There’s lot of talk about bottoms that happens in and around recovery.
And we ain’t talking Daisy Dukes, y’all.
It’s something we hear in the public vernacular, especially when it comes to another fall from grace from someone more often found in Star magazine rather than star-k naked and running around traffic in some sort of “state”. It’s bandied around like some sort of mythical place where your time card is punched and you get to take a seat in the game of life – you’ve been hit by that dodgeball, now sit out, young’n. “Rock bottom” is perceived to be something so horrible, so painful, so soul-crushing that there is no other way than up, and without it, we still flail around, bottle in hand.
And there’s much truth to all of this.
In the 12-step basic text, the word “bottom” isn’t used. Not once, if memory serves me correctly. But, they certainly discuss what a bottom does look like (for those who are keeping score, they do mention the word “bottom” in the 12 x 12). Phrases like “bitter morass of self-pity”, “pitiful and incomprehensible demoralization.”, and about going “on to the bitter end, blotting out the consciousness of our intolerable situation as best we could” describe to me the landscape of what our drinking looks like. Those aren’t descriptors you’d put on a Match.com profile, certainly. Those are the things we feel and see in ourselves to such a degree that looking in the mirror is no longer an option.
I know a lot of folks, face-to-face, and in the blogging community, who struggle. We all know someone who struggles. On and off drinking. In and out of the rooms. Dodging cars on the expressway. There is the sense that something isn’t quite there yet. There is the sense that there is one piece missing in the puzzle. No matter how much one reads, or talks about recovery, or goes to meetings, etc. there is one thing that nags and keeps them away from sobriety.
And that thing is pain. The pain when the fear of drinking finally outweighs the fear of not drinking.
When I was in treatment, there was a guy I befriended. Our love of Monty Python bonded us and we’d quip lines from obscure skits, trying to trip each other up. The sense I got from him was that while he took Python seriously, recovery was something else entirely. I never got the feeling that he was broken enough, or hurt enough to be there. He had a hard time with opening up, and he was more interested in getting back to his job than in working the steps or distinguishing himself as an alcoholic. One day, he got pulled into the office by a counsellor and was quite simply told that perhaps what he needed was to go back out and “get some more pain”. What?? A treatment counsellor telling him to go back and drink more? Was that guy insane?
I get it now. We were all shocked by that and he was hurt and his pride wounded. But I understand what the counsellor was saying. I get the sense from many folks that I meet is that the pain isn’t deep enough yet. The lurking notions are still there, that while part of them is saying “no more, please”, the broken part of their spirit is still saying “yes, barkeep another, and make it a double”. I know that because I have been there. In pain, but not in enough pain. Ready to drop dead in mind, body and spirit, but that spark still alight in me that told me drinking was still the solution. That I was overreacting. That I just needed a few days rest. That next time, it would be different.
You see, hitting bottom for me wasn’t about the externals. People have the idea that hitting bottom is all about the DUI’s, divorce, bankruptcy, homelessness, etc. That is far from true. Those do happen to us sometimes when we get into the ugliness of consequences, but the consequences themselves aren’t the bottom. They may be part of it, on the surface. I got arrested on a DUI, got booted out of the house, was jobless, had no access to my son, and had nothing else going for me except discarded empties. You’d think that that special day in my life was my rock bottom? Guess again. I drank about a week or so after. Just a dull, boring, pathetic, lonely drunk.
And that was my last bottom. And you know what all bottoms sound like? They sound like this “I can’t do this anymore. Help me please anyone”. That’s bottom. That was bottom for me, at least. It had nothing to do with what was going on around me. It was all an inside job. The moment my ego cracked just enough to allow the light of the Creator in and to realize that I needed help, that I couldn’t do it any more, that I had ran out of ideas completely, that was my bottom. My bottom was that fear of drinking finally tipping the scale the other way. I knew that if I kept drinking, I would die. There was nothing drinking could do for me any more. I was getting worse at a rate that frightened me to the core. Alcohol ceased working for me. I just didn’t want to live that way anymore.
