There is no such thing as a rock bottom
One idea that’s pretty closely associated with 12 step meetings is that of the “rock bottom”, the low point of the addict’s bad-behavior career, the place where the quality of your life can go no lower and you have no choice at but to finally change. The phrase comes from the experience you might have digging into the ground, moving shovel after shovel full of dirt until you finally clink against a bunch of stones and find that you simply cannot dig any further down than where you are.
That metaphor is awful, and did a lot of damage to me towards the end of my drinking - or, more accurately, I used the metaphor to ruin my own life, thinking it gave me some sort of license to keep on digging.
See, I hadn’t hit rock bottom yet. But the rock bottom was down there! The phrase wouldn’t exist if the phenomenon didn’t exist. All I had to do was keep digging until I found it. The rock bottom is the foundation of any sober life, and as such I couldn’t be asked to even begin to recover until I found it. Until then I could drink with some peace of mind, since the rock bottom guaranteed that the amount of damage I could do to my life was finite. Every sober person had a rock bottom, and I would find mine, and when I did find my rock bottom I would bounce off of it and be propelled into a thriving sober life through some sort of narrative inertia.
I never wound up finding such a thing as a rock bottom, down there. I’m not really sure what it is that I found. It hurt, a lot, and it kept getting worse - the biggest threshold I definitely crossed was the line where alcohol stopped working in the way that I needed it to, when no amount of alcohol could actually make me feel anywhere near normal. For a while I drank because, well, it worked; it pushed the anxiety back for a minute and made me feel like I was okay and that things were going to be okay, at least while the feeling of getting drunker was there for me. But eventually what happened wasn’t so much that I hit a bottom so much as the bottom completely fell out from under me, where no matter how much I drank I couldn’t feel normal again, where the one thing I could count on to sooth me wasn’t there for me no matter how hard I reached for it.
So, it wasn’t that I found some place of total stability where I could build some fortress of well-being, it was that I found dark depths of instability as far down as the eye could see, and eventually I chose to take responsibility and do something about it. The only rock bottom that I can conceive of is the bitter end; the only guarantee that drinking can do finite damage to my life is because if I drink it’ll be the thing that kills me.
I think about that a lot in other contexts, anywhere I wind up feeling stuck in a rut and seeing myself as the victim of my own bad behavior. I remember that there’s nothing “down there” that’s going to course-correct me of its own accord; the only bottom I can have is the place where I choose to stop digging.
I don’t know if it is “really true” that I am ultimately in control of my life and my behavior, that my ability to grow and change is there or not based on a choice that I can make. I do know that my life and my problems become a hell of a lot more manageable whenever I choose to act that way.