There is a common myth that claims drug addicts and alcoholics must hit rock bottom before they will finally be ready to get clean and sober. This is certainly not true of everyone; however, the terrible dynamics of addiction are such that many men and women caught in its clutches can spiral downward so quickly that they never even realize how bad things have gotten until they have started Losing just about everything.
Hopefully, when addicts reach this penultimate stage they will be ready to admit that things are totally out of control and that seeking help is the only available option. Once things get this bad, escape from the prison of drug addiction one way or another is probably inevitable, because if an addict doesn’t quit voluntarily when things reach this stage it will likely be only a matter of time before the Grim Reaper decides to pay a visit.
But there is a practical problem here. Jumping off of the Titanic when it is sinking sounds like good strategy, but if you wait so long to abandon ship that all of the lifeboats have rowed away, what hope do you really have? Long-term drug and alcohol abuse have significant real world consequences, and if you wait until hitting rock bottom to attempt your escape you may find that there is little or nothing left to escape to. By this point, you may be completely estranged from your family and friends, you almost certainly will have lost your job, you may be facing eviction from your apartment if you have not been locked out already, and if things are really bad you may even find yourself in handcuffs awaiting trial or sentencing. So if this is how things are for you, the question has to be asked; realistically, how can you be expected to successfully marshal all of your internal resources together to fight the hardest battle of your life when you have so many other problems to deal with all at the same time? It would be great if there was an easy answer to this question, but there are not – the consequences of substance abuse are going to be with you for awhile even after you get clean and sober, and the chances are pretty good that you will have to confront at least some of these other demons at the same time you are trying to beat your addiction.
But then again, maybe there is some truth to the idea that you need to hit rock bottom before you can be expected to make a change. No, that is not to suggest that this is the way it has to be for everyone – but maybe that was the way it had to be for you. If you accept the fact that your path back to health was destined to follow this most rocky and foreboding route, then and only then will you be ready to stop feeling sorry for yourself and start facing your problems head on, even if it still seems a little beyond your capacity to handle so much all at once.
Escaping the Cave of Addiction
The great philosopher Plato compared our normal existence to living in a cave. We may be able to see the shadows on the wall that reflect the reality of the outside world, but we will never be able to understand what the world is really like unless we find a way to escape from the darkness of the cave into the bright light of the sun. What Plato was really referring to here was the idea that human beings, whether they realize it or not, are all possessed with extraordinary gifts and powers that can be developed through intelligent and consistent effort. If only we could learn to believe in our own abilities, the dream of escaping from the shadowy existence of the everyday world into a land filled with sunlight and beauty could become reality.
Few caves are darker and more ominous than the cave of drug addiction or alcoholism, but that doesn’t change the fact that we all do have astonishing abilities and inner resources that can help us turn our lives around no matter how far we have fallen. The first step we must take to make such a turnaround possible is to openly and honestly deal with reality as it is in the immediate moment. If you have wounded your relationships with your family or friends, for example, you must reach out to them directly, but in a way that makes it clear you are accepting total responsibility for everything that has happened while letting them know you are ready to do whatever it takes to heal the breach. If you take this approach, you can be certain that at least some of your loved ones will know you are being sincere and will respond positively. But it is important that you be truly sincere – your relationships were damaged in the past because you lied and used people, and those who know you the best will likely be able to tell the difference between something real and something fake.
This policy of honesty, openness, and sincerity will help you heal broken relationships, and it can also help you take full advantage of the opportunities for change and greater human connection that are offered in AA or NA. The people in these groups are your peers, and they all hope to forge relationships of mutual support and sharing with others who have gone through the same trip to hell and back that they have experienced. You can become a contributing part of these networks of wellness, if you are willing to give of yourself and to let other recovering addicts know that you are someone who can be counted on in good times and in bad. The kinds of relationships you form here can even have tangible benefits, as many addicts who have been down on their luck have gotten good tips from other recovering addicts that have helped them find new jobs or new, affordable places to live.
Slow and Steady Wins the Race
No matter how bad things got, if you are in recovery it means you have taken those very important first steps toward the entrance of the cave where you have been trapped for so long. The key to final escape is to just continue doing what you have been doing, putting one foot in front of the other, again and again and again. Slow and small movements forward are the way to great achievement, and if you approach your recovery from abuse with a positive attitude, and a determination to fix things one step at a time through an honest and open approach to all of your endeavors, you can emerge from the darkness into the bright healing warmth of the sun.
Hold these words in your heart and mind, and know without any doubt they are true – even if you are starting out from the darkest recesses of the most profoundly deep cave imaginable, there is always a way out, a way back into the light.