By Toshia Humphries, M.Ed., M.A.
Rock bottom is a term I’ve heard since I was a little girl. Why? Because my mother was a heroin addict.
Fortunately, my grandparents were around to raise me. But, regardless of that fact, the absence of my mother was painful and confusing. For her, seeing the broken heart of her own child was not enough to force her to get help. In fact, nothing was.
Placed in rehab against her will numerous times, recovery never stuck. The only explanation I ever heard was a simple yet then bewildering one; “She just hasn’t hit rock bottom.”
Evidently, for my mother, the pain never outweighed the level of intoxication she could reach to numb it or the number of enablers left standing to rescue her from it.
That last statement is one which generally applies to all active addicts, and it explains why the vast majority need a rock bottom in order to seek help.
Why Some Might Not Agree
Though there are some in recovery who might argue this point, saying they never actually hit an all-time low but simply decided to quit, the vast majority require varying degrees of low points to decide enough is enough. Additionally, there is another group who might challenge this point of view; the sober individuals who don’t necessarily refer to themselves as recovering, mainly because the affiliation with the recovery community implies a stint in treatment and the need to work a program to maintain sobriety and achieve successful recovery. As such, these individuals typically don’t claim a rock-bottom low point either.
But, regarding the above instances, it is important to keep in mind those individuals who merely made a conscious decision to quit without need for piling personal, financial and legal consequences or assistance to acquire and maintain sobriety may have been struggling with substance abuse rather than the disease of addiction.
Why Some Never Hit a Rock Bottom
There are individuals who are enabled heavily by family and friends. That fact does not stop them from entering a treatment program. In fact, the family often forces them to go, paying high prices for their care and rehabilitation, visiting if allowed and funding their second, third or fourth chance after leaving treatment.
And, in those instances, the constant financial support and connections with family members and friends prevent the addicted individual from reaching rock bottom. Sure. They may hit a low point. But, if during that struggle, they can call a friend or family member who will attempt to rescue them from their pain by way of emotional or financial support, they do not actually bottom out.
Instead, they are saved from the opportunity to hit that needed rock bottom and, as such, their chance to contemplate change is stolen from them by someone who typically intends to help. But, in these cases, helping is enabling.
What is Rock Bottom?
Rock bottom is not simply a low period. It is a point where all feels lost, as a result of active addiction. Friends, family, finances and possibly even freedom are gone. At this point, if no one steps in to rescue, the active addict will have to sit with the dire consequences of their disease.
3 Reasons Why You Need It
- It’s Like Any Other Disease. With regard to addiction as defined by the disease model which implies it is chronic, progressive and potentially fatal if not treated, a rock bottom is typically required to necessitate change. And, incidentally, treatment and recovery is the component needed to spur perspective and lifestyle changes in an effort to survive the disease.
Moreover, regarding any disease, symptoms may be ignored for some time. It is typically only until these symptoms become so life- altering that they are no longer manageable that individuals seek help. Addiction is clearly no exception.
- Sitting With Pain Spurs Contemplation. When left to sit at rock bottom without hope of being pulled up while still in active addiction or without consenting to treatment, the individual will typically realize that to be able to restore all the elements lost to them—family, friends, finances, freedom, etc.—they must get help for their addiction and enter into recovery.
- With Every Rescue, Rock Bottom Gets Lower. That’s one reason rock bottom isn’t always low enough; because some are never actually allowed to hit it until it’s rock bottom has descended to six feet under. The active addict has to be allowed to sit with consequences and with their pain. Even if a great deal of their initial story involves pain which was inflicted by someone besides themselves, they must come to realize that the substance of choice is no longer suppressing or numbing their pain, but seemingly adding to it.
Of course, there is no magic formula for how active addicts arrive at a realization and break free from denial. But, generally speaking, addiction specialists are aware that enabling certainly prevents either. Rock bottom is a tough place to be, and it is likely even tougher for a loved one to helplessly witness. But, with regard to addiction, requiring an active addict to climb up of their own free will, rather than jumping in to save them from themselves, is the definition of love and the opposite of enabling and codependency.