Rock Bottom: A Sometimes Scary Means to Change

Rock Bottom

Webster’s definition of rock bottom isthe lowest point possible.” While the expression can be used to identify low points on Earth, people hitting rock bottom from a substance use disorder can feel lower than the lowest points on the planet.    

What is a rock bottom? 

Hitting rock bottom means someone has reached their lowest personal point possible, and it looks different for everyone. Many everyday people hit a bottom at some point in their life albeit financially, professionally, physically etc. However, when drugs and alcohol are involved, hitting bottom typically involves personal, mental, emotional, or physical consequences as a result of one’s substance use. 

While bottoms are different for everyone, the feelings experienced are typically very similar. 

Those who have reached a bottom often agree that it can be an intensely sobering experience. Bottoms are often frightening, painful, humiliating, intense, eye opening, ad infinitum. And while they can be very scary experiences that are absolutely terrible as they unfold, a great many people later find themselves grateful for their bottom as it led them to making a major positive change in their life. And in some cases, it got them sober for good. 

What does a bottom look like?

Bottoming out while intoxicated can involve someone having done something they may have never done had they been sober. This can include a myriad of things like driving while intoxicated or getting a DUI, fighting with a friend or loved one, cheating on a partner, embarrassing oneself, etc. 

A bottom can also occur when someone reaches a point in their life they would have never imagined for themselves. That could be losing (or coming close to losing) something like a job, partner, friends, family, children, valuables, dignity, respect or ending up in jail — just to name a few. 

But bottoms don’t always have to be dramatic, horrifying experiences. By all standards, my bottom was actually quite tame. I was just sitting on my couch, looking at a beer and decided I couldn’t drink anymore. However, I was headed toward incredible peril, so I got very, very lucky and ahead of the inevitable catastrophe I was hurdling toward. 

What to do after a bottom

A bad bottom can really shake a person to their core. But sometimes, that’s just what a person needs to motivate them to change their behavior. It sounds cliche, but occasionally before something great happens, everything has to fall apart. 

It’s important to capitalize on the aftermath of a bottom to propel you into making a positive life change. That’s because as we move away from the pain of the bottom, we tend to “forget” the pain and eventually rationalize picking up again. But, the thing about bottoms is that there can be no end to them, and each one tends to be worse than the last. 

There’s a trap door to every bottom that opens up a new trap door to another horrifying bottom. We say in recovery “there’s no basement” to bottoms — we can keep getting lower and lower until finally we feel we can’t go any further and we either have to change, or we die. 

So while you may feel awful experiencing the fall out of a bottom, it’s the ideal time to motivate towards a change — whatever that looks like for you. Because things CAN always get worse.

What’s next?

People do not have to bottom out to start a recovery journey or address their relationship with drugs or alcohol. In fact, it’s  best to get ahead of a bottom before things get more painful and any more unmanageable. It doesn’t have to get worse before it gets better. If you are in a bottom, or looking to get help before one happens, there are lots of options for where to start. Recovery is possible, and you are worth it. 

I am forever grateful for my rock bottom. Had it not been for that awful, horrifying day, I would not have the peaceful life I have now. While it may not feel like it at the time, hitting a rock bottom can be a good thing.


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