Alcoholism and addiction: How do you know you’ve hit bottom?

Early on in sobriety, after going public with my struggles, I had several friends and acquaintances approach me to admit that they too thought that they may have a problem with alcoholism and addiction.  After they chronicled for me their stories of their own individual struggles, my reaction was to ask:  Where do you think your bottom is?


This Crown Royal bag carried the last fifth of whiskey that I purchased more than four years ago.  Today, as a memento, I carry it with me as my Garmin/Heart Rate monitor bag.  It’s a constant reminder for me to respect the progress I’ve made since getting sober.

Many alcoholic/addicts have to reach their personal bottoms on their own.  Before I made the decision to get sober no one could have told me that I had a problem with drinking.  Even though I hid most of my addictive tendencies from family or friends, if someone had the instinct to call me out on drinking too much I, and my ego, would have simply said to “fuck off.”  I wouldn’t have been ready to hear it.

Today I see many people still flirting with the edge of making the “big mistake.”  By mistake I mean a range of things including a DUI, an overdose, killing someone else, or flat-out killing themselves.  Miraculously I was able to avoid these types of repercussions, which still doesn’t make sense considering how often I’d drink and drive or stay up for days on a cocaine binge.  My bottom, relative to other people’s bottoms, was pretty PG.  I simply locked myself into my apartment and drank Crown Royal and IPA’s for three straight days.  Luckily, it wasn’t worse, because it very well could have been.

My intention in asking others where they think their bottom might be is only out of love and care. Even though it’s largely out of my control I just hate to see bad things happen to good people, especially when they are struggling.  Perhaps the question is just a way to help my acquaintances understand the severity of alcoholism and addiction if it goes unchecked. In my four-plus years of sobriety I have heard countless stories about how people wish their bottom had come sooner, before the shit really hit the fan.  And for the folks I know who have 20-30+ (and beyond) years of sobriety?  They’ve got entire novels of these types of stories.  The “bottom” story is not unique, it may just look a little different from person to person.

So, what happened after my bottom came?  I was pretty confident that when I hit mine I immediately knew that I needed to seek help from others in recovery and beyond, I just couldn’t handle it on my own, even though my ego was telling me otherwise.  Do I think that was indeed my final bottom?  I don’t know, I’d like to think so, but the disease of alcoholism and addiction can come back to haunt you in an instant if you’re not careful.  The important part for me early on was that I had a very solid team behind me in Corvallis who could help me stay accountable.  Now that I’m back in Bend after a seven-year hiatus, I am simply adding to my accountability team.  Surprisingly, it turns out,  I actually have quite a few sober friends in Central Oregon.

The other bottom that exists, above and beyond drinking and drugs, is the emotional bottom.  This one is a little trickier to reconcile with, and many times, as it did for me, the emotional bottom coincides with the physical bottom.  When I quit drinking I realized that, developmentally as a person, I was sent back in time to when I was 18, right around the time I started drinking on a regular basis, to restart my own learning process to find out who I really was. In early sobriety, my friends who weren’t in recovery had a hard time understanding this idea, which is totally normal.  Because I spent so many years masking my fears, insecurities, and resentments with drugs and alcohol, when I got sober I was faced with the stark truth that I needed to revisit pieces of my own development that just didn’t happen because I was distracted in my addiction.

So, how DO you know if you’ve hit a bottom?  All I can speak to is from my own experience, as well as stories from other people in recovery. There’s really no way to predict it. For me, it was a gut feeling, knowing that I just couldn’t live in a completely unmanageable state for any longer.  For others, hitting bottom could be standing in front of a judge, going to jail, a DUI, or, heaven forbid, severely endangering another persons life.  Maybe the real question worth asking is:  Is it really worth it to even get to the point of realizing your bottom?  Maybe it is, but maybe not.  Everyone has their own individual path that they must take to figure this out.  I’d just hate to see someone reach their bottom after it’s too late.



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