You have lost it all. You are in a crack house, alone. Needles. Hookers. No food. Shit everywhere.
Do you really need to hit rock bottom before you are ready for recovery? Not at all. In reality, hitting rock bottom may be the worst thing that could ever happen to you.
What is your rock bottom?
Rock bottom is a popular myth that we often think of in addiction recovery. It’s not scientific and in reality, its destructive. Imagine telling someone who is depressed that they have to hit “Rock Bottom” before things will get better. Or diabetic. Or with cancer. Hitting rock bottom before we are ready for change just means that we have depleted all of our hope, our energy and support. Rock bottom will only set us up for more failure, rather than leaving in tact the hope, energy and support necessary to support the changes that we need.
What if I had waited for that elusive bottom? I hadn’t been arrested, hadn’t overdosed, etc. If I thought, well, I’d like to quit but I guess it won’t work until I hit rock bottom, I would likely still be using or, more likely, I would be dead. Saying an addict needs to “hit bottom” may allow them to put treatment off as long as they wake up to see another day. Who’s to say what each person’s “rock bottom” looks like, after all?
Rock bottom is a myth because it is impossible to define consistently. Some people say that ‘Rock Bottom’ is coming to the end of yourself and your ability to manage your life or your addiction. For some of us, that happens every day. When I was in my worst depression, I felt this way every day. But it wasn’t motivating. I felt empty, alone and unable to change. Rock Bottom nearly destroyed me.
In reality, behavior does not change when you come to the end of yourself or your ability to manage. It’s not Rock Bottom that does it. For some people, they just get worse and worse… but not because they haven’t gone far enough. You change when you get honest, when you listen to the concerns and the anger and the hurt in your own life, and in the lives of those you care about. And you change when you begin to put in effort.
“People are actually more likely to recover when they still have jobs, family, and greater ties to mainstream society, not less… What the literature shouts at us about treating addiction: that it’s best done by providing addicts with empathy, support, and healthy social networks — not by snatching these vital lifelines from them.” Maria Szalavitz
Taylor Conroy did not drink his way to rock bottom, and he wasn’t suicidal. He was a millionaire. He was successful. He spoke to large crowds. But he lost his way. He lied. He went bankrupt because he spent more money than he had. People who trusted him lost their jobs.
He talks about hitting rock bottom, but not because he found himself in a crack house. His rock bottom happened on a sunny day. He just woke up. He thought about his life.
For Taylor, change happened when “I owned every part of that failure. It was my fault. And, that’s okay, because adversity, failure, feels like we’re walking through mud – that’s because we’re walking through the lessons.”
“For me, it was the chance to finally open up and be vulnerable.”
It wasn’t losing it all that held Taylor back. It was shame. Pretending that he was okay, lying to himself and his friends prevented him from learning anything from his personal crash. He learned rock bottom is the willingness to be honest, to look yourself in the mirror, to be willing to change and to become a better person.
Three ways to create a new vision of your rock bottom
Part of what motivates him today is that he believes that it is time to recreate failure, to create a new vision of what rock bottom really is. For Taylor, finding a way through rock bottom involves three things:
1.Own it – take accountability. Accountability for decisions that you have made is difficult. But it will help you to create a new normal. There is another side of accountability that is often overlooked, that is the accountability for this moment. You may have made choices that you are not proud of, choices that have hurt you and hurt people you care about. But you have today. You have a choice, right now. Being accountable for yourself means that you take account of the choices that you have. Click here to learn more about the choices that you have.
2.Be grateful – No matter how bad things feel, you have something to be grateful for. You are alive. You have breath. You have now, the present. You have your health, or at least you can become more healthy. You have food. You have shelter. Every day make your list, and review it. Regret will pull you back into rehearsing and rehashing. Anxiety will push you into a future that may never come. The only way that you can learn what you need to learn from your “Rock Bottom” is to learn to live today. Go outside and take a breath. Be grateful for what you have, for who you have in your life. You really are richer than you think.
3.Find the opportunity – They say in recovery that “talk is cheap.” As a therapist, talk isn’t cheap. I know some therapists that charge $180 an hour. Talking is expensive. But what is more expensive is when you let your recovery be made of talking. Opening up can change you, but you also need to put in effort. Go to a therapist. Attend meetings. Go to groups. Read. Journal. Walk. Turn off the TV. Practice acceptance. Learn to love yourself. Be kind to the anxious you, the protector, the you that is always on guard. Forgive and ask for forgiveness. Don’t go to war with your mind because you will end up becoming the casualty. And don’t stop. Every day you are creating and re-creating yourself.
You really don’t need to hit rock bottom to begin a better life, to recover. Today can be the beginning. Today, this moment – why not consider this your rock bottom? You don’t have to become courageous or brilliant. All that you need to do is be willing to take the next healthy step.
If you enjoyed this piece, I invite you to check out some of my other writing:
I write articles that talk about the kind of changes I am trying to make in my own life. I hope that my writing also helps you. My topics include addiction and mental health recovery, relationships, and personal growth. I work as an Addiction Therapist, an Editor for the Good Men Project and freelance writer, and Adjunct Professor at City University, Edmonton. But what is most important is that I have a family and I am in recovery from depression and anxiety. My mental health experiences are part of my personal University degree, but they do not define me.
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Keep it Real
Photo by Fady Habib