Many problem drinkers carry a mental picture of “rock bottom,” the place we think we have to fall before we can become free of alcohol for good. AA popularized the idea that we can’t get (and stay) sober until we lose everything that matters to us. Accepting that you’re an alcoholic, hitting rock bottom, and going sober are all intertwined. Even the Cambridge Dictionary perpetuates this image:
Alcoholics often have to reach/hit rock bottom before they can recognize that they have a problem.
But what if we’ve never fallen to the lowest, darkest places our lives could take us? What if we do not fit the traditional definition of an alcoholic? If we believe we MUST hit “rock bottom” before we quit, too many of us will continue to be “gray area” drinkers, secretly knowing we have a problem while continuing to deny that it’s real. And some who DO manage to quit for a while might struggle to stay sober long term.
So is “rock bottom” a myth?
Drug and alcohol counselor Brooke Feldman says
Ultimately, there is really no good psychology behind the idea of forcing people into ‘hitting rock bottom.’ There is however plenty of good psychology behind what brings people closer to wellness and full potential.
The Boozemusings Community BOOM Rethink the Drink, is dedicated to the wellness and full potential of our members. Here’s what some of them have to say about “rock bottom” and motivation. Do you have to identify as an alcoholic, after hitting rock bottom, to find the motivation to stop drinking?
Most of us did not reach a “rock bottom” that others would recognize. My motivation to stop drinking was reading other people’s stories, not so much the bottoms they hit but the highs that they found in sobriety. That blew my mind. I always thought that sober would suck. Turns out it’s quite the opposite!
Am I an alcoholic? My issue with alcohol has never been a “rock bottom” but rather a slow steady erosion like a stream wearing down a pebble. The signs that it was time to stop drinking have been subtle. A little higher blood pressure, a little added weight, more fuzzy mornings, the desire in the morning to not drink that day, but drinking anyway.
I think the whole “rock bottom” thing keeps a lot of drinkers drinking. My life was fairly in order. But I think about it like this: Sometimes I drove when I shouldn’t have. But because I didn’t have any crashes or get caught (or worse!) I get to say I never reached rock bottom either. But I certainly could have…and so I really am learning to respect that fact.
Early sobriety is difficult for everyone, whether you’ve hit “rock bottom” or not. I think most people view rock bottom as the homeless person, a person in jail or in the hospital…but I think that rock bottom happens before this. It’s the moment when you realize your drinking is out of control and you want to want to stop but it feels impossible. It’s when you tell yourself you’re going to stop but just keep drinking anyway…when it becomes obsessive thinking, planning, and hiding. That to me is rock bottom because you know that drinking alcohol is taking over… what you decide to do after you’ve realized this is what matters.
Early sobriety is so difficult! How can I maintain motivation if I never hit rock bottom?
You can have a million day ones but you’ve just gotta keep going and realize/decide that this is your rock bottom and keep creating that motivation to change each and every single moment. Sobriety will be hard for a while…but then it’s amazing and you’ll be so proud that you’re doing it!
I’ve never had a “rock bottom” either. My brother has but is still drinking. That’s been a problem for me, really, because I’ve always been able to say I’m nowhere near as bad as him. But it is a problem for me. I go for days or weeks without drinking but then a day comes when I decide not to drink in the morning, and then in the afternoon I buy a bottle of wine and drink the lot over the course of the evening. I’m then tired all morning. I spend money I don’t want to spend. So what if my brother spends more a month than I do in a year? It’s money I don’t want to spend. I’m sick and tired of it and that’s my rock bottom.
I hit “rock bottom” in my early 20s and kept on drinking. I did things drunk I would never do when sober. It ruled me, even then. I didn’t lose my job over it, didn’t collapse in pubs/restaurants, never got a DUI, but arrogance and anger emerged from drinking (as part of my early childhood trauma). Well, it meant I was definitely a ‘not there’ mum. So, I welcomed the shame, and joined BOOM, courtesy of the wonderful Winged Victory. I just celebrated my fifth sober New Year – whoo hoo! Wherever you’re at, the truth is you wouldn’t be here if you didn’t think you have a problem with drinking, would you? We all did, and we’re all working our way out of it, one breath, one post, one day at a time.
Rock bottom? No not me. I’ve always been a steady every day not-to-excess type of drinker. But I realized that alcohol had come to be my signal pleasure, that it was woven into every high and low I experienced, and that it was adding to my cancer risk, harming my brain, and messing around with my sleep. I really want to remember what life is like without alcohol dictating how I can enjoy myself or comfort myself.
Every moment that I was not conscious was my “rock bottom.”
Believe me, “rock bottom” is there waiting, You keep bouncing back, but each and every bounce gets shorter. You have to jump off of the trampoline.
“Rock bottom” for some is the morgue. In my 3 years of regular AA, I heard so many nightmare stories about rock bottoms, including a guy who “woke up” in jail and was told that he had hit and killed someone the night before, driving in a blackout. ON THE OTHER HAND, I totally understand how thinking “it wasn’t that bad” can make it very hard to stick to sobriety. That’s why focusing on WHAT I TRULY WANT FOR MY LIFE has been so important. None of the beauty and joy and fullness and clarity and energy I really want for my life includes alcohol. Mentally, physically, emotionally, spiritually…alcohol limits and reduces and diminishes and poisons and robs.
Set realistic goals, and make sobriety non-negotiable
You can do this. You deserve a life without poisoning yourself. Science now tells us that there is no “safe level” of alcohol consumption. It is very difficult in the beginning, but what new skills are acquired without effort? You will find lots of resources here and loads of support from other members.
Most people need a few goes at stopping drinking to make it stick. You must decide to make it non-negotiable and then stick to your decision. When I first stopped I had several attempts and then finally set myself a 3-month goal (with the promise of a binge when I got there). When I got to 3 months sober I felt so good I kept going.
We may not have hit “rock bottom,” but that doesn’t mean we didn’t have a problem with alcohol!
Only you can decide if you are ready to do the work to become alcohol-free–it is hard, painful, and sometimes boring. You have to learn to sit with the sad/bad/difficult feelings instead of numbing them out with alcohol. Read, learn, make a plan, make a mistake, fix the plan, and try to post something daily–there is no magic bullet–it is not a quick and easy thing–but the most worthwhile things in life are not easy or quick. This is your journey and your choice—-we are here to listen when you are ready. Best wishes.
I feel the same struggles. I’ve been in the gray area for so long…but times are getting darker. I have not hit rock bottom and I do not call myself an alcoholic, but alcohol doesn’t fix anything! So why flirt with the darkness? It’s a really brief feeling of relaxation followed by the brain clamoring for more. Anxiety and physical damage is what we are left with. There is a nasty voice in our heads telling us that drinking is a good idea. It’s NOT. I always considered myself a high-functioning drinker. But now desire overrides logic. I’ve had several Day 1’s in the past few years. I’m on day 5. I want to get to the end of the month then to 100. It starts to get easier to stay sober the further away from Day 1 you get! You can do this! There will never be an easier time.
If you’re “sober curious” … If you are drinking too much too often and want to stop or take a break…or if you have stopped drinking and are trying to stick to sober! Talk to Us.
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Don’t let the shame of the stigma keep you from saying
“I think I have a problem with drinking”
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