It is often said that addicts and alcoholics will not seek help until they are in such a state where they finally feel out of options. This is called hitting rock bottom. It is almost impossible to tell somebody that they have hit bottom; this conclusion must be the addict’s alone. We seem hell-bent on asserting our control over our addictions. In this post we will explore the illusion of control that keeps us from admitting we have hit rock bottom, why bottom is different for everybody, what happens when we climb out of the hole, and how filling that whole improves the addict’s life.
The Illusion of Control
As the Big Book of Alcoholics states, who cares to admit complete defeat? As addicts, we often rationalize that we can control our drinking. We will go to any lengths to ensure that we can keep using drugs and drinking alcohol. All evidence to the contrary, we will maintain this illusion of control. This can involve the following:
- Becoming a habitual liar
- Hiding our using from friends, families, employers, etc.
- Thinking that by apologizing, we can excuse our behavior
- Telling people that we will quit and actually believing it. (I know I could have passed a lie detector test when telling others that I was going to quit).
- Finding people that are worse addicts than us to feel as if our using really isn’t that bad in comparison
- Ad infinitum!
The Insanity Sets In
Personally, I am guilty of everything on this list. Even when knowing full well that once I started drinking, I would blackout, probably do some stupid things, and waste money on God knows what, I still thought I was in control. This is the definition of insanity. I felt as if I was capable of going to work, earning good money, doing well at school, or whatever, I was above reproach. A lot of addicts are like this. As long as their lives look superficially OK, they believe they are still in control.
I would point to these examples as reasons why I did not need to quit drinking. I just needed to make adjustments. Most addicts and alcoholics try to adjust their lives to their addiction instead of living life on life’s terms. An example would be drinking only when we do not have to work in the morning. The fact that we are aware we would be ridiculously hung over or still drunk when we woke up should be instructive, but it is disregarded in addiction.
Complete Loss of Control
At some point, these rules that we set for ourselves are also dismissed. We have basically lost the choice whether we will use or not. When I got to this point, I would try drinking as soon as I got off work so that I would pass out early enough to make it to work in acceptable fashion. (My standard of acceptable got increasingly worse out of necessity.) The problem with this type of plan is I have no control, so I would stay up much later than intended having no idea what I was doing.
For those who do not understand the dynamics of a blackout, a detailed explanation can be found here.
Rock Bottom is Different for Everybody
Addicts have widely varying accounts of what it means to hit rock bottom. For many, this means the loss of nearly everything worthwhile in life. Overall health may be such that only hospitalization will help the addict. Addicts that succumb to harder drugs often overdose. I’ve personally heard more than twenty accounts of addicts actually dying for a short time before they were brought back to life.
However, some people are able to see the damage caused by drinking and drugging much sooner. There are people who realize that they have a problem earlier in life, and stop. I envy these people. Even though this will sound arrogant, the smarter you are the more trouble you will have in admitting defeat. Intellectuals will concoct all types of plans to avoid admitting they are not in control. These people usually end up alienating friends and family, broke, and all the while wondering what happened.
At the low end of the spectrum, someone may seek help after getting themselves into trouble at work or school or getting their first DUI. For some, this can be enough to trigger admitting that alcohol and drugs have you licked. For these people, treatment may not even be necessary. Perhaps they haven’t even hit that tipping point where their use is classified as addiction.
For many reasons, these people do not have to continually hit new bottoms. After all, there is always a trap door that will bring about a new bottom.
Low (Typical) Bottoms
For most of us, we are not so lucky as to have a little trouble with our use and decide to get help, or if we are not yet addicts, quit. Instead, an addict may be caught committing a crime while not in his right mind. Because these crimes are committed in the pursuit of drug money, it is obvious that all their money goes to drugs. Malnutrition is a problem, as eating well costs money that is not in the budget.
The people the addict hangs out with are ALL fellow addicts. The sole reason that these people hang out is to do drugs, plan ways to get money to buy more drugs, or traveling to get drugs. Obtaining the next high is ALWAYS the dominating thought of low bottom addicts. Many females resort to prostitution to support their habit. This is particularly true for those hooked on heroin.
I’ve hit what should have been considered bottom several times. I racked up several DUI’s before I was even old enough to drink, for example. Because I could not see my life without partying and drinking at such a young age, I continued drinking with only brief periods of sobriety. Because alcoholism is less insidious than a drug such as heroin, I was able to keep my drinking going for a long time.
