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What is Rock Bottom?

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I write a sobriety blog, so people ask me all the time, “What was your rock bottom? What happened to make you quit drinking?” I’m pretty sure they expect a story that involves waking in a hotel room in Nassau with no recollection of having boarded a plane, or crawling battered from a muddy ditch with an unexplainable marriage certificate in my pocket. I think most people assume there is a ghastly, life or death moment when an alcoholic realizes the error of their ways, pours out all the liquor in the house, and quits drinking for good.

My answer to the question is, “I probably had ten rock bottoms in my life, and none of them were the catalyst for my quitting drinking.”

The day I decided to get sober and get help, was anticlimactic. My son was traveling home from visiting family in London, his flight was going to arrive after midnight, and I had to pick him up. Typically, with that kind of late night duty looming, I would get drunk early, stop drinking late in the afternoon, and sober up in time to be able to drive in the evening. This time I just didn’t drink: for the whole day. And I haven’t picked up a drink since: two years and counting.

By the time I quit imbibing, I had been a heavy drinker for fifteen years and an all-out lush for five. My rock bottoms were more like trampoline bounce mats. I would do something harrowing, get “scared straight”, quit drinking for 30 days, talk myself into believing I could handle a “refreshing glass of wine”, and immediately bounce back to the high life. Up and down. Up and down.

I felt like a sodden sponge, dribbling cheap, white wine over countertops and across floors and onto the lapels of the clothing I wore. I felt like an empty tin box with a glass-shard lining. I felt like a voracious glutton, needing something to fill me up.

The fact is, the day I quit drinking I felt ready. I was simply ready to quit.

And that is the crux of the matter. There are really only four scenarios that motivate a person to stop drinking:

  1. The Court Mandated Motivator: Born of the big, fat mistake and oftentimes coupled with jail time or requirements for therapy or a rehab stay;
  2. The Family and Friends Intervention Motivator: The either/or demands by loved ones who are worried for one’s welfare;
  3. The Soft (I Probably Should), Self-Imposed Motivator: Usually situation and guilt driven: a blackout, a bounced check, a bar fight…
  4. The I’m Ready to Change My Life and Will do ANYTHING Motivator: The earnest desire for a healthier, saner existence.

In my humble opinion, the only way to get and stay sober is by embracing number four. I have heard many an alcoholic say that the real threat of death, diagnosed by a doctor or foreshadowed by undeniable physical signs, was not a deterrent. And sobriety is not about pleasing others or blithe, half-heartedness. Even a jail stint or mandatory time in a rehab facility does not do the trick if the self-motivation is not unimpeachable. I have a reader who says she had a friend pick her up from jail (more than once) with a six-pack and a crack pipe to “celebrate”.

To the non-addict, or the uninformed it seems impossible that someone could ignore the red flags so completely, or relapse when the consequences are so dire. But it does not take being stopped for “erratic driving” and walking a straight line while police lights flicker, or crawling around a toilet floor looking for your teeth (both of which I’ve done) to get sober. It is the cumulative effect. It’s the earnest desire.

Sobriety is not just refusing that icy glass of Chardonnay. It requires readiness and willingness for the long haul. Maybe rock bottom is not a bad thing. Maybe rock bottom is a state of mind we must reach in order to be successful in recovery.

Marilyn Spiller is a freelance writer, speaker and sober coach living in Jacksonville, Florida. She writes a sobriety blog called Waking Up the Ghost, a humorous and honest look at her wobbly journey toward recovery. She can be reached on Facebook at Waking Up the Ghost; on Twitter @MarilynSpiller and at www.wakinguptheghost.com.

  • Marilyn Spiller
    Marilyn Spiller

    Executive Director of Marketing

    Author, Marilyn Spiller is a writer, speaker, sober coach and recovery advocate with a 20-year history of international hobnobbing and outrageous over-drinking. Five years sober, she writes a popular blog called Waking Up the Ghost, and acts as the Executive Director of Marketing for Sanford House at John Street, Sanford House at Cherry Street, and the Sanford House Outpatient Center.

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