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[ Staff Picks ] [ Opinion ]

The Ups & Downs of a Life in Addiction: You Deserve to Heal

If you are suffering, in any capacity, you have permission to ask for help.

You don’t need to hit any significant milestone. You don’t need a reason or justification. You don’t even need a tangible problem.

If you are suffering, you deserve to heal. It’s as simple as that.

We have to stop waiting for the rock bottom, simply because we may not encounter the types of life-threatening traumas we anticipate. We may not receive a holistic message telling us that it’s this or death. It may not get “that bad” in the sense that we literally lose everything, including our own selves. Rock bottoms make for tidy, neat recovery stories. They make for dramatic climaxes because they are obvious, dramatic, and captivating.

Rock bottoms make it appear as if recovery is linear, as if there is a distinct beginning, middle, and end within the abstract healing process.

In reality, life rarely works that way. Life is rarely that black-and-white.

Instead, it’s erratic. It’s messy and it’s blurry. In the therapeutic community, I hear many clients and colleagues toss around the rock bottom phrase as if it is all-encompassing and expected, as if everyone experiences a singular moment or crushing realization that they need help. In my experience, this type of spiritual awakening is an exception, not the rule.

I don’t believe we often have light-bulb moments insinuating that it is as bad as it can ever get, it is the lowest it can ever be. Instead, we have many emotionally-charged moments. Many falls. Many ups and downs. Because the truth is, it can always get worse, and we can always sink lower. We humans do a wonderful job at self-destructing, at punishing and torturing ourselves, at testing boundaries even when they know they will harm us. Very easily, we may continue getting sicker and sicker, falling deeper into the abysses of despair, while desperately trying to convince ourselves it’s not that be, it could be so much worse.

We play mind games and we feed into the lies we tell ourselves.

The moment we start wondering, is this a problem? it is becoming a problem. Meanwhile, we are busy waiting for our rock bottoms. Life starts eroding, but we do not realize this because we are so preoccupied waiting for the “big” losses to occur. We are waiting for the divorce, the arrest, the job loss, the physical sickness, or whatever validating and objective markers we can find that signifies, yes, things have really gotten bad! And when those “big” losses do occur? What happens? Well, we wait for “bigger” ones. We redefine what a rock bottom looks like. We redefine what loss and relapse and emotional pain feel like. We continue making excuses; we continue lying to ourselves. We continue pushing ourselves deeper and deeper.

There is one requirement for healing. It’s not a war story. It’s not a trauma. It’s not chronic abuse or hospitalization or an arrest. It’s not even a mental illness diagnosis. It’s acceptance that we deserve it. That, no matter what stage, we deserve healing. If it hurts, acknowledge that it hurts. We can treat the bleeding cut without waiting for it to become infected. We can clean one plate without waiting for the entire sink to overflow with dishes. We can work on one symptom without waiting for it to escalate beyond the point of feeling completely overwhelmed and hopeless.

If you’re currently at rock bottom, great. If you’ve been at rock bottom before, great. If you don’t know if you’ve been there, great. It doesn’t matter where you started; it matters where you are and where you’re going.

Healing is not about the nature or content of the pain; it is about the processing and moving through it. We have to believe we have the right to start climbing upwards instead of digging deeper. Gravity and life will move us downwards; it takes enormous strength and empowerment to move in the opposite direction.

Rock bottom can happen to anyone, and it can be profound and motivational, but it is not a prerequisite for treatment. After all, rock bottom only exists in hindsight. It only exists once we are able to see it, and in order to see it, we have to be above it. And even if it’s not as bad as it can be, we don’t have to torture ourselves by seeing how many limits we can push. We don’t have to prove to anyone how sick we can become.

We have to stop waiting for rock bottom. Because we may already be there. And even if we’re not, no matter where we emotionally and physically are in our journeys of wellness, we deserve the direction of upward healing rather than the destruction of downward regression.