Where to Begin in Recovery – “Hitting Bottom”

Wait for the end of the spree, or at least for a lucid interval. Then let his family or a friend ask him if he wants to quit for good and if he would go to any extreme to do so.  If he says yes, then his attention should be drawn to you as a person who has recovered. You should be described to him as one of a fellowship who, as part of their own recovery, try to help others and who will be glad to talk to him if he cares to see you.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 90)

 Throughout the recovery world there is lots of discussion about the idea of “hitting bottom.”  Some say you have to wait until someone hits bottom to work with him or her.  Some old-timers say that you don’t wait for that person to hit bottom you have to “raise their bottom” or in other words, help that person reach bottom sooner.  Some say that hitting bottom is often too late and that we need to be like a bungee cord that pulls a person back before he or she hits bottom.  If a bungee cord lets you hit bottom, it is definitely too late.  Some others say to ignore the bottom idea all together. 

The real questions are:

  • What is this “hitting Bottom” and
  • Why is it important.

The idea of hitting bottom is not as important as the concepts that are stated in the passage above although many (if not most) cannot answer yes to the two questions in the passage above until they fell all is lost and it is hopeless.

The idea of having lost all and having no hope are the key things that most are describing when speaking of “hitting Bottom.”   Bill W. described his experience this way:

This was the finish, the curtain, it seemed to me. My weary and despairing wife was informed that it would all end with heart failure during delirium tremens, or I would develop a wet brain, perhaps within a year. She would soon have to give me over to the undertaker or the asylum.

They did not need to tell me. I knew, and almost welcomed the idea. It was a devastating blow to my pride. I, who had thought so well of myself and my abilities, of my capacity to surmount obstacles, was cornered at last. Now I was to plunge into the dark, joining that endless procession of sots who had gone on before. I thought of my poor wife. There had been much happiness after all. What would I not give to make amends.  But that was over now.  No words can tell of the loneliness and despair I found in that bitter morass of self-pity. Quicksand stretched around me in all directions. I had met my match. I had been overwhelmed. Alcohol was my master.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pgs. 7-8)

Soon after this is when Ebby T. (Bill W.’s sponsor) came to Bill to start him on working recovery the way members of the Oxford Group had worked with him. 

Notice how bill describes all of this as “a devastating blow to my pride”.  The idea that “I can beat this all I need to do is ________ “  is one of the first problem.  Even after several failed attempts to stop, many of us still think ourselves strong enough to stop ourselves while Steps 1 through 3 (and in reality all of the Steps) want us to let go of the idea of controlling it.  The first Step you encounter in any 12 Step program looks something like this:

1.   We admitted we were powerless over alcohol-that our lives had become unmanageable. (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 59)

The resistance that most of us have to this is pride, plain and simple.  In the case of Bill W. “hitting bottom” came at the point where he states:  “I had met my match. I had been overwhelmed. Alcohol was my master.  ”

Until that point is reached, Step 1 is impossible.  Many people say that they are hopeless, powerless and so on, but in fact never really reach that level understanding.  They never “hit bottom” in this sense.  They may go on to work lots of steps, go to many meetings, programs and such, but still are ruled by pride and as a result still ruled by addiction.

The two questions listed in the original passage above:

  1. Do you want to quit for good and
  2. Will you will go to any extreme to do so

Test for two key things:  

  1. Are you at a point where you can see that the problem needs to go completely or are you just trying to find a way to continue your addiction without having the problems that are usually the result?
  2. Are you at a point where you are willing to give up your pride and do whatever it takes to have your life changed?

If a person is not at either of these points that person is definitely not ready to change (or to let go of who you are to become who you can be).  That person wants to stay the same while at the same time become different.  The program requires changing and this is a person who wants sobriety but does not want change. 

If we are painstaking about this phase of our development, we will be amazed before we are half way through. We are going to know a new freedom and a new happiness. We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it. We will comprehend the word serenity and we will know peace. No matter how far down the scale we have gone, we will see how our experience can benefit others. That feeling of uselessness and self-pity will disappear. We will lose interest in selfish things and gain interest in our fellows. Self-seeking will slip away. Our whole attitude and outlook upon life will change. Fear of people and of economic insecurity will leave us. We will intuitively know how to handle situations which used to baffle us. We will suddenly realize that God is doing for us what we could not do for ourselves (Alcoholics Anonymous pgs. 83-84)

Notice the words “Our whole attitude and outlook upon life will change.”  Change is a huge key and that pride we discussed earlier is the enemy.  The term “hitting bottom” then is really about a person who has been enabled through the experience of painful circumstances to let go of everything and go through a process of complete change.

Those two questions are key and if you cannot answer both of them with this understanding then no matter what you think you are doing in recovery you are either stuck in the process of working step one or you may not be ready to work recovery yet.  You may not have “hit bottom.”