Why There's No Rock Bottom in Alcoholism

Gillian May

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Nothing disastrous ever happened from my drinking, so I never thought I had a problem. I didn’t lose a job, my family, get a DUI, or blacked out and did something really bad (even though I did have a few black-outs for sure). Instead, there were a series of things that made it more and more clear that I had a problem.

By the time I was ready to quit, I’d had enough of all the small ways that alcohol negatively impacted my life.

My rock bottom wasn’t one big wallop; instead, it was several small bumps that accumulated like grains of sand. Over time, the sand buried me under its immense weight, and I was tired and unhealthy. Also, I lost the ability to see the possibilities in my life. I felt sick, depressed, unable to make decisions, and had little energy to give to any new projects, ideas, or goals.

It’s important to understand that we don’t need to reach some horrifying rock bottom to know that we have an alcohol problem. In fact, waiting for that line to be crossed could also keep us stuck in an insidious loop that may slowly bury us.

Life never fails to give us the lessons we need to grow or make a change. As hard as the infamous rock bottom can be, sometimes I wonder if those who have a rock bottom might even be lucky. Rock Bottoms are very clear and slightly disastrous and at that point, there’s no question that there’s a problem and a change needs to be made.

But many of us never have a rock bottom; we just keep going. Maybe we even ignore things that for someone else, could be a small rock bottom but to us, it’s not so bad. As alcoholics, we are masters of fooling ourselves into thinking that all is well no matter what might be crumbling around us.

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Many of us already know the signs of problematic drinking:

  • Drinking alone
  • Drinking past the safe limits
  • Inability to stop drinking once we start
  • Having blackouts or memory lapses
  • Causing negative consequences for ourselves or others
  • Questioning ourselves or having others question our drinking
  • Needing to drink again to “steady the nerves”
  • Feeling guilty about your drinking

These signs alone should be enough to alert someone to a problem. But often they’re not. Alcohol is legal, readily available, and actively marketed. So for many of us, drinking beyond the safe limit (1 drink per day for a woman and 2 drinks per day for a man) is normalized in our culture.

But, it’s not normal to drink more than the safe limits, and as a former nurse and recovering alcoholic, I’ve made it my mission to educate people about unhealthy drinking. To be clear, any drinking outside the safe limits, as delineated by the CDC and World Health Organization, is problematic drinking. So to be even more clear:

  • If you’ve ever had more than 1 or 2 drinks per day, that is unhealthy drinking.
  • If you’ve ever had more than 4 or 5 drinks on one occasion, that is binge-drinking which is unhealthy drinking
  • If you’ve binged more than a few times a month, that is definitely unhealthy drinking.

These guidelines for safe drinking are not a “maybe.” They are meant to protect the general public from engaging in drinking that will harm themselves or someone else. So, as you can see, the myth of rock bottom doesn’t always apply. In fact, don’t wait until something really bad happens before recognizing a problem drinking pattern.

There are only two ways to take responsibility for problem drinking; we either quit altogether or find a sustainable way to stick with moderation.

We don’t need to subscribe to a set way to deal with our drinking, nor do we need to reach rock bottom before we begin to take charge of it. We just need to find a way to admit the problem, then commit to doing something about it.

In fact, if we think we need to hit “rock bottom” before we decide that our drinking is hurting our life, we will likely never reach it. Instead, it becomes the excuse we use to continue drinking while we slowly ruin our lives in the process. We tell lies to ourselves like “well if I’ve never hit a rock bottom then my drinking is fine.” We tell these lies even when we’re drinking well over the safe limit.

It’s like saying that we will continue driving recklessly until we end up crashing. And only after we’ve crashed, will we take responsibility for our driving. Do you know what I mean?

If we ever have to ask ourselves if we have a problem with something, then we likely have a problem with that thing. The problem may be big or small, but nonetheless, if we are asking ourselves, then chances are we need to get real about it.

I love food. It’s one of my biggest joys and pleasures in my life. But I never have to ask myself if I have a problem with it. Although I enjoy eating, I’ve never had to worry if my eating may be hurting me in some way. This is how I know I don’t have a problem with food.

But drinking? I’ve most definitely asked myself many times if I had a problem. And it took years of asking myself before I could finally be honest about it. It took another few years to actually do something about it.

For many years, I told myself the story that since I never hit rock bottom, then my drinking was perfectly healthy, and all was well. This only served to keep going and going until I began to show signs of alcohol damage and couldn’t move forward with the goals and aspirations I had for my life.

If we wait for a rock bottom before we make a decision about our problematic drinking, we may be keeping ourselves in an endless loop of insidious ruin. These lies are only ways to continue not taking responsibility for our lives.

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Waiting for a rock bottom is a lie we tell ourselves. Not only that, if we wait long enough, that rock bottom just might show up. And by the time, we hit that threshold, we may have gone from unsafe drinking to truly disastrous drinking.

Some things you can do to get help:

  • Talk to your doctor and tell him/her exactly how much you drink per day.
  • Read more supportive articles like this one to help you understand your drinking.
  • Find an AA group or other sobriety group to join; a community of people is often the best way to get help
  • Find online sobriety groups or one on one counseling (thankfully online resources are becoming more available).
  • Search for alcohol moderation clinics or therapists (more of these are popping out now too).

Most alcoholics never hit rock bottom, but they’re still alcoholics. So don’t wait for a disaster to show up in your life; consider your options and get help now.

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I'm a former nurse turned freelance writer. I have extensive experience in administration, frontline care, and education in mental health, public health, and geriatrics. However, after 20 years, I needed a change and always wanted to write. I have personal and family experience in mental health and addictions, so I'm passionate about advocacy and education in those areas. I'm also a traveler, photographer, and artist. I funnel all my various expertise into my writing and hope to provide valuable content that is entertaining and educational. Join my email list if you want to read more of my work - https://upbeat-trader-4181.ck.page/839d0ab3f9. I also have a book on Alcoholic Liver Disease coming out in 2021.

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