Hitting Rock Bottom

Diving Deep)

“Hitting rock bottom” is a common phrase in addiction recovery and twelve-step programs. Addicts will include it when describing the shocking depths they descended to before they were willing to wholly commit to recovery. They lost jobs, were imprisoned, lost their families, declared bankruptcy, were excommunicated from their church, lost their physical and mental health, and perhaps even found themselves on death’s doorstep. In short, they sunk as low as they possibly could, and then, having “hit rock bottom,” they finally started to look upward.

This pattern is so common that some addicts will attest that no one will ever find real recovery until they first hit rock bottom. It’s not that everyone’s rock bottom is the same, but they claim that one must hit their personal moment of absolute devastation before they can recover. Some will even tell newcomers who haven’t suffered enough hardship from the addiction that they aren’t possibly going to get better until they first get much worse.

I absolutely disagree with such claims. I think there is a real pattern being recognized, but extrapolating that pattern to say it is an absolute rule for each and every single individual is a terrible mistake. No one should ever be told that they cannot yet begin the process of getting better.

The Power of Fear)

But as I just said, this doesn’t mean that there isn’t a real pattern occurring here. I saw it in my initial recovery group of six members. We each had our own highs and lows, but only one of us totally stopped working the program. I have to say, from the very first meeting I had my doubts about his commitment. The most obvious difference between him and the rest of us was that he was still young, unmarried, and had relatively little to lose if he didn’t get better right away.

Well, that’s not true, we all had just as much to lose, but for some of us the losses were occurring in the present, whereas for him much of the potential losses were still in the future. Since that time, I have met other young addicts who were able to stick to a program, even without their feet being held to the fire by the threat of losing marriage and family, but they are a small demographic in our ranks.

Fear of real and dramatic loss is one of the greatest motivators for change. It isn’t the only motivator, and people can achieve recovery without it, but there will always be more scared and desperate individuals in recovery than cocky and sure.

Pivot Points)

Of course, fear does not properly account for the phenomenon of getting sober after “hitting rock bottom.” Fear is an emotion that comes from potential unpleasant outcomes. Fear is always looking forward to a future experience, usually one that may or may not even occur. But “hitting rock bottom” would mean that the thing you were afraid of has already occurred. The loss has happened, the relationship has ended, the freedom has been taken. Fear has already been replaced with reality. So what else is it about these moments that might inspire real change?

Well, these are pivot points. They are moments that force a huge reality check on us. Up until these moments we might have been in denial, finding other things to blame for our problems, but huge tragedies like these usually make us take a hard look inside. We finally see ourselves as we actually are, and having gained that perspective we get to make a choice whether we will accept what we see or not. We have a chance to say to ourselves “no, I cannot tolerate this. I cannot be this way. I will do whatever it takes to change.”

Each new low presents a new chance to have that introspection and to make that commitment to change. They are stations along the railway, and at each one we have the option to change trains if we want. There is a train station when you are caught the first time. There is a train station when you lose your marriage. There is a train station when you go to jail. One might take the first exit, another the second, another the third, and another might never get off the ride at all.

Thus, “hitting rock bottom” really means the time you reach the pivot point where you finally decide enough is enough. Each person has a different point where this occurs for them, and it is based entirely on their individual personality and choice. Many of us are too stubborn to choose to change until we have suffered great loss, but as I have said already, I do know others who made a real change far sooner on their journey. It’s entirely up to you.

Overwhelming Stress: Part One

Whenever we look at the root of our negative behaviors, we will most often find some form of stress lurking there. Powerful negative feelings fester inside of us and tend to come out sideways. But not all stress is the same. Some stress is inevitable and unchangeable, such as having a disability or a chronic disease, while other stress seems like it could be removed, whether by a change of environment or character. These changeable sources of stress are the subject for this series.

Two Kinds of Agitation)

Failing finances, becoming overweight, and having a messy house, these are all things that agitate us just by living with them, and then they agitate us again because we feel like we could resolve them if we just worked harder or smarter. Knowing that we could deal with these, but that we’re not, makes us feel guilty, ashamed, and weak. Our failure leads directly into our shame, and our shame leads directly into our negative behaviors.

I have certainly had my fair share of this sort of shameful stress. In fact, the three examples I just gave are all ones that are currently active in my own life. I have watched as the bank account became lower and lower, and the number on the scale became higher and higher, and the messes spread further and further. Each has brought its individual anxiety, and then each has been compounded with the embarrassment and shame of having ever letting things get into such a situation. Worst of all, I then indulge in unhealthy excesses to medicate this pain, and that excess further aggravates these very same problem areas.

The Fear of Destruction)

The key issue of these stresses is that they put in us the fear of our own destruction. Maybe there is still a little money in my bank account, but if it is trending negative, the eventual conclusion can only be financial ruin. And maybe I’m still able to get up and do what I want, but if my weight keeps trending upward the eventual conclusion can only be disease and a premature death. And maybe there are still some clean refuges in the house, but if the messes keep spreading the eventual conclusion can only be an entirely uninhabitable household. To see the train chugging towards a wreck and then discover that the brakes don’t work is enough to make anyone feel hopeless. They’re not ruined yet, but the crash is inevitable.

Under the shadow of inevitable ruin is a terrible place for one to take up residence. Is it any wonder we keep taking a vacation from here, even if only briefly, to the fantasy land of our indulgences? Of course, the fact that these indulgences only make the problem worse leads us to seek another vacation just as soon as we glimpse our home of harsh realities. We know that we’re not dealing with the problem, but it’s already gotten so heavy that it seems we couldn’t ever have the strength to lift all of it.

