Why You Don’t Need to Hit Rock Bottom to Start Getting Better

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You get to define your own rock bottom.

In recovery, you’ll hear a lot of talk about “rock bottoms”. You might hear someone say they stopped drinking because they finally hit rock bottom or you might hear people say (when describing a person who just can’t seem to quit despite having numerous consequences), “I guess he hasn’t hit his rock bottom yet.” But what does hitting rock bottom actually mean? And do you definitely have to hit one to stop drinking or using? Well, let’s start with what it is: the dictionary defines rock bottom as the lowest level possible. This can mean different things to different people.

“But what does hitting rock bottom actually mean? And do you definitely have to hit one to stop drinking?”

My bottom was driving after having too much to drink with my kids in the car. Luckily, I drove a short distance and arrived home safely. I say “luckily,” because, despite the lack of consequence, I was able to see that dangerous behavior as a low point. I was lucky that I understood right then and there that left unchecked, using Xanax and wine on a daily basis as my only reliable means of stress relief would eventually lead to much worse consequences. My low point could definitely be a much lower point and I was willing to work my ass off in recovery to not let that happen.

Terrible consequences don’t necessarily make a “rock bottom”

But truth be told, that wasn’t my first drunk-driving rodeo. In my twenties, I drove drunk on a fairly regular basis. Many mornings, I would wake up after a night out with a spotty recollection of the night before and not know for certain if my car would be parked in my apartment’s parking space. There would be a moment of sheer panic before I peeked through the vertical blinds to check, knowing if it wasn’t there, I’d have no clue where to start looking. It wasn’t that I was too embarrassed to ask someone to drive me home from bars or parties or even that I was too cheap to take a taxi—I just never thought I was that drunk until the next day. On some level, I knew the behavior wasn’t good and that I was dodging a bullet, but since nothing horrible came to pass, I didn’t worry that I was anywhere near the bottom. The denial was strong in this one.

I know other people who had awful penalties from their drinking but still didn’t stop. I have a friend whose hard-drinking brother lost several jobs, crashed several cars, and once got so drunk while out with co-workers, he took off all his clothes in a bar and peed in the corner. He went to work the next day like nothing happened. That was not his bottom.

How do you get sober without hitting rock bottom?

So is it possible to get into recovery without hitting rock bottom? It is IF you can shift what you consider rock bottom. Does rock bottom have to mean your wife made good on her threat to file for divorce and take the kids? Must it mean you have to get fired from the job you love because you got hammered at the office Christmas party and slept with your married boss?

What if, instead, you brought the bottom up to meet you where you are? Maybe rock bottom could be that you cry at night while Googling “Am I an alcoholic?” or that you once again got drunk and texted your ex-boyfriend that you still love him and then didn’t remember it until the next day when he texted you back to say please, please, stop texting him because his wife doesn’t like it. My point is, your rock bottom doesn’t have to sink to The Girl on the Train levels of despair; you can stop at just being sick and tired of being sick and tired.

In the old days, people only headed to AA when they’d literally been institutionalized or thrown in jail. AA, for many people, was a last resort, and other kinds of treatment barely existed. But that was a hundred years ago. Now we know better; we know it doesn’t need to get that bad. We know that there are options for getting help. Your bottom can be whatever the hell you say it is. Your bottom can be whenever you decide you’ve had enough.

“Your bottom can be whatever the hell you say it is. Your bottom can be whenever you decide you’ve had enough.”

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Stefanie Wilder-Taylor is an author, standup comedian, TV personality, writing teacher, and co-host of the popular podcasts, For Crying Out Loud, Rose Pricks, and Bored A.F. She has authored five books, starting with the irreverent best-seller, Sippy Cups Are Not for Chardonnay: And Other Things I Had to Learn as a New Mom. She’s talked sobriety on Oprah, GMA, 20/20, Dr. Oz, Dr. Phil, CNN, and more.

She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and three sporadically charming children.

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