I have a hard time with the concept of rock bottom, for a few reasons. First, I wholeheartedly believe you do NOT have to hit a “rock bottom” in order to step out of the drinking cycle. It is OK to make an early exit before your drinking destroys everything. Of course, some people need a rock bottom to refer back to when they start to think of drinking again – it’s alot easier to run away from the dog who bit you than the one giving you the big puppy dog eyes, “I’m still a good boy.” This also helps us to demarcate “us” from “them” – “well ‘I’ am not as bad as ‘her’ so I must be able to continue on drinking.”
Second, rock bottoms are a farce. I’ve seen so many false-bottoms in my time. Just when things can’t seem to get any worse – whoosh, there you go, dropping down another level or 2. Trap doors that go on for infinity, or atleast until you’re dead.
Lastly, my rock bottom is not your rock bottom. There is a spectrum. For alot of women, divorce is the rock bottom. Treating people the way I treated my friends, family, and husband – rock bottom. Blacking out once, let alone the dozens of times I have – rock bottom. None of these were mine. None of these were enough to shake me awake and pull me out of the alcohol trap.
I can’t even define my rock bottom, to be honest. But I have been thinking alot about this concept lately because of something Steve recently asked me, and that was “why was The Last Time different?” (capitals added for dramatic effect, without his permission).. Meaning The Last Time I drank (disclaimer: I mean the last time I drank to get drunk, the last time I drank without the intent of ever stopping in my lifetime. I did have a few sips, one time, several months later, as sort of a test to myself with the result of “yep – I hate alcohol.” This is my official sobriety date).So what WAS different about The Last Time? It was not a particularly horrible evening – Steve and I were both drinking with friends and we ended up in an argument, one of our first big ones after dating a little under 2 months. If a divorce didn’t do it, the black outs didn’t do it, why did this one night, that looked like hundreds of other nights in my life, do the trick? In fact, it was quite tame compared to my standard; I acted in a way I may have even been proud of a year earlier. So WHAT was it about this one instance that finally flipped the switch in my brain?
I think it was waking up with all the nights – the months’ and years’ worth of nights – of drinking more than I had intended weighing down on me. On my soul, my chest, my arms and legs. I couldn’t take another step down that path. It was like a doctor looked me square in the eye and said “the next Diet Coke you drink will be your last,” and so I turned my back on Diet Coke and never craved it again. Diet Coke #1 didn’t do it, #100 and #800 didn’t do it, but the next one could. How could one crave what could possibly kill them, end their life and everything good in it?
To put it in a physical analogy – think of it like weight lifting and injuries. A huge mistake here, a gnarly hangover there – acute injuries. If you lift a little too heavy one time, you pull something in your back and feel like shit. You wake up and say “man I’m never doing that again.” But alas, a week or 2 later you’re back in the gym, lifting that weight and telling yourself it’ll be different this time, your form will be better. Good as new!
But about the day you are old, hunched over and bones crumbling from osteoporosis? It’s hard to get out of bed, forget lifting weights. You aren’t sure how it got this far, but you’re prettttty fucking sure it’ll never get better. Maybe it’s degenerative joint disease? The slow onset of arthritis? No matter what, it was insidious and you slowly felt it creep in, unsure how to pinpoint its beginning, its permanence the elephant in the room. It has the final say, it doesn’t matter how many rest days or how much glucosamine you take. The crushing irreversibility of it all is enough for you to let out a sigh and accept your fate. This is how I felt waking up the morning after The Last Time. I resigned myself to the fact that I had lost control, I felt the calm waters of acceptance wash over me, I admitted what AAers call POWERLESSNESS. I was done fighting the current. It was less of a “hitting rock bottom” and more of a “sinking slowly into the quicksand.”
For some time I considered myself a high-bottom early exiter because The Last Time was so uneventful. I curtsied my way right out of the drinking world with a pleasant bow and an “I bid you ado.” Dipped right out to have some high noon tea. How gracious I was! But in retrospect, this really wasn’t the case.. I was not a gracious early-exiter – I was just super tolerant of my own bullshit for, like, 10 years.
A part of me (and Steve too, probably) wanted to respond to his question: “because I love you, and you are too important to risk losing.” That’s a no-brainer, and what a wonderfully polite thing for a gracious early-exiter to say! But the truth is, I have also used this line several times before, and everytime I ended up losing that person (and then some). We can’t put all of our eggs in one basket, especially someone else’s basket. Steve and our relationship, as awesome and fulfilling and magical as it is, is not what keeps me sober. It is all the past mistakes, the repetition, the heartache, the hurt, the self hate that clicks on the back of my heels constantly. If I stop, if I even consider turning and entertaining the thought of drinking again, all of that will crash over me like a swell that’s been building all along.
I heard a term in AA recently: “while you aren’t drinking, your disease is doing push ups.” I liked it, but I don’t want to test that theory.. I am not up for that fight again, not with these soul-bones arthritic and pock marked from drinking. I am doing everything I can to re-fortify this part of myself with my metaphoric calcium and resistance training, and I’m definitely getting there.