It is often said in recovery circles and in some professional addiction treatment centers that for an alcoholic or addict to stay sober they must first hit their ‘bottom’. The trouble with this statement is the ambiguity of a ‘bottom’ and it fails to take into account the individual differences between people. Simply, everyone’s bottoms are different, some people get sober before things get really bad, and others will wait til near death before seeking help. I will discuss why the whole idea of ‘hitting bottom’ can be dangerous and share the experience of people who got sober before they lost everything.
Just Stop Digging
An introspective recovered alcoholic once said, “you hit your bottom when you stop digging”. While the perception has been changing, many people still think to be an alcoholic you must have a D.U.I, liver failure, crashed cars, or be homeless. These things are common for an alcoholic at the peak of their alcoholism, but that does not mean that you have to experience them in order to get sober. In the early 20thcentury, the types of people getting sober were often near-death alcoholics and A.A was the ‘last house on the block’. They had been to therapists, jail, asylums, and sanitariums; nothing had worked. Today we have the experience of hundreds of thousands of alcoholics to reflect upon, so that we do not have to go through all the pain and misery they experienced. This has resulted in a surge of people getting sober who could be called ‘high bottom drunks’, in the sense that they hadn’t gone through the consequences of long-term alcoholism. Maybe they have a good career, a family, and haven’t had any legal troubles, but inside the turmoil of alcoholism is taking a toll on their lives. Sobriety often becomes attractive when the benefits of stopping drinking outweigh the benefits of continuing to drink. Again, this is dependent upon the person. Talking to ‘high bottom’ alcoholics, they often became willing to get sober shortly after they began to experience consequences of drinking. As soon as alcohol began to cause more problems than it solved, they considered getting sober. Other alcoholics, with lower bottoms, experience consequence after consequence from alcoholism but refuse to get sober. Some alcoholics don’t stop drinking until they’ve lost everything and some even drink themselves into prison or death rather than give up alcohol. If you have started experiencing problems because of drinking, don’t keep on and wait to see if things get worse, just stop digging.
Raising the Bottom
As I mentioned earlier, in recent years we have begun to see an influx of newly sober people with their lives still held together nicely. Many of these people are young adults who have not ruined their lives with alcohol but are starting to deal with problems and the pain of alcoholic drinking.
The relatively recent increase in knowledge about addiction and sobriety has allowed people to understand the progression of alcoholism better. We can review the path that alcohol is taking us down and see what is likely in store for our future if we continue. This allows newcomers to avoid the jails, hospital, and asylum visits that were common for alcoholics seventy years ago.
My own personal path to sobriety dealt with slowly lowering my bottom until I found the gift of sobriety and rose out of the hole I had dug with alcohol. I did experience some consequences of alcoholism; misdemeanors, wrecked car, and academic suffering. However, in my denial, I thought that I just had bad luck and the world was against me. The moment I hit my bottom was when I realized I couldn’t continue drinking, but I couldn’t imagine my life without alcohol. This is called the ‘jumping off’ point, where life became a chore and alcohol didn’t provide the relief it originally had. Being young I felt that my age disqualified me as an alcoholic. Listening to the stories of other young sober alcoholics, I realized that if I kept drinking I would hit the same dismal bottom of the worst alcoholic. By raising the bottom, we can stop the advance of the disease of alcoholism before any irreversible damage has been done.