Surrender or Compliance?

Surrender (v)

to yield (something) to the possession or power of another; deliver up possession of on demand or under duress

to give (oneself) up to some influence, course, emotion, etc.

to give up, abandon, or relinquish (comfort, hope, etc.)

Compliance (n)

the act of conforming, acquiescing, or yielding

a tendency to yield readily to others, especially in a weak and subservient way

conformity, cooperation or obedience


Admitted we were powerless over alcohol-that our lives had become unmanageable.

The principle for Step 1 is Honesty, but it can also be said that the virtue is Surrender. In my experience, both are necessary and honesty precedes the necessary surrender. For without true surrender, there can remain a thin veil of self-delusion where one thinks they have “surrendered” but find that cannot stay sober and continue to relapse or participate in other destructive behaviors; all the while remaining baffled as to why they “can’t stay sober” or be happy.

In my experience in the program (and my personal experience with this Step), it is very easy to be in a state of “compliance” while not being in a state of surrender, therefore there is no forward progress in spiritual growth, and what in fact happens is a retrogression further into addiction — a kind of like a slow motion downhill slipping and a continued baffling as to why you just “can’t get it”.


“If we are planning to stop drinking, there must be no reservation of any kind, nor any lurking notion that someday we will be immune to alcohol.”

I think this line from the Big Book probably identifies this all-too-common problem most accurately. In the deep recesses of the mind, this “lurking notion” very subtly hold out hope that one day, I will be able to drink normally. The book refers to this phenomenon many times and just quoting those alone is worthy of a completely separate post about powerlessness.


“We learned that we had to fully concede to our innermost selves that we were alcoholics. This is the first step in recovery.”

Basically, what doesn’t happen in the surrender vs. compliance scenario is this line above from p.30 in the Big Book. In compliance, there is never a full-concession, and therefore a reservation or a “lurking notion” in the acceptance of Step 1. This leads to being in the Fellowship of AA, but not the program. This looks like: going to meetings, getting a commitment, having alcoholic friends, and generally trying to be “in the program” — everything that looks like the person is in the program, but really is just being in the Fellowship.

And there is a big difference between being in the Fellowship and in the Program. The Program is the 12 Steps, working them thoroughly, staying in 10, 11, 12 and sponsoring other people. That’s the program. As I’ve seen quoted many times “Meetings are just bullshit and coffee”. This is not to disparage or downplay the importance of meetings in any way — they have centrality of importance, but they alone will not lead to the “vital psychic change” required for meaningful recovery. Many times people with long term sobriety (and I’m one of them with 25+ years) have relapsed due to becoming “compliant” rather than “surrendered”.

p. 85

“It is easy to let up on the spiritual program of action and rest on our laurels. We are headed for trouble if we do, for alcohol is a subtle foe. We are not cured of alcoholism. What we really have is a daily reprieve based on the maintenance of our spiritual condition.”

This is probably the most ominous line in the book as it accurately describes what happens when we drift out of a surrendered state.

So, how are you doing? Are you in a state of surrender or compliance? Or even worse: Complacency — which almost certainly leads to a bad place.

Best wishes along your journey…

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