The moment that is the moment. The Bottom is a tough topic for me and others like me, because it usually involves recalling the kind of black-and-white, unforgettable ugliness that belongs with the worst humiliating pain possible. When you hear an addict/alcoholic talk about The Bottom, they are often speaking of a paradigm shift in clarity, a life-changing awakening that marks a turning point. The Bottom is an event so emotionally electric that many of us will have difficulty remembering it without breaking down.
Sometimes these moments are preceded by one or more “almost bottoms,” the spiritual flatliners that we thought would certainly be the motivation to finally get us there. Maybe it’s checking into a treatment hospital downtown, or going away to that place in California with the infinity pool in that commercial, or somewhere, anywhere we have been promising ourselves, that if that ever happened, man, we would go.
For some of us, it can be a sequential series of trips and falls that all add up to the undeniable truth. For this alcoholic, that was the case. My Bottom was like a stone skipping on a pool of excruciating endless embarrassment and shame that finally sank.
The Bottom marks that indelible here and now that it all changed, forever.
As I write, I am thinking about a trip to the ICU. It was my third. I was trying so hard to not drink, to be and do better, and was losing badly every damn day.
I remember almost everything. The hospital bed in which I could not move or turn my body. The TV with no apparent remote that I watched for hours. The vigilant company of a friend and the tears in the eyes of that faithful believer-in-me that I had let down again. The visits from my children that never came, since they had been witness to and could not suffer the drama or face their dad in this way again.
With multiple thin, clear IV tubes in my arm and neck meant to hydrate and stabilize me, I looked over to the hospital white board. You know, the one that says the date, the names of your nurses, and some insipid positive saying that has never felt relevant to someone lying in a bed forced to read it 100 times a day? Yeah. That one. It was November 20, 2013, and I made a promise that this was it. No more. Please.
Unfortunately, little did I know that it would be another year before I was finally able to begin the uninterrupted string of sobriety that I now cherish every single day. It would be a few more stops and starts before my brain would begin to heal and I would meet my new, sober me. My life on happiness.
I am always amazed when I watch the face of another member in my tribe talk about these personal moments. There is often a calm and a sense of peaceful transformation when you see a recovering person talk about The Bottom. Even though they might be describing how they were drunk and arrested, wrecked their car for the third time, were involved in some kind of jackpot tale of debauchery and misery, served some cruel words like a knife-slicing demonstration to a loved one, or disappointed a dearly loved child… again, the serene peace that comes over a recovering person as they speak of their moment still, to this day, surprises me.
It’s The Bottom that bookends our descent. I have come to realize that these painful moments are critically important to the process of recovery. They stand like lighthouses in our stories, beacons forever marking that moment in time when a glimmer of light began to shine, the storm reached its peak and finally, mercifully, began to clear.
If you are reading this and the words and sentiment sound familiar, please hang in there and have hope. There are people, more than you know, who have been there and will stand with you. When it’s done right, they won’t tell you what to do, but they will tell you what they did. When or if it’s time for you to join a sober tribe and take that step into a new life, we’re right here, waiting.
Marc Lee Shannon is a musician in recovery. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo by Angelo Merendino. Used with permission from Marc Lee Shannon. Editor’s note: Marc Lee Shannon holds the trademark to “Sober Chronicles.”