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Why Rock Bottom Might Be A Pervasive Myth

When I started writing this article the concept was to write about the point at which seven of us reached the end of our substance use disorder, and sought help. It was to show others that while that point may have looked different to all of us, we all had mounting consequences and a dire need to seek more for our lives—a life worth living, if you will.

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Is the idea of reaching ‘rock bottom’ before seeking help for addiction outdated?

When I started writing this article, the concept was to write about the point at which seven of us reached the end of our substance use disorders and sought help. I wanted to show others that while that point may have looked different to all of us, we all had experienced mounting consequences and a dire need to seek more for our lives—a life worth living, if you will.

We often refer to that entry point as “rock bottom.” As I reached out to my recovery community, a few were quick to challenge me on the phrase rock bottom. I was keen to explore the resistance to that phrase. I spoke to a friend in long-term recovery, who said this:

“The pervasive myth that someone must hit “rock bottom” in order to initiate recovery has resulted in many people delaying their recovery and wiping out valuable recovery capital in the process. In addition, misguided friends and family have often been taught to essentially sabotage the life of a person struggling with addiction in order to create “rock bottom” conditions. Everything we know about recovery support and recovery capital contradicts this concept.” – Adam Sledd

I think Adam has a point. This idea that people need to reach the end of the line—jails or institutions—as the end point of recovery is false. Because they may die or they will waste valuable time in recovery. Of course, many of us do get to these extreme endpoints … but not all. And we don’t need to. Due to the great work of addiction advocacy groups, recovery writers, and people speaking aloud about their recovery, we are seeing that people can enter recovery at all points in their lives. Someone’s wakeup call may be a DUI, court-ordered treatment, being cut-off by a family member, realizing that their substance use is troubling and stopping there, seeing others in recovery living well, or the extreme ends of the spectrum. We are seeing more and more people enter recovery at various points and stages in the disorder.

With that altered concept in mind, I asked what the point of seeking recovery looked like among some of my peers:

“It will be a long time before I realize that the “end” of my life is indeed the beginning of it, my rebirth, and that the entire experience will end up being the greatest lesson and blessing of my life. But it comes. My alcoholism is a gift. Sobriety, my greatest teacher.” – Sarah Roberts

“At last, I finally realized that the only way I’d tumble dry was to escape the spin cycle.” – Pete White

“I had a moment of clarity. It was like an out of body experience. I was watching myself tearing apart the house, kids crying, ex-wife screaming at me; I suddenly realized that my life as an alcoholic and drug addict could not, should not, and would not be viable. I didn’t get sober all at once, but after that, sobriety and recovery became the goal. There was no going back after a moment like that.” – Austin Brown

“Standing in an anti-suicide smock in the basement jail cell in Williston, North Dakota, I finally realized that my story was finished. I was done. Surprisingly, it turned out that I wasn’t. My story continued, but it was wholly transformed.” – Daniel Maurer

“It wasn’t my apartment getting raided or spending my 21st birthday in rehab that made me realize I needed to change. I’m not sure any consequences would ever have been enough to stop me. At the end I was in a maintenance opiate habit, dull as rocks but all-consuming … continuously avoiding withdrawal, but never getting high. It didn’t work for me. It was the clearest sign I’d ever had that I was an addict, through and through, and that drinking and drugs never worked for me.” – Kali Lux

“I hit many low points over the years, but the point that made me decide to change was the morning of July 14, 2007. Coming out of a blackout in a foreign NYC hospital bed, I knew I couldn’t keep hurting myself and I definitely couldn’t keep hurting my family. Something clicked inside me (willingness?), and my life hasn’t been the same since.” – Laura Silverman

And mine? Well, I was sitting on my apartment floor—covered in blood and bruises and surrounded by the chaos of my latest 14-bottle wine binge. I was faced with the prospect of either dying or getting help. Even though I felt numb to any kind of emotion or reality, there was this moment that I can only describe as grace: peace washed over me and I was guided to get help. The steps forward were laid out before me and it all miraculously fell into place. Perhaps I was just finally ready. The scales finally tipped from self-harm toward self-love. I didn’t want to die. Where I wasn’t able to stop drinking countless times before, suddenly I could. I stopped on 26 March 2012. And I haven’t had a drink since. Today I live a life un-anesthetized.

Whatever your entry point, we want to show you that recovery—and a vibrant and fulfilling life—is entirely possible. You don’t need to wait until you get to the extreme end of the spectrum to get help. Just try now, it’s worth it.

Olivia Pennelle (Liv) has a masters in clinical social work from Portland State University. She is a mental health therapist, writer, and human activist. Her writing has appeared in STAT News, Insider, Filter Magazine, Ravishly, The Temper, and Shondaland. She is the founder of Liv’s Recovery Kitchen, Life After 12-Step Recovery, and Tera Collaborations. She lives near Portland, Oregon. Follow her on Instagram @Livwritesrecovery and @teracollaborations

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