Today, I want to talk about surrender. 

It is, by far, one of the most important lessons that I have come to learn and one that took the longest. 

In surrendering to life, addiction, and mental illness, I have found freedom. But to get there, I had to acknowledge that I can not control the actions or decisions of my friends, family, neighbors, or strangers, and in order to experience freedom, I also had to learn to be at peace with that recognition.

In Al Anon, there is a common phrase stemming from the 3 C’s of addiction recovery. The phrase serves as an affirmation to help us to surrender and discover where we still have free will.

“I didn’t cause it, I can’t cure it, I can’t control it, but I can cope with it, if I choose.”

Al Anon Declaration of “The 4 C’s”

The concept of surrender can apply to any circumstance, any person, any thing. It’s not a justification for apathy or lack of action but it is a tried-and-true fact and it provides me with the freedom I need to cope. 

I didn’t cause the diagnosis, the addiction, or the situation. I can’t control its outcome or the reinforcement of it. I can’t fix it with my words, my worry, or my actions. But I can face it. I can detach with love. And I can walk away when I feel at a loss, knowing that I am not and never really was, in control.

Sitting with my brother in conversation recently, I was reminded of these 3 c’s. And this time, there were moments where I allowed myself to say out loud, that I didn’t know what to say. I spoke from the only truth that I could feel at the time. 

“I’m worried about you. I’m here for you. I don’t know what to do.”

I can’t cure my brother’s depression or bipolar disorder and I can’t always trust that he’s following up with his appointments, medicine, or hygiene. But I can be present in the moments I am with him whether in person or in-thought and I can provide what little I am in control of: hope, love, and my presence. 

Whether our loved ones are receptive to our hope, love, encouragement, or frustration, or not, we have the choice to be present and witness our loved ones, and we have the choice to walk away. They are both difficult and yet loving choices of surrender. Bearing witness to someone’s experience, without having sway over it, and walking away from someone’s grief when our boundaries are being infringed upon.

I used to feel profound guilt for not being able to help or fix my brother’s often painful experience of mental illness. But through the years and with various repeated patterns of offered help and refusal, I have discovered that the best that I can do is answer the phone when he calls and take my actions one day at a time. Some days I have more energy and encouragement to show up in-person, write him a letter, send a text, make a phone call, send presents, but other days I know that the deep love, patience, and faith that I have in him is just as present when I am resting and caring for myself, as it is when I am showing up announced and unannounced.

While life still provides me with a sense of urgency to come running for him, to show up and push through the doors that go unopened no matter how much I knock, to sit beside the bed, to let go of ALL expectations, and to do my best to stay centered and grounded so that he can be met with peace … sometimes, all I know how to do is breathe, and acknowledge that I don’t know what to do. And that is always better than doing nothing at all. 

And once the urgency has faded, I have to yet again muster up enough energy, courage, and self love to walk away. I need to yet again surrender to the circumstances, knowing that it is truly all that I can do.