It was about 5am one morning in 2007. I had been binge drinking and topping that off with various pharmaceuticals for the past 48 hours. My supply of pills was gone, and the boos were starting to wear off. Those God-awful DTs had begun.
As I lie on the floor sweating, the only thing I could do to stop the room from spinning was stare as some tree limbs that I could see out my window. As they would sway back and forth from the wind, I would intermittently hallucinate and see the branches blend together. On one side of me was a bucket to throw up in and on the other was some water that I would try to force down every now and again. I couldn’t stay still because it felt like bugs were crawling all over me.
The only way that I can ever really describe withdrawals to people, is to imagine the worst flu you have ever had and combine it with the worst panic attack. Pure hell. If you can imagine any of that in the slightest, it might make sense to you as to why, even in the midst of continuing to destroy their own lives, the addict will be able to think about nothing except that next drink or drug. All we really want in those moments are to stop feeling that physical hell.
As I sat in my misery, I can still remember the Pink Floyd song “Comfortably Numb” playing in my head. I remember thinking, “I can’t do this anymore. Something has to change. I want to die. I want to do something different.”
I wish I could tell you that I had finally hit bottom that day – that enough was enough. I wish I could tell you that that was when my journey into sobriety began. But it wasn’t. In fact, my hell continued for three more years, and it got worse – much worse.
What Does it Mean to Hit Bottom?
We hear the term “hitting bottom” all the time, but what does it actually mean? If you’re someone who is struggling with substance abuse, how do you really know when you’ve hit bottom?
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines hitting bottom as, “to reach the lowest point, state, or condition.” I think one of the greatest lessons that I was taught in my early recovery, was that while everyone’s external bottom is different (loss of jobs, legal troubles, divorce, extreme depression), the internal bottom – that place of complete desperation where you are so empty inside that you want anything different – is the same for everyone. In other words, when it comes to what we are feeling on the inside, everyone’s bottom is essentially the same.
Why is this important? Two reasons. For one, it’s so important that we stress to people who are suffering, that they do NOT have to go extremely far down before deciding to get help. While many of us lost everything before deciding to get sober, that is absolutely NOT a requirement.
The second reason it’s important is because many people in early sobriety will often want to compare their story’s to another person’s. While there are some positive aspects to this, it becomes dangerous when it’s the only thing we try to relate in another sober person.
For example, the first time I came into contact with people in sobriety, I told myself that I couldn’t relate because I hadn’t done all of the terrible things they were talking about from their past.
“I can’t be an alcoholic,” I thought. I have never and would never do anything of these things.
All it took was a nasty relapse to help increase my scorecard on the damage I did to my life while drinking.
The next time I came to back to the recovery community, I did the opposite. I started to think I was so much worse than everyone else.
“These people just can’t understand me,” I thought. “They haven’t been through anything like I have.”
And so, I went back to my destructive ways again.
If I had just listened to the universal things – the things that we ALL have in common when we decide our old way of life isn’t working for us. If I had listened to the adjectives like “misery,” or “emptiness.” If I had listened to people describe how once they started drinking, they just could not stop, no matter the consequences. If I had just opened my ears and heard about how spiritually broken these people were when they decided to make a change – those things, I could have definitely related to. But I wasn’t ready.
So for me, hitting bottom is really what happens on the inside of an alcoholic. We may all have different external things that get us there, but the point is that we get there. The point is also, that it’s not a requirement for the external forces to be downright devastating.
How Can We Help Someone Hit Bottom?
Being a family member or friend of an active alcoholic/addict is so painful and exhausting. I have been on both sides of that coin. I think that for many, it’s natural to think that if you put a,b,c,d into place for them, it can only help them get better. I will only speak for myself as to how I finally got to a place where I wanted to change.
For years, my parents had bailed me out of every crappy situation that I had gotten myself into. If I needed money, they gave it to me. If I needed rushed to detox, they took me there. If I needed someone to feel sorry for me, they did. It was the same with friends. I was a manipulative and emotional vampire to anyone who came around me. I didn’t really have much of a reason to do anything different for the longest time. I mean, if every time you run into trouble (that you created) and someone bails you out, what motivation would most anyone have to do something different, let alone a self-centered person in the middle of their addiction.
For me, I had to lose that enabling security blanket. I had to run out of options. It had to get to a place for me, where the only options that I had left were to either get sober or die. Thankfully I chose to get sober.
I am so grateful to my friends and family for finally getting out the way and allowing me to get to that jumping off place. I am so appreciative to the sober people that taught me how to live a life without chemical dependency. I am beyond thankful for the people in the recovery community who were brutally honest with me and willing to tell me the truth about myself. All of these things are what ultimately saved my life.
The Hard Truth
A wise person once taught me that the greatest gift that we can give any alcoholic, is to let them hit bottom as fast as they can. The sooner they get to that jumping off place – the sooner they run out of options, and the sooner that they decide the pain of their current lifestyle outweighs the pleasure, the sooner they have a chance to get help.
Too many people are dying. It’s time we all start looking at what we can do to be a part of the solution.