Although not having a license sucked, friends and family helped me a lot accomplish goals such as earning an MBA, securing a good job, etc. The difference between me drunk all the time and sober is night and day. Today, I am taking it one day at a time and finding that my life has improved immensely.
Climbing Out of the Hole
The important thing for addicts to realize is they do not have to keep digging. Once the addiction is arrested, even for a short time, clearer thoughts start to prevail. Once someone truly enters recovery, they stop creating problems for themselves. This makes it much easier to start anew.
Hitting bottom gives us a wake up call we sorely need. It can be one of the greatest things that can happen to addicts and normies alike. We finally get the chance to take a hard look at ourselves. Most people live life examining nothing they do. They drift through life until the end never really asking themselves what it is all for.
This is not true with the addict. We get to make decisions that will not only better our own lives, but those we care about. We stop deluding ourselves into thinking that everything is all good. Once you hit bottom, you start to question everything. You may find yourself asking the following questions:
- Do I have any true friendships?
- Who do I need to cut out of my life?
- What am I truly good at?
- Where do I see my sobriety taking me in life?
While this is far from an exhaustive list, examining our and others motives is generally a great way to start our journey. As most people who hit rock bottom see themselves living with other sober people by way of rehab, halfway house, etc, these environments allow us time for reflection.
You Get to Let Go
If you have hit bottom, obviously everything that you were doing has stopped working. In most cases, you truly have nothing to lose. You realize that whatever you DO have left to lose will be lost anyway if you continue down the addiction path. When you have lost everything, you can do anything.
You will gain a great deal of humility and compassion, which are without a doubt absent when using. It is impossible to be humble when you insist that everything is OK when it clearly is not. Compassion is gained because you know exactly how it feels to be in the throes of addiction. When others talk of shame, guilt, and fear, you are capable of immense empathy, as you’ve been there before.
External Motivations Begin to Fade
In our addictions, we are typically seeking outside validation that defines our worth. We want the nice car, big house, stylish clothes or whatever. While there is nothing inherently wrong with wanting these things, we realize that it is not what brings true happiness. These should be a byproduct of living a good life.
For me, I want to be great at whatever I pursue. Alcohol always kept me many steps away from greatness. During periods of sobriety, I found myself performing incomparably better than when drinking. Only when I focus on the here and now can I truly be at my best. Instead of worrying about yesterday or tomorrow, I let them take care of themselves. Trust me, they do.
Being comfortable in your own skin is really the ultimate goal. In active addiction, we have a hard time even sitting alone. Too many negative thoughts populate our mind, so we seek out distraction. When we get the point of real self reflection, we can easily relax and know that we are exactly where we should be at that moment.
Fill It Back In
After we have climbed out of the hole and see the light, it is important to not stop there. A great deal of damage has been done to ourselves and those we love. Admitting powerlessness and quitting our substance of choice is great, but the work is just beginning. However, it isn’t just work for work’s sake. It is immensely satisfying righting past wrongs. Regardless of what program you decide to use as your crutch in recovery, most will recommend the following: Trust God, Clean House, and Help Others.
Our best thinking brought us near total ruin. Obviously, trusting ourselves, especially in early recovery, is asinine. God will often speak through other people, so find someone you trust that is living a good life in recovery. Follow their advice even if the why is not readily apparent.
Personally, I try to pray every day as well. The God of your understanding will not be my God, and that is entirely OK. Prayer helps me express what I am striving toward. In general, I just ask that I find a way to be a little better person that I was the day before.
One book I read written for addicts that helped tremendously was “Drop the Rock.” It demonstrated the need to stop carrying around the baggage of the past. It only weighs us down, and inhibits our usefulness to others. If you spend time with those that recovered, you will learn the value of cleaning house.
This also involves making amends to those you have wronged. This is something that you get to eventually in your recovery.
One of the primary reasons that I created this site is that it helps me stay sober. Conducting research and searching my brain for experiences that may help others keeps me grounded. I also get to reach a lot of people.
Addicts find that when they help others, they are not constantly thinking about themselves. Getting outside yourself is important, as we are selfish people. It is important to give away what was so freely given to you.
You Will Be Better
Without a doubt, the longer you genuinely work toward recovery, the better things will get. Obviously, I do not guarantee that everything will take care of itself immediately, but little by little things improve. If after a year of sobriety, things are not better I ask you to come back to this page and tell me it did not work. I know that will not be the case!
Please share this with people who are struggling with addiction. Maybe it will help those realize they really have hit bottom. The primary goal of this article is to raise the bar for what constitutes a bottom so not all is lost before addicts seek recovery.
As always, please leave any comments in the comment section.
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