You see how that works? I used to do the old alcoholics prayer of “Dear God help me – I promise not to drink again if you get me through this!” over and over again, and when I got just well enough to take a pull from a bottle, I was there. Promise forgotten, like all my other promises, lost in the dingy shadow of my juggernaut alcoholism. But this time it was different. There was a deeper complexion to my plea. I felt absolutely broken and horse whipped. I saw no other way but up. I couldn’t conceive of going down any further. This was the floor I got dumped out of on the elevator which only headed south. This was the last stop on the train of destruction.
One need not have to go through the horrible things that many of go through. One need not be incarcerated, arrested, put in detox, sent to treatment, divorced, etc. to hit bottom. I know some folks who successfully stopped drinking long before those things happened. They saw the writing on the wall long before I did, and realized that they hit bottom the same way we all did…but still had jobs, spouses, etc. It’s not about what we have lost on the outside, but what we’ve fractured on the inside. Experiencing that crushing feeling that comes just before asking for help. Knowing deep in our heart that our next drink could land us in the grave. Knowing that we’d go even more insane. Knowing that we were tossing away what little of ourselves we managed to hold onto, like a scrap of cloth.
Pain. It comes down to pain. It wasn’t until I could fully concede that I was alcoholic and that my life was clearly unmanageable and that everything I touched turned to dust and that of my own, I was nothing…then nothing was going to change. Sure I knew I was an alcoholic for some time, but not really. I left some wiggle room. It’s the wiggle room that kills. It’s the wiggle room. Leave that space open and alcoholism and ego will use it like a light sabre to shred the rest of our lives up. Upon closing the loopholes was when my life started to change. Getting rid of those notions of perhaps being able to drink again was when things shifted in me. When I took the beer goggles off and saw things for what they truly were…then the metamorphosis could truly start.
For those out there who are still struggling, I know this is not uplifting news. But this is not a pronouncement, a declaration or a prediction. I am just passing on my experience. And my experience has shown me, and in others, that we don’t hit that bottom until we stop holding onto the idea that we can still drink like others. We don’t hit bottom until we stop holding on the idea that we can heal ourselves on our own. We don’t hit bottom until we stop holding on to the idea that we’re different than other alcoholics (“terminal uniqueness” is what it’s called). We don’t hit bottom until we stop holding on the to idea that I’ll manage. In trying to stay sober, I can distract myself all I want, I can reward myself all I want, I can look at how much money I have saved all I want, but in the end, it’s where am I inside? Have I truly hit bottom?
The moment I let go of all those things, I was on my journey, on my new path. And remaining sober and happy requires that I continue to do those things. That’s because those things do not go gently into that night. They like to come back…over and over. And the more I learn to handle them, using the tools at my disposal, the less effective they are on me, the less sway they hold over me. What a gas – I get to handle things like a grown up! Yipee! I always wanted to be a grown up. As they say, I may not have had the hardest childhood, but I certainly had the longest.
And the only way I can grow is from the bottom up.
The tragic thing is that so many of us never hit bottom. Instead we bottom out and die. Simple as that. Sad as that. The great news is that I have seen many of us struggle finally get to that place of illumination and clarity and move into successful sobriety. I have seen it here on the blogs even. I have seen those struggled with alcoholism and doubted whether they really were alcoholic, or who doubted the process or who continued to ask “why me?” when they drank again and again. I have seen those people hit bottom in an unremarkable or remarkable way and then just fly from there. They got it. They felt the pain enough. They got down to brass tacks and those tacks punctured the ego and they got to work. And they are uplifting, inspiring people that I continue to watch grow today.
Bottoms aren’t evil. They feel like an egg cracking on the inside. but they are the hard ground we need to hit, so that we can start our journey of healing. They become the touchstone of change. And I don’t believe in “high” bottom or “low” bottom as much as I believe in “functioning” or “non-functioning” alcoholic. To me, bottom is bottom and alcoholic is alcoholic. And for this booze-pig, bottom was enough to secure me a life of happiness, serenity and love.
Booze not need apply.