September 27, 2006

if you no longer like piña colada

9/27/06

We were in the car today, going over the Sepulveda Pass, gossiping about a friend of ours who is about to lose his girlfriend, even though he doesn't know it yet. He still has time to make a play, do something drastic, but there seems to be one answer: she has to break up with him so that he can "bottom out" and then actually get his life together.

The whole "bottoming" phrase is common in AA, meaning the time at which drunks realized they could go no further and had to seek help. For me it had nothing to do with alcohol, it meant the times when things got so obviously bad that a revolution within my own heart was going to be the only salvation.

But I had a question: do we really need to actually "bottom out" in order to save ourselves? Can't we see the bottom coming, or even sense its vague possibility, and decide right then and there we are going to start over? Or are human beings so drunk by their own circumstances to actually create change without any immediate threat?

Our friend could walk into his girlfriend's room tomorrow and say: "I've got a new plan, I'm spending eight hours a day on this, three nights on that, and here's how things are going to change around here" and in a month's time, their relationship will likely be saved. But he probably won't do it. He needs to hit bottom, like my sister Michelle says during each teen movie: "skid row..." and only then will he have the wherewithal to make a comeback.

How much time would we save if we decided that "today will be our bottom" and just started anew? How much suffering, how many four-hour phone conversations can we avoid? How many months would we get back, the ones that were ticking away while we wait to get married, or have a kid, or decide what our Life was going to be?

So today's CODE WORD is simply: when did you hit bottom? Did you actually need to hit bottom? Or, if you want to answer anonymously, are you on your way?

Posted by Ian Williams at September 27, 2006 11:18 PM
Comments
Posted by: scruggs at September 28, 2006 4:51 AM

I think I hit internet bottom last Monday when xtcian.com became recognized as a blog by our corporate filter. Thus, I can no longer access the site at work. Big bummer.

I hit a "bottom" while an undergrad. High School had been a pretty successful time for me. Great grades, Miss Involved, All-State runner, etc. Then I got to Carolina and just was tired of putting in any effort. I was on a coed hall in Granville, and joining the sorority was fun. That first month I got my fake id and then I spent two years going out more than I should have, as in most nights. I was too lazy to make it to all but a few classes, and when I did get to campus, I usually just hung out in the Pit. GPA for my first 4 semesters: 2.075, 2.075, 0.9, and 2.075, for a glorious cumulative GPA of 1.8 and academic probation. I can't believe my parents didn't yank me out of school and make me go back to our state U.

So to answer some of the questions above; I probably needed to hit bottom to gain some perspective and see how I'd handle my first taste of any real adversity. Every semester I saw it coming but still trudged along. Something just clicked over the summer after my sophomore year, where I woke up and said "Ok, enough of that. You should be embarrased." I decided the structure of h.s. was what I was lacking. When I got back to school, I had an action plan. I walked on the fencing team to fill my idle time,went to class MOST EVERY TIME and DID my assignments (funny how that can help your grades). Oh, I still went out, but in a little bit more moderation. Then I was Dean's list and Academic All-ACC the rest of the way. After working/hanging out for a few years, UNC even let me in grad school there, not concerned about my blip, and I graduated with honors. Maybe that served as redemption.

I'm actually glad that I had that plummet because it helped me forge the work ethic I have now, because I didn't have that in h.s. and things just came easily. And I no longer feel that sense of entitlement I had when I first arrived on campus.

Posted by: salem's little sister at September 28, 2006 5:35 AM

Scruggs- My story sounds just like yours except for the academic redemption part. I think my true bottom was 2 summers after graduating from UNC and living in Galahad Clark's house on McCaulie St. with 7 boys, including my Gumby's delivery boyfriend. I realized that I had *smoked* my fill, waited enough tables and gone out to H-street enough times to make my own version of Groundhog Day.

At some point during that summer of 97', I visited Salem and he helped me search the internet for therapeutic riding centers and training programs. I had no idea how to begin "surfing the web." Divinely, he found Equest (www.equest.org) and that tap of the enter button changed my life forever. I dumped the boy, packed up my beagle and a U-Haul, moved to Dallas, developed my passion, met my man and quit being a lazy, spoiled princess. I never thought about how it was Salem who actually got me going. Thanks for picking me up Brother and helping me get on with living.