But let us take a step back to consider the facts that we have just uncovered. It is the recognition that our path leads to destruction that creates a constant sense of dread is un. It is the way a man’s life is trending that distresses him most, far more than the state he is actually in. So often we get caught up in trying to change our entire state, when really we ought to be focusing on simply changing our trend.

A man that is seventy pounds overweight longs to shed all of it, but his most pronounced anguish actually comes just from seeing that his weight is a mere 0.1 pounds higher today than it was yesterday. Being seventy pounds overweight is bad, but even more terrible is knowing that seventy pounds will look like a happy place compared to where he is going!

Shifting the Trend)

And in this realization we find our salvation! For which is the more manageable task, to get out of those seventy extra pounds, or to change the daily trend of 0.1 pounds plus to 0.1 pounds negative? Obviously shifting the trend down by 0.2 pounds per day is far more within reach than to suddenly melt away dozens and dozens of pounds!

And once again, I am saying all of this from my own experience. I am myself seventy pounds overweight, and 1,200 dollars in debt, and with six large messes spread throughout the house. And up until about a month ago I was inching further and further in the wrong direction in all of those areas and was miserable because of it. During this last month, though, I have started making small changes, so that I am now inching in the right direction in all of those areas. And at the end of that month, I am still overweight, and still in debt, and still have a messy house…but I am enormously happy! Why? Because the future is not inevitable destruction anymore, it is assured salvation! I have changed my trend and I am going the right way, and this is the peace I always wanted.

Charles Dickens probably summed it up best in his novel, David Copperfield (slightly paraphrased to a more familiar monetary format):

Annual income 20 pounds, annual expenditure 19.96, result happiness. Annual income 20 pounds, annual expenditure 20.06, result misery.

Bring Your Worst Fears to Reality and be Free: Part Two

The Conflicted Soul)

In my last post I examined the reason why the addict doesn’t dare admit his secret shame, which is that doing so might jeopardize all the things he feels he cannot lose. His family, his job, his church, maybe even his ability to live outside of prison, he cannot stand to give up any of these things, and so he will accept a pretend life instead.

The addict tells himself that he doesn’t need to choose between confession and living a cursed life, he assures himself that he will overcome this behavior on his own. No one will need to know about it, and he’ll still figure it out. But year after year passes and he still hasn’t made the change, and through all the years his conscience keeps bringing to his mind that he really must confess.

So, which is he to listen to? The calculating, rationalizing brain that assures him healthy living is nothing more than mind over matter? Or the aching, broken heart that insists that somehow, someway, confession is the only road to healing?

Well, if he is content to have his life continue just the same as it has always been, then he can continue to listen to the same rationalizations that he always has, but if he ever wants to have a different outcome than every time before, then he must be willing to take a step that he has never dared before. At some point he has to make the leap from his head to his heart. He must accept the possibility of losing all the things he holds most dear as the price for his salvation.

Two Encouragements)

To the soul that is on the cusp of throwing in with the heart and making confession, may I offer two reassurances. The first is that the things you fear most may not actually occur. Our nature is to think up absolute worst-case scenarios, to assume that every turn that can go wrong will go wrong. Negative outcomes that seem a certainty, in truth are usually only possibilities.

Of course, I cannot promise you that every worst fear in your head won’t come true. Even if the most severe repercussions have only a small likelihood of coming true, one should accept that it might still be possible. That being said, I can tell you that I still have never met the addict who had things go even remotely as bad as they had anticipated. Certainly, there have been choppy waters and losses, but never the total capsizing that most of us envision.

The other reassurance is that even if the losses are dire, even if every bad thing in your imagination did come true, there will be interwoven with it a peaceful contentment that you probably have not accounted for. You will have a peaceful contentment that soothes every loss and pain so that they are never as terrible as you had imagined.

That contentment comes from the fact that now, for the first time in who knows how many years, you are your real self again. I cannot overstate just how much of a relief you feel when you bring forward the truth and are finally back to being your own self. You feel a way that you had forgotten you could feel like. It is like getting out of a bath and putting on fresh clothes. You feel warm and comfortable and clean and safe. You feel reassured that whatever comes, it will be alright, because you have you again, and that more than makes up for whatever else you have no longer.

I promise you that you will find greater joy being yourself in a miserable place than to be a fraud in comfortable surroundings.

And this is not all. The very things you fear to lose by telling the truth you probably don’t even have anymore, anyway. I will examine that concept more in my next post, but for now I’ll simply say that you truly have little to nothing to actually lose, but you do have everything to gain. See what the analyzing, calculating mind makes of that arithmetic!

Bring Your Worst Fears to Reality and be Free: Part One

The Reasons to Lie)

The addict is a curious creature, utterly appalled at his inexcusable behavior, yet also in complete denial about it. Before acting out he minimizes the severity of the deed, reassuring himself that just this once won’t make a difference and he can quit whenever he wants. Immediately afterwards he experiences terrible self-loathing, promising himself that he will never do it again.

Now and again, during those shameful after-effects where he most strongly wishes to be free of his vice, the thought might occur to him that he needs to tell someone what is going on. If he is married, he might feel that he needs to tell his wife. If he is religious, he might feel that he needs to confess to a leader. If he has broken laws, he might feel that he needs to turn himself in to the police. If none of the above, there is still confession to those that have been hurt, professional therapists, or close friends. There is always someone that the addict could turn to…