If you’ve been thinking about stopping drinking, then the chances are you’ve heard about ‘hitting rock bottom’.
Perhaps you’ve read about other people’s experiences; that time they woke up in hospital, with no memory of how they got there. Or the moment they got arrested for drink driving, or lost a job, or ruined a relationship.
Some people believe you need to have a ‘rock bottom moment’ before you stop drinking … that you have to reach breaking point before you decide to put down the glass.
That is nonsense.
I think rock bottom is a bit of a myth. It’s an unhelpful idea that’s so widely received as true wisdom, we’ve accepted it as fact.
None of us need to be anywhere near ‘rock bottom’ in order to decide that we’ll stop hurting ourselves.
There’s no quantifiable ‘rock bottom’
Think about it. What exactly is rock bottom? Is it losing your job? Being caught drink driving? Who knows. The impact of being banned from the road varies from person to person. The same goes for being fired; some people will hit financial crisis a lot quicker than others.
You could argue that rock bottom is all about how we feel. Maybe it’s got more to do with our levels of shame, embarrassment and guilt. But again, this varies hugely from person to person. We all have different personalities and what might be awful for you may not bother me.
It’s almost impossible to define what rock bottom is, other than to say it’s a pretty bad place – the kind of place we shouldn’t be aiming for.
Rock bottom stops people changing their behaviour
In every other area of life, we’re very quick to take action if there’s a problem. If we gain a few pounds, we try and lose them. If we’ve got toothache, we visit the dentist – even if we hate going. We understand that nipping the problem in the bud is easier than letting things get out of control.
With alcohol, it’s different. Culturally, we have this idea that you need to be falling down and losing everything before you can address your relationship with booze. We view alcohol abuse in very black and white terms – it’s all or nothing. You’re either a ‘normal’ drinker or a raging alcoholic.
We seem reluctant to acknowledge that a) there are people who fall between those two extremes, and b) you can stop drinking in the grey zone! You do not have to wait until things get really, really bad.
Rock bottom reinforces the idea that sobriety is a last resort
Here’s what kept me stuck for ages: the idea that sobriety was going to be utterly miserable. It felt like some kind of punishment for not being able to drink ‘normally’. And who could blame me for thinking that way? From a young age we’re told that alcohol is cool and sobriety is boring.
So how do you know if you should stop drinking?
It’s pretty simple, really – you don’t need to wait until your life is in chaos or you’re falling to pieces. That is not the only way to measure an alcohol problem.
If you’re frequently drinking more than you intend to, and it’s making you miserable, that’s something to pay attention to. Or if you feel worried about your drinking – and you suspect it’s holding you back from living your best life – then that’s more than enough.