Many people ascribe to the idea that in order to recover from alcoholism or addiction, the individual has to reach what is called “rock bottom”, or a point so low in their addiction that they are willing to do the work to get sober and recover. But how do we define rock bottom? The truth is that despite the fact that most “rock bottom” stories seem to involve dramatic events and breathtaking tragedies, rock bottom is different for everyone. It can be a series of external horrors or simply an internal shift in attitude. In order to make recovery accessible to everyone, it’s important that we make room for each individual to define rock bottom for themselves.
How We Traditionally Define Rock Bottom
Most people define rock bottom as the point at which our behavior and lives in active addiction become so unbearable that we must do something to change. Twelve-step literature, specifically the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions book used in Alcoholics Anonymous, says that “few people will sincerely try to practice the AA program unless they have hit bottom” (page 24.) The idea is that most people won’t be desperate enough to do the work to recover until they are absolutely out of options and unable to continue living in addiction.
The general idea of rock bottom includes tragedies like losing a loved one, being homeless, or overdosing. While all of these consequences can be someone’s bottom, the truth is that rock bottom doesn’t have to come from any certain event. Unfortunately, sometimes it can seem like something doesn’t qualify as rock bottom unless it is a life-altering, tragic external event. In recovery, there can be a tendency to compare- as in, “my life didn’t get that bad, I wasn’t that addicted or sick, I probably don’t need to do all of this work in order to recover.”
The danger that comes up when we define rock bottom in terms of external consequences is that some people will never experience those consequences and may feel they don’t need to get sober, even when addiction is hurting them. The other potential consequence of a narrow definition of rock bottom is that it doesn’t take into account the fact that emotional and internal consequences of drug use and drinking can be more than sufficient reasons for someone to get sober. We don’t have to lose everything to recover, and the idea that we do can result in unnecessary tragedy and pain for many people.
Rock Bottom is Personal
There are essentially two broad categories of consequences: external and internal. The experience of external consequences is usually how people define rock bottom. This includes consequences like:
- Losing a job
- Overdosing or having a medical emergency as the result of drinking or drug use
- Becoming homeless
- Losing important relationships
- Becoming financially destitute
- Legal consequences such as being arrested
All of these events can define rock bottom for someone, and many people end up choosing recovery after experiencing external consequences that cause them to realize that drinking and drugging are ruining their lives and dreams. However, internal consequences can also be rock bottom. This includes things that aren’t tangible, but that hurt nonetheless, such as:
- Feeling hopeless
- Knowing that we are dependent on drugs or alcohol and wanting something more from life
- Feeling disconnected from those around us
- Being unable to be fully present for loved ones
- Having a poor self-image or depression as the result of using and drinking
What To Do Once We Hit Rock Bottom
The truth is that we don’t have to experience a dramatic external consequence to hit rock bottom and that every individual’s rock bottom is personal and more than enough to “qualify” them to choose recovery. My rock bottom may not be as severe as yours, or may be more severe than someone else’s (at least on paper.) However, the point is that we can define rock bottom as the point at which we decide that the things we have lost and the consequences we have experienced are not worth the continued use of drugs and alcohol. A good way to define rock bottom is that it’s the point at which we choose recovery over the pain of active addiction, no matter what the details of our stories may be.
For people who have decided that they have had enough of the pain of active addiction and alcoholism, help is available. If you need treatment for a drug or alcohol problem, call Wellness Retreat Recovery today at 888-821-0238 for information on our addiction treatment programs.