Posted by: CL at September 28, 2006 5:36 AM

I can think of a few meltdowns I had during high school and college, where I wrote pages in my journal deciding I was absolutely sick of myself and how I needed to change. The problem was, I didn't always know how. It was going to be a slower process than I liked, and I needed the perspective I wouldn't get until much later.

I think getting specific would probably require hours of thought, but mostly it resulted in my telling myself to keep my mouth shut and look around at other people and listen and try to be more like them instead of so darn weird. Don't worry - it didn't always work. ;)

Posted by: Claudia at September 28, 2006 6:21 AM

I had a bad breakup that showed me everything I didn't like about myself, who I didn't want to be, and what kind of life I didn't want to have. Like many crises, it was a blessing in disguise, and I think it gave me tremendous insight into relationships at a relatively young age. I largely credit this insight for paving the way for real happiness not long thereafter.

I also had a job that forced me to take a long, hard look at what I wanted to do with my life. The answer was, I didn't have a clue, but it definitely wasn't what I was doing at the time. Armed really with no more information than that, I made a change, which ultimately freed me up and enabled me to take on a more creative solution when it came along. The whole scenario taught me that life is a continually-evolving process, and that there are really no straight lines.

Posted by: Dan K. at September 28, 2006 6:23 AM

I don't think I ever hit bottom. I just decided at some point around senior year in college that I'd rather be happy than unhappy, so I focused my energies in that direction. It totally worked.

Posted by: Kelly in NC at September 28, 2006 7:15 AM

My husband and I separated and then divorced because of my stupid actions. I pretty much skittered along rock bottom the whole time we were apart, perhaps hitting the lowest point when I had to get a restraining order against an ex-boyfriend who began stalking me. I do think I needed to hit rock bottom to realize that the life I had chosen was not morally or spiritually satisfying in any way, especially when compared to what I'd had before.

Miraculously, I got a do-over. My husband and I reconciled and are now remarried. To each other.

Posted by: hilary at September 28, 2006 7:21 AM

i just want to know if said boyfriend will be reading this entry today.

Posted by: Sean M. at September 28, 2006 7:37 AM

You say: "Do we really need to actually "bottom out" in order to save ourselves? Can't we see the bottom coming, or even sense its vague possibility, and decide right then and there we are going to start over? Or are human beings so drunk by their own circumstances to actually create change without any immediate threat?"

Yes, I do think that "bottoming out" is necessary sometimes. Even if we've been to the bottom before, know someone who has been there, or have the bottom described to us in the most specific detail, I think human beings are generally an proud and optimistic bunch...unless you're actually there, at the bottom, you think things are going to turn around before you actually get there. The bottom isn't an acceptable option, until it's the only option. Until then, in your mind, there's always a chance of winning the lottery (literally or figuratively) or working your way out of something.

I don't have my own anecdote to share...I've gone through some pretty crappy stuff, but I wouldn't say that I've ever hit bottom.

Posted by: k at September 28, 2006 8:10 AM

I'm a believer in bottoming out. I think that real growth doesn't happen until it's absolutely necessary. I had a psychological bottoming out a few years ago and it was the most important, best thing that's ever happened to me. I think that the phrase, "you do not know the light until you have been in the dark" is really true, and I appreciate/notice so much more of the good now that I have been through so much of the bad. Three cheers for breakdowns.

Posted by: Holy Shit, that's me. at September 28, 2006 8:22 AM

Whaddya mean she's going to leave me??!!

Oh god oh god oh god oh fuck.

Thanks for the heads up, asshole.

Posted by: LFMD at September 28, 2006 9:11 AM

My bottom occurred when my daughter was a baby, I was stressed out 24/7, overwhelmed by my full-time work at the law firm, and I was deep into a clinical depression. I was angry and negative and completely unkind to my husband. Eventually, he told me that he did not enjoy life with me, and he wanted to have a happy life. Truth is, I could not blame him. I was a bitch on wheels, and I could not stop myself, thanks to my brain chemistry and general disinterest in a good quality of life. He had even developed a plan wherein he and I would sell our house, live in nearby townhouses, and share custody of our daughter. At one point, we were sitting in our living room, and my husband was crying. He specifically said, "There is no love in our relationship. I am a good person and I deserve to be happy. I don't want to live with you -- you are completely negative and I want to be happy." It broke my heart to see him sobbing and the truth of what he said made me realize that 1. I have a wonderful husband, 2. we have a wonderful daughter, and 3. if I did not do something FAST, I was going to lose everything that meant anything to me. Plus, the idea of divorcing and making my daughter shuffle between 2 homes was unacceptable.

So, I went to the psychiatrist, got some meds, and gradually pulled myself out of the quagmire of depression. I am now able to be the best person I can be. I am far from perfect, but I don't drag around my depression -- which essentially killed all joy for me and those around me. I am able to see humor and joy in things, and I am aware of all the blessings I have in my life. When I was depressed, I just could not see how good I had it. I was angry and negative and bitter all the time, and I could not figure out why.

Anyway, that's more than you all probably needed to know. It's what I thought of bottoming-out wise. No one tells you how hard marriage and parenthood can be. Many think that depression is a bogus diagnosis. All I know is that just 5 years into my marriage, I almost single-handedly destroyed it. Tim and I will be celebrating our 12th anniversary next month, and our daughter is 7. Every time the three of us are laughing or playing or reading books together, I am so thankful that I had a moment of clarity to realize that I was about to lose it all. Moreover, I am thankful that my husband was kind enough to give me another chance.

Anyway, thanks for the reminder. Even now, I tend to take things for granted. A reality check like this is very helpful. Hugs!

Posted by: thpride at September 28, 2006 9:24 AM

scruggs, are you me??!!

after my first 3.5 semesters at carolina, i received a nice, but strongly-worded letter from TPTB informing me that either i carried my @$$ to summer school somewhere - ANYWHERE -, took 6 credits hours, and racked up a GPA in those hours of at least a B - the pleasure of my company at the university would no longer be desired. ah, the pressure!

so ... while all the college kids that i was working with at a summer program at a community college in nyc went out to party every friggin' night of the week, after work, i trudged over to the lincoln center campus of fordham university to do my time. fortunately for me, got the hours, got the grades, got back to UNC, got excellent grades thereafter (nota bene: you can either go to class and read (recommended option), or you can read and not go to class, or you can go to class and not read, but under no circumstances should you neither go to class nor read - recipe for disaster, along with dating - as a freshman/sophomore - a senior/new alum who didn't understand why you had to go to class while he was just chillin'), got into georgetown law (with, i might add, a nice personal note on my admissions letter from the dean marvelling at my turnaround!) i have to say though that the turnabout was primarily motivated by the death of my father and grandmother around that time. i felt like crap KNOWING that these two people, among others, did not work as hard on my behalf/love me as hard as they did just so i could $%^& around. i just felt that i couldn't insult their memories like that.

claudia, ditto on the horrible breakup as motivating force; there were others before, but a particular one took the cake. it took a dear friend, also a proud tarheel, to warn me that if i didn't wake up and learn the lessons i was supposed to, the "teacher" would continue to reappear in forms more horrific than the previous ones. thankfully, that advice finally took.

Posted by: Neva at September 28, 2006 10:28 AM

Wow, LFMD, that was very powerful. I am glad you got the help you needed. Sadly enough many people hit bottom (especially with depression) and never really recover. That to me is the bigger question - why are some people resilient and come out stronger and other people just keep spiraling downward?

Posted by: Jackie at September 28, 2006 10:33 AM

AA has a saying "you don't hit bottom until you drop the shovel".

There is no bottom unless you count death as a bottom and not a deliverance (and all this bottom talk is beginning to seem rather kinky).

Many of us, at various moments of our lives, have moments of clarity when we realize that we are not living our lives the way that we would like and if we are lucky enough and strong enough we began to make large or small changes that enable us to be the people that we think we are capable of being.

At one point my life was pretty out of control. I was living with an alcoholic and life was just completely messy. One night I started to leave my shopping cart in a parking space in a grocery store parking lot rather than walk it back to the corral. I thought "My life is a mess and I can't see a way to get it under control. But, I can do small things right. I can put this cart back where it belongs. And then I can do the next small thing".
It sounds pretty hokey but that moment really changed my life. I could do the small things and it started to clear away the edges of the mess and allowed me to do some of the bigger things that needed doing.
Long term I have found that those kind of experiences lead to more clarifying moments because I am more open to the possibility. Once I began to grow it was possible to continue growing and new revelations don't hit me with such force but I enjoy the process tremendously.

Of course the fact that I had the shopping cart moment (as I like to think of it) probably had something to do with having started to take anti-depressants but that fact just messes up a good story.
Jackie

Posted by: DFB's&T's at September 28, 2006 12:27 PM

One summer, at band camp . . . .

Posted by: oliver at September 28, 2006 3:31 PM

My philosophy is "there is no bottom." I don't recommend it though. Depressing.

Posted by: LFMD at September 28, 2006 4:29 PM

Thanks, Neva. I don't really consider my experience powerful. . . . I am just really disappointed with myself. And, I don't know why some people get help and recover and some don't, but for me, it was all about my daughter. I could not imagine making her a child of divorce, with all the baggage it entails. I am not saying that we "stayed together for the child", because I love my husband, and I don't believe in creating a farce just to have an intact family. And, I know that there is a huge percentage of children from divorced families who function just fine.

I suppose what I am trying to say is that it terrified me that I was responsible for my daughter's environment, the stress level in that environment, and her feelings of security and comfort. I had a choice to create a loving model of a family for her with a stable mother, or to give her a first-hand view of depression and mental illness. I had enough sense to choose the former. Honestly, I had struggled with depression for YEARS before I got help, and the only thing thta made me seek treatment was becoming a mother.

Posted by: Annie at September 28, 2006 5:38 PM

Wow...interesting question today. I take courage from everyone's forthright stories on this count.

Salem's little sister--your story reminds me of my *first* bottoming-out experience (there have been a couple), which occurred in college when I was firmly established in a fairly serious eating disorder (which I blithely assumed no one noticed). I went to the mall with my brother to buy jeans, and as I was trying on some insanely small pair of jeans--and admiring my rigorously maintained thinness in the mirror--my brother just looked at me and said, with distaste, "Ann, you have absolutely no ass."

This was a pivotal moment in many ways: a) my brother had truly noticed me, and had sufficient concern to comment, b) my manic and excessive preoccupation with food/exercise, which I had fought valiantly to conceal, had been outed, and c) I was forced to recognize that "having no ass" was not only not desirable, but actually disgusting.

It's funny how, in restrospect, some incidental exchange can take on ever-deepening significance. At the time of the jeans comment, I was affronted, annoyed, embarrassed, and silent. But it stayed there, needling in the back of my mind, and forced me to begin to see myself through my brother's eyes. How he saw me (I was 21 at the time) really, really mattered to me. We had lost our dad a few years before (which is what had prompted my manic shrinkdown) and for me it was losing my greatest champion, fan, and cheerleader. All of the sudden the only man who meant anything to me (I hadn't yet met Ian) was looking at me and saying, "This is not ok. YOU are not ok." And I was simply forced to take that into account and re-examine the assumptions that were ruling my life.

Since then I have had a few more--ahem--shall we say, bracing moments, as far as being motivated to re-examine and change, but that was the real clincher for me. Because it was the first time I ever had to grapple with consequences of my own self-destruction that were exterior to me, to my predictable and solipsistic inner struggle. And the lesson has endured. Thank you, bro.

Posted by: salem's little sister at September 28, 2006 7:27 PM

Annie- Our exchange was a few years after losing our father too. It's amazing what that does to a girl. And I have always felt the same way as you about wanting my brother to see me, know me and help keep me true. I would have been so much more lost without Salem and I don't know if he knows that. I love you Brother.

Posted by: A fan at September 28, 2006 11:58 PM

LFMD, I'm really impressed with your courage, both to get through it and to tell it.

Ian, you certainly know how to get us thinking. ;)

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