I love alcohol. I was a top tier drinker at one point in time, on the varsity squad, a feat that comes easy to anyone who totally disregards their own personal well-being.
We drunks talk about two kinds of rock bottoms: ‘high-bottom’ and ‘low-bottom.’ A high-bottom is someone who manages to keep a job, a family, money — while still drinking heavily. Everybody who has quit drinking has some sort of rock bottom, no matter how ‘high-bottom’ it is. Theirs might be the day they drank two Merlots at the Mom's Club and called the PTA president a "meanie." That can be rock bottom, too.
But no matter the depth, rock bottom can feel strangely good on your feet. J.K. Rowling was right when she said, “Rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.”
Me, I was a low-bottom drunk — I had spent all my money, lost my girlfriend, had no solid job — I was living in a closet (a literal closet). All I had was an idea to write a book about my lowness, which isn't a strategy, it's just an excuse to wallow and drink more.
My rock bottom stories are pretty legit:
-I was once wasted on a motorcycle, no helmet, with my girlfriend on the back, nearly crashing it on a busy street.
-I went to jail (twice).
-I’ve woken up in bed with my car in the driveway, having driven back from the bar completely blacked out (multiple times).
-I once came to in a dude's bed with him playing with my junk — I'm not into dudes — and being so fucked up, I just let him continue.
Until, finally, something changed. The last time alcohol crossed my lips, the liquid was going in the unintended direction. This was on Feb. 9, 2013 — around noon — when I was supposed to be at my niece's third birthday party. Instead I was vomiting up the five or six Irish coffees I'd had since 9 a.m.
I haven't had a sip of alcohol since.
After you've quit, rock bottom stories aren't sad anymore. They're a necessary part of any recovering addict's personal bio. It gives recovery weight. It explains to people at dinner parties why you're just drinking cranberry juice. And the darkness of a truly bad rock bottom story makes your current state of relative health seem even more brilliantly glorious.
Bad as they were, my rock bottom stories aren't nearly the worst I've ever heard. Talking to fellow drunks, I hear stories from their sad, shallow faces that subtly shake from obvious brain damage. To most, they sound surreal:
-“I taught my kids to blow into the court-mandated breathalyzer attached to our car so I could continue to drive around drunk.”
-“I woke up soaked in blood, without a scratch on me, completely unsure of whose blood it was I was soaked in.”
-“I repeatedly chose jail over sobriety.”
-“I dreamt that I was in my boxers and a t-shirt, driving my car through bushes in a field before hitting a guardrail — realizing then I wasn't dreaming, it was really happening.”
Some people hit what they think is rock bottom only to find that the ground there is unstable; there's a whole deeper cave underneath.
I'm such a voyeur of rock bottom, I like to see those moments first hand. So, as a side job, I work as an EMT on an ambulance in Boulder, CO. Just about every shift I pick struggling folks up off the ground who've been jacked up by drink, either blacked out or assaulted — or having crashed their car — often covered in piss and puke, shaking so bad from alcohol withdrawal they think they're having heart attacks.
Incidentally, you know who I never pick up off the ground? Potheads. Pot smokers really don't cause car crashes at the rate drunks do, they don't start fights, they don't assault people. Potheads have rock bottoms, but medical professionals are rarely, if ever, involved.
Quitting was hard. It took a ton of support from my friends, a pinch of a belief in a higher power, and a gallon of ayahuasca. Many days, I'd still love a drink. But the memory of the darkness keeps me away — there's only so many times you can come to in a strange bed, getting molested by the wrong gender before hanging up the shot glass. For me, that number was one.
There are only so many rock bottoms one can hit before deciding to stop digging.