Rock Bottom. When enough is enough 05/23/12
I often hear people talk about hitting their ‘Rock Bottom’, the point at which someone is so low that the only way they can go is up. But what really is a Rock Bottom, and when do you hit it? It is certainly something that varies amongst people. At the recent UKESAD 2012 conference in London, I attended a talk by Dr Rodger Meyer of Cape Town. Part of this was about hitting Rock Bottom, and whether that really is the end point for most people in their addiction cycle. The point being made in the presentation was that often people may feel they have hit their Rock Bottom, but this was often a precursor to hitting yet another worse one. ‘There is always the possibility for one more Rock Bottom. Until, unless someone stops, that Rock Bottom is 6ft down’.
This was certainly my experience in the days when a Vodka and Orange was called ‘Breakfast’. In fact, drinking Orange with the Vodka was in the days when I could still afford the Orange, when I still was married and lived at home with my children, drove a car and miraculously held down a reasonably paid job. My Rock Bottom came when I found myself almost frozen to death in mid January sleeping outside after my wife had thrown me out the house (again). Or did it? How about when I found myself homeless in London at 22, wandering around East London having walked out on the job I had before they sacked me, and therefore losing my bedsit? Or having a nervous breakdown at 19 and living with my parents, but refusing to go home and essentially finding myself living rough, hiding from my Dad’s attempts to find me? Both times I swore never to drink again; both times I soon knew it would be ‘OK this time’ to continue.
Of course, being thrown out the house and then swearing off alcohol for good was still not enough. Was the divorce enough? Letting my family down and not being able to see my kids because I was drunk? Losing work, being homeless again, and being totally alone with absolutely no purpose (for anyone who has not experienced it, this really does feel like loneliness). No. The Doctor gave me a couple of months to live and the psychiatrist talked of sectioning. So I gave up…the Doctor and the psychiatrist. Somehow I did eventually go to an alcohol service. They asked me back when I was a bit more sober and something told me I better had. So I thought I would stop drinking. Two bottles of Vodka a day to zero was a big mistake and one I will never forget, although ironically I can’t actually remember much about that week. Did this stop me? No. I managed to hide my drinking for three weeks from the day programme before losing control again and being right back where I started.
So what did stop me? The simple answer is I don’t know. After treatment I did manage to get a council flat, and I led a period as ‘Functioning Alcoholic’. But I was still managing to get over a bottle of Vodka down me each day. I know now how ill I was, 8 stone in weight (I’m six foot tall), no food, not going out, but at the time I think I was beginning to accept that this was my lot in life. The next Rock Bottom could easily have been the one 6ft down. Then one day, without planning and without any prior thought, something did suddenly happen. It was like my mind slipped away, the dam broke, everything came flooding in. I would almost admit to it being a religious experience (but only to close friends). The pain and panic was incredible. I found myself in the day programme I had been to a couple of years before. I can’t remember going, but that was where I ended up, begging for help. And that was now over 11 years ago. I went to a residential rehab, who were fantastic, started studying, putting my life together. Now I never think about drinking (or using a drug). It seems ridiculous to me to think that being ‘out of my head’ will make life better. And I don’t see the point in drinking for pleasure, as I don’t remember getting too much of that. My family are my family again, and I have been able to have the pleasure of watching my kids grow into adulthood. People often talk of Rock Bottoms as being horrible places to be, and my final one, if that is what it was, from my perspective was truly bad. But without it I accept I would be dead. My worst moment was, indeed, my best moment.
Coming back to Dr Meyer’s talk at UKESAD, he said something that made me think. He said he felt that;
‘Someone stops when the pain of drinking becomes greater than the pain of Recovery’.
That seemed to resonate with me (I even felt a tear). For years I had denied the pain of drinking, thinking it was less painful than being sober. But in the end my denial could not hold the truth from me any longer as the pain of drinking had become too great for me to bear, even more so than Recovery. And Recovery was difficult to begin with, and indeed can be difficult today. But I guess that’s life.