Suggested pairing: Rock Bottom
2 ounces vodka
2 ounces tequila
2 ounces gin
⅓ ounce lemon juice
⅓ ounce lime juice
⅓ ounce pineapple juice
Pour vodka, gin, lemon juice, lime juice and pineapple juice over ice. Shake well until chilled and combined. Strain into martini glass Slowly pour in tequila. Cheers, you’ve hit bottom.
Over the decade-plus that I’ve been, in one way or another, directly or inadvertently, coping with another’s alcoholism, I’ve heard the phrase “rock bottom” more times than I can count, and enough times to make me sick. It’s come up in conversations with friends, disagreements with former family members, sessions with therapists, and sharings in Alanon meetings.
Here’s what I’ve learned about rock bottom:
Rock bottom, as the Cambridge Dictionary defines it (and they seem to be a pretty credible source for words and shit) as an informal noun meaning the lowest possible level. With regard specifically to alcoholism and addiction, the term rock bottom is often employed when an individual has devolved into a financial crisis, lost a job, destroyed a marriage, landed in jail, wrecked a vehicle, become violent, went cruisin’ for a bruisin’, rehabbed then relapsed, lost custody of a child or, in this case, all of the above. Basically, it’s the type of place you’d never want to travel, the level of toxicity you wouldn’t wish on your enemy, and a sort of existence comparable to wearing a wool sweater over poison ivy while having to take a massive shit in an airplane bathroom surrounded by disgruntled flight attendants, wailing babies, passengers with significant body odor and, of course, snakes.
Rock bottom, as it is advertised in brochures and on television, is essentially a self-inflicted hell so deplorable that an individual vows never to return. It’s brutal and pathetic and excruciating and shameful and lonely and bleak and endless. According to Google Maps, it lies at a proverbial fork at the end of a long road full of bumps and littered with denial and bullshit, where going left takes you to recovery and going right takes you to the mortuary.
Here’s what else I’ve learned about rock bottom:
Rock bottom is a myth.
It’s a fantasy, a legend for alcoholics that is kept an arm’s length away, just close enough to intimidate and just far enough away to mediate. It’s something that happens to dirtbags and losers and criminals, not high-functioning, upstanding, classy drunks who are “fine”.
Rock bottom is a unicorn, a false hope and a mirage for family members and loved ones. It’s a broken promise that eventually things are going to get better, even after getting worse, and that someone they love will experience an imminent epiphany, miraculously turning their life around to be the walking ray of sober sunshine they were always destined to be. It’s a futuristic event never present on the calendar, yet ever-present in the mind, that we wish for and pray for and cry for, but almost never arrives, because when it comes to a raging alcoholic, sometimes their bottle has a false bottom.
Rock bottom is bullshit.
Alcoholism, as I have come to understand it from my colorful experience in dealing with someone enveloped completely in its wrath, can become a perpetual cycle of destruction marked by big mistakes, bad behavior and bold-faced lies, all of which stem from a nearly impenetrable layer of denial, so thick that not friends nor family nor God himself are capable of breaking, because it is a one-sided mirror that people choose not to gaze into for fear of their own reflection, shatterproof from the outside-in but, from the inside-out, is able to cracked by choice and desperation and self-preservation, much like a fire extinguisher behind protective glass in the center of a massive blaze.
Believe it or not, I have come to understand and somewhat sympathize with the plight of making a choice to surrender to this disorder, to accept responsibility and to begin the arduous process of recovery and rebuilding one’s life from the bottom up.
When an existence has become so empty, so devoid of connection and meaning, it may seem too much and too late to change.
But it isn’t. Ever.
When bills have piled so high and expectations fallen so low, convictions become so frequent and meaningful relationships so rare, hope seems lost and only troubles can be found, it may seem like it isn’t even worth trying.
But it is. Always.
I found myself frustrated and broken down again recently upon discovering that my son’s father had, yet again, been in jail. Same story, different day. He broke his own criminal record and spent a whopping two weeks behind bars on charges of criminal and defiant trespassing and was held without bail as a flight risk, since he is currently considered to be indigent, in addition to being an alcoholic and an asshole.
I only uncovered this little nugget of knowledge when I was forced to contact probation regarding nonpayment of child support. Again.
Evidently, he’s been too busy getting intoxicated and incarcerated to provide for his son. We all have priorities, I guess.
After cycling through the usual stages of grief and peaks and valleys of emotion I determined that, although I want to punch him in the face, I also want him to get better – not for me or even so much for him, but for our son. My son deserves to have a dad, but he doesn’t deserve this.
I also began experiencing an impending feeling of doom that I may, in the near future, be in the terrifying and torturous position of telling my son that his father is dead.
Sadly, this is a distinct and probable possibility at this stage in the drinking game.
My only motivation for the events and actions that followed were not wanting to tell my son his father was dead, and sincerely not wanting him to actually be dead, despite occasionally professing my desire to run him over with my car.
This was certainly a new type of bottom, at least for me.
I was notified on Friday evening, shortly after six, that he had been released, without bail, thanks to our stellar justice system and contrary to a plea otherwise by his family. He was given his belongings and sent on his way, into a town full of bars with which he is all too familiar, with no one to call and nowhere to go.
I felt sad and sorry for him but, more than anything else, I felt that this was the beginning of the end. I felt that the only window into the life that he once had was quickly closing and that, if there were ever a time he might be open to seeking help, this had to be it.
I called his mother. We spoke about our anger and disgust, and we discussed our mutual desire for him to get better. We spoke about his nonexistent relationship with his son, and she told me that for the last two weeks she believed her own was dead. We spoke about how he had been cut off, by all of us in an effort to prevent any further enabling, and we discussed how, if at all possible, we could offer him support toward recovery right now.
We decided that we would both reach out to him.
We would ask if he had somewhere safe to stay that night.
We would tell him that there are people who care about his well-being, and are extremely worried about him.
We would offer him support if he chose to end this cycle and begin the path to recovery.
We would not meet him at his rock bottom, but we would be watching over him from the top of the grave he has dug himself into, encouraging him as he climbed tooth and nail to get back out, to live.
But this was not his rock bottom, because he doesn’t have one.
See, the only thing that this particular knucklehead seems to be dedicated enough to do with any consistency or correctness is to dig more holes.
I should have known better, but I have made peace with my decision because I believed it was worth making the effort even if there was only a slim and extraordinary chance he might want to change his life.
Sadly, he does not.
I did reach out to him.
On the fourth attempt, he answered his phone, probably assuming it was our son calling.
I asked him if he had somewhere safe to stay that night.
He chuckled and told me he did.
I told him that there were people who cared about his well-being and were extremely worried about him.
He laughed again and said there was nothing to be worried about. He was fine. He’d just been “out of the loop” for a couple of weeks.
I offered him support from his family.
He rejected it.
He deflected and denied and destroyed any sliver of hope remaining that he might get better.
I cried that night. For him, for me and for our son.
I realize now that I have reached my rock bottom in dealing with him and his alcoholism and, though he may never reach his, I can only go up from here.
I know for certain as I sit here today that he is going to die from this disease.
I know for certain as I sit here today that I will not allow it to kill me as well.
When he does eventually hit bottom, and we are watching over him from the top of that hole, it will not be to encourage him to climb out, it will be to say our final goodbyes.
It breaks my heart, but at least I know, and there is peace in the knowing.