which blocks emotional pain. God is not the pivotal character in this play. Surrender really means allowing trusted others into one’s zone of isolation, allowing them to help one to make different choices which further break down isolation. People usually use pornography by themselves, with one other who also views the pornography, or in shielded places which are protected from public scrutiny. This zone of isolation is usually very separate from the rest of one’s life, especially one’s public identity. Addictions (food, gambling, sex, drugs, alcohol) recruit distorted thinking in order to continue a dysfunctional pattern of emotional survival. It is difficult to trust that there is a better way if the addictive pattern is all that you have ever known.

  5. Rob – thanks for your insightful comments about the development of addiction when someone turns to porn at a young age. I think the interesting – and challenging – thing about internet pornography is that it’s so powerful that it has the ability to suck people into its grip, even if they don’t have a history of early childhood trauma. Internet pornography has been called the crack cocaine of sex addiction … and just like crack changed the rules in the fight against drug addiction, so does internet pornography. In any case, the issue of surrender that you talk about in your comments is the same if one is going to heal. Thanks again for the comments!

  6. I want to thank you for your insight on what it really means to surrender in this article. Over the past 5 months, I’ve read everything pertaining to recovery that I could get my hands on, but I’ve not found a more clear, sensible treatment of this topic anywhere.

    You truly have a gift for making complex, elusive concepts come clearly into focus.  Thank you very much for choosing to serve as you do.

  7. I am so thankful I happened upon your site today. I am actively involved in a SA 12 step group but I’m not doing much else w/ regards to my addiction recovery. I get hung up on the idea of ‘surrendering’ and am so tired and frustrated when I hear or read about others’ success stories and how it was a key step to their growth and change and recovery. I am a faithful Christian, but surrendering doesn’t necessarily mean turning everything over to God. I know that now. Surrendering means actually DOING something: making calls and reaching out, working the steps, visiting w/ a therapist, etc. What is it going to take for me to finally let go and surrender? One simple prayer to God won’t solve the problem. Unless I start taking action, I know I will continue to hurt and feel sad and lonely and only find solace through my addictions.

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