"The world is a terrifying place. We manage it by believing we can control it. And when it hasn’t been controlled—when it doesn’t bend to our wills—we either look for something to blame, or we surrender."
from the essay SuperBabies Don't Cry, by Heather Kirn Lanier
My daughter had a favorite children's book we read often. Piggie Pie was a hilarious retelling of fairy tales and nursery rhymes. One particular riff on Wizard of Oz had a wicked witch broom-writing above Old MacDonald's farm: Surrender Piggies!
No way were those piggies going to surrender. Not to Gritch the Witch. In fact, they were already disguised. They were undoubtedly going to outsmart the wicked Gritch.
Surrender. It feels a whole lot like failure, doesn't it? Like weakness. Giving up.
Especially in our amped-up fight-like-hell culture.
Indeed, dictionary definitions of surrender focus on defeat. Except for this one: "to yield oneself".
To yield. To make way for something else. To take your foot off the gas pedal and wait.
In the wake of betrayal, we expect ourselves to act. Faced with our partner's choice, made without our input, beyond our control, we often compel ourselves to take control. And yet, for many of us, never has control felt so elusive.
Not only can't we control whether he continues his affair or not, whether he continues to lie to us or not, whether he stays and fights for us or not, we realize that the control we thought we had all along was an illusion.
The world is a terrifying place. Ask anyone who's experienced a sudden tragic accident, a life-changing diagnosis, death, assault... And so many of us adopt the illusion of control because the alternative – accepting the randomness, the casual cruelty, the lottery luck of life – is too frightening.
I did it.
I believed that, after a chaotic childhood in which I controlled nothing, least of all my parents' addictions and consequent behaviour, I could control my adult life. And, of course, there were things I could control. Where I worked, for instance. Where I lived. Who I spent my time with.
But I bought the fantasy that there was a power that could prevent rejection or loss or failure or betrayal. I convinced myself that if I could unlock the secret formula that created a blissful life, it would be mine too. Perfection, I became certain, was the key.
And perfection was something I could control. It simply meant always looking good, always pleasing, always performing, always improving. It meant ensuring that everyone around me understood their importance, their value. It meant being available to them. It meant being whoever they needed me to be.
It meant sacrificing myself for some fantastical guarantee that they would never abandon me.
And when it all blew up in my face (it blew up more than once. I'm a slow learner) with my husband's betrayal, I had one more choice to make. Was I going to look around and find someone to blame for what happened? Or was I going to surrender?
I chose blame for a year at least. I blamed my parents at first. My husband's betrayal unearthed some long-buried trauma that I enthusiastically excavated and flung in the faces of my parents who, to their credit, loved me through it.
I moved onto the Other Woman. This was her fault. Her fault and the fault of every Other Woman who takes what isn't hers.
It was my husband's fault. Him with his missing moral compass. Him with his lies.
And persuasive arguments could be made that the blame for my situation lay at the feet of all of these people. Add in popular culture, add in social media with its click-to-get-laid technology, add in my husband's parents, the list goes on.
Ultimately though where did blame get me?
Surrender though? Now we're talking.
Surrender wasn't failure at all. And it certainly wasn't weakness.
Surrender was yielding. Surrender was an acceptance that this was my situation and no amount of mud-slinging was going to change a damn thing.
In a novel I've been reading, one of the characters gets in a physical fight and remembers something he learned in a martial arts class. Rather than continue to kick and flail when your opponent has you up against a wall, you go limp. You surrender. And in that act, you throw your opponent off. You become dead weight. Your opponent relaxes his grip.
When we surrender to our new reality, we're no longer expending our energy kicking and flailing at the universe, at our fate. When we're not railing against the injustice that this shouldn't have happened to us (and why not? awful things happen to good people all the time), we can focus on our injury. We can begin to heal ourself.