Q&A: I Don't Want To Reach Rock Bottom


Below is a reader question, and my response — Erin

“After yesterday of struggling with how much I drink, I finally had an epiphany in April that I could just stop and it would be OK — it would actually be amazing to just give up the questioning and never feel like shit again. Now it’s a few months later, and I’m still not where I want to be. Consciously, I want to stop completely. But I still go back. I’m a successful, professional, corporate mom. I so resonate with the podcasts you’ve shared. 

I’m not sure my husband has any idea what my struggle is. I don’t want to reach a rock bottom that includes a DUI or something worse. What do you suggest?”

Oh, my friend. First I want you to know how very not alone you are. This was exactly my, and countless other women’s stories, for the second half of my thirties. I knew that the way that I drank wasn’t good for me and that I should take a look at it. But how? Could there really be a life without alcohol, when it had been my friend, my medicine, the cornerstone of my evenings, social life, and the medicine for my anxiety?

And that cavern between drinking and not-drinking: how in the world could I scale that? It seemed so impossible.

First, in reaching out, you have taken the first step.

I stayed stuck, far too long in my own head, wondering, questioning, and believing that someone like me could figure this thing out on her own. I couldn’t, and I believe no one can. Back then I used to sit behind my computer with my glass of Chardonnay and read message boards for women who had stopped or were trying to stop drinking. Sometimes I applied to be a part of those boards at night and deleted my request in the morning.

Stopping drinking, as much as I wanted to, seemed like an impossibility. Plus. I wasn’t “that bad,” right? 

Now I believe I, and you, don’t have to reach “rock bottom” to make a change. I believe rock bottom is actually a dated, unnecessary, and dangerous concept. (This is particularly true in light of the opioid epidemic, where ‘just one more time’ equals death. The same thing can actually happen with alcohol too.)

The idea of “rock bottom” is rooted in 12 Step philosophy (which does inform my perspective). Essentially someone has to sink to the absolute depths before he or she has the “gift of desperation” that leads him or her to ask for and receive help.

Desperation does have its merits, and it was what led me to ask for help in changing my relationship with alcohol, which ended up changing my life. If you had asked me two years ago if I believed in rock bottom I would have wholeheartedly said “yes,” and told you that I was still climbing out of mine. 

However, like you, I remained a successful, professional corporate mom. And while things got very, very bad, in retrospect, I don’t think I hit a conventional “rock bottom.” There was no DUI, no loss of job, no loss of home, or family (though I did put them through the ringer).

What I lost instead was the connection to who I really was. I lost countless nights, peace of mind, confidence, and genuine connection to people I cared about. I lost sight of who I was supposed to be, too many mornings, and the ability to feel things in their entirety, good and bad. I lost some of my determination, my focus, and my joy.

I lost sight of my values, respect for myself, and far too often respect for people I cared about.

But through all this, I remained a successful, corporate mom.

So, let me tell you what I wish someone would have told me years ago:

You don’t have to reach rock bottom.

You can stop drinking alcohol at any time.

And if you find you can’t stop drinking alcohol, this is is a problem.

I know you do not want to hear this. You’re afraid that you’re going to have to call yourself the “A” word. Maybe you will, and maybe you won’t. The most important thing is that you are hearing and listening to that voice that says you want to stop completely. What can you do next?

Know that there are countless women who have stopped before reaching “bottom.” Now more than ever there are so many resources for folks who are reconsidering their relationship with alcohol. Women are getting off the roller coaster before it plummets all the way down. Some call it an “early exit” or “opting out.” 

Here are some other resources you might check out as you examine your relationship to alcohol. Among them: podcasts, blogs, membership sites (free and paid), and more: 

The Edit Podcast: Jolene Park, who coined the term “grey area drinking” (see her Tedx talk on the subject and FB membership community) and Aidan Donnelley Rowley explore their decisions to make an Early Exit from the drinking life, the gray area of drinking and the ongoing edits they make to their lives.

Annie Grace: Author of “This Naked Mind, Control Alcohol, Find Freedom, Discover Happiness and Change Your Life,” has tons of resources on her site, including free ones. This book has helped many people shift their paradigm around alcohol, including me.

Hip Sobriety: Includes lots of free resources, as well as Hip Sobriety School (fee). From her manifesto: “You don't need to hit rock bottom. Some 90% of folks who struggle with alcohol (in the US) are not clinically addicted. We have an idea that we need to be falling down and lose everything to address our relationship with alcohol. Not true. If you're worried about your drinking, if it's causing shame or fear or keeping you from the life you're dreaming about, that's more than enough to begin. And the sooner you start, the easier it is.”

These resources will give you a great start and lead you to many other folks who have walked the same path that you have, as well as focusing on a solution. 

Finally, one note on your husband: it’s common that partners may not know the extent of our struggles. I would suggest sharing this with him. Yes, it’s scary, and probably not a conversation you want to have. Once we speak these words aloud it becomes more real, and we get closer to owning our truth.

However, and without knowing the details of your situation, don’t be surprised if your husband doesn’t understand or says things like “Are you sure,” or “Maybe you could just cut back?” These are common responses from folks who are close to us who may not understand the extent to which alcohol is dimming our light. But saying it aloud does make a difference. 

Only you can do this, and I believe you are already heeding the calling. There’s not one way to walk this path, but I promise: if it speaks to you, follow it. There’s nothing in this world that alcohol makes better, and there’s a big life waiting for you on the other side of the unknown. I’ll be standing there cheering you on.