What is “Rock Bottom” – Is it a Destination?

October 1, 2016
Solace Sabah

Rock bottom is said to be the pit of despair, in which devastation is so total that the only way is up and out of it. Most people tell addicts who have gone out on a binge or have relapsed that unless they have reached this place, they would not give up their addiction. For some people, rock bottom happens after seeing minor changes in life that have seemingly personal dramatic outcomes like gaining one kilogram of weight; whilst others, it may be a lifelong jail sentence. For most people, rock bottom finds itself somewhere between these two extremes. Sadly, many will never find their rock bottom, and it is in their name that I write against waiting for this illusive destiny of changing once having hit “rock bottom”. 

It is this crowd of people who teach us that rock bottom is not a destination, but a state of mind: some people have it and others, don’t. Furthermore, it is absurd to wait for rock bottom to treat addiction if it is regarded as an illness because will one wait for an asthmatic to stop breathing before treating him/her or would one wait for a cancer patient to succumb to his/her cancer prior to treatment? It’s far too late and I like what one reddit posting had to say about rock bottom that sums up the need to treat addiction before so-called “rock bottoms”: “Rock bottom is a six-foot hole in a cemetery. If you’re not there yet; you’ve got hope!”

How did we get a philosophy of “Rock Bottom” being a destination?

According to the AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) movement, which began in 1935, addicts would not have the means of recovery unless they had reached a pit of despair that had the power to change their course of life. The attitudes and behaviors necessary for a daily reprieve of addiction came from practicing what was termed as “spiritual principles”, which could only come about from a complete psychic change that was a result of significant despair, remorse, and regret of the addictive lifestyle. As it states in the big book of AA states that: “…Who wishes to be rigorously honest and tolerant?... No average alcoholic, self-centered in the extreme, doesn’t care for this prospect – unless he has to do these things in order to stay alive himself.” [3]

Yet, most AAs practice “high bottoms” or borrow their rock bottoms from other people who have had it worse off than themselves. Furthermore, they encourage newcomers to adopt this perspective to avoid unnecessary suffering and pain, which will inevitably follow a serious rock bottom. Hence, even the originators of “rock bottom” as a destination for complete recovery, do not suggest one to experience the full wrath of what this ominous place has in store for the stubborn and rebellious.

The Safer Option: Hitting Recovery Before Hitting “Rock Bottom”!

What does it mean to hit recovery before hitting rock bottom? Below are some things either you or a loved one could do to avoid reaching rock bottom, yet get the outcomes of a fruitful recovery:

1)     Stop comparing recoveries! – When we begin to realize that our addiction brought us to a bad enough place and we stop comparing how bad others got as a means to justify continuous addiction, we will open ourselves up to the fruits of our own recovery.

2)     Adopt a recent negativity as a personal rock bottom of sorts – Carefully look at an honest inventory of losses due to addiction and adopt them as a rock bottom of sorts. It doesn’t need to be dramatic or horrific to qualify. The fact that it is a “loss” qualifies enough to be reason for change.

3)     Adopt somebody else’s rock bottom – If there is persistence to find a really destructive rock bottom, then, listen, read, and be open to the horrific experiences of others who have just come out of active addiction. Let their story inspire you or your loved one to seek help before it inevitably strikes. Addiction ultimately ONLY leads to one of three outcomes: Jails, Institutions, and Death!

4)     Get help as soon as possible – If you or your loved one has lived unmanageably due to the intake of chemicals and or certain deviant behaviors, seek help immediately without waiting for rock bottoms.

5)     Belief in the upward spiral – Many people talk about the downward spiral and how fear is a motivating factor for change. How about the upward spiral and the ability to improve our lot in life? Ask yourself or your loved one, what you/he/she wants most in life and if treatment is the first step in getting there, take the plunge! Experience indicates that positive motivation works better than fear aversion as a means for self-improvement, and addiction treatment is the ultimate attempt at improving oneself!

Why is it important to disregard “rock bottom” as a destination?

There have been many tragedies that have occurred resultant of believing in some ethereal “rock bottom” in existence. Ultimately, it stops addicts from taking action presently when it is necessary to get treatment for their addiction. There are other reasons why it is important to disregard “rock bottom” from being part of the recovery paradigm, such as:

i)   Addict vulnerability -  Telling an addict that he/she is incapable of change unless he/she has experienced “rock bottom” denies the very vulnerabilities they have experienced in active addiction. It also encourages them to go out and experience the addiction until it gets really bad, and for some it may actually lead them to death itself!

ii)   Hopelessness – “Rock Bottoms” fit in with a “hopelessness or powerlessness” paradigm. It removes the addict from any notion of being responsible for his/her life by beginning the recovery process as soon as possible. Addicts are indeed hopeless/powerless when in active addiction, but once recovery is attained, they are then empowered to live a life worth their salt!

iii)  Futility and waste of useful lives – Addicts in active addiction, no matter where they are on the addictive spectrum are a uniquely gifted resource to the world if only they would get their act straight. Many have died in the attempt to reach that illusive frontier called, “rock bottom”, resulting in much loss of untapped talent. The futility of this loss of usefulness to humankind is much grieved and could be avoided by not giving into the wispiness of reaching “rock bottom” as a means to begin recovery!

iv)   Uncaring and unhelpful – Usually people who exert that unless one has reached “rock bottom” or is done with it, want little to do with the person who is struggling with addiction. This is an uncaring and unhelpful strategy to protect oneself in recovery so as not to get too emotionally involved with someone who is a danger to him/herself and others. Such boundaries will help those who are trying to keep sober, but in the long run, is uncaring and unhelpful to the one who is seeking help to recover. What’s needed is to refer the person in question to an authority who can help rather than give uncaring or unhelpful advice. Support the person in his/her struggles, which in the long run will still uplift one’s recovery anyhow. Hence, there is no need to pursue the argument for “rock bottoms” as a means to vilify addicts into recovery.

The difference at Solace Sabah Addiction Retreat!

Here at Solace Sabah, we endeavor to help you or your loved one till you or your loved one loves yourselves. We refrain from asking our clients to reach “rock bottom” as we recognize its futility and damage. Hence, rest assured, you or your loved one will be well looked after when you come to us!

[1] A quote from “Soberdude1”, taken from: https://www.reddit.com/r/REDDITORSINRECOVERY/comments/3z3xje/the_concept_of_hitting_rock_bottom/

[2] Taken from: http://nymag.com/scienceofus/2016/05/the-tragic-pseudoscientific-practice-of-forcing-addicts-to-hit-rock-bottom.html

[3] Taken from Ibid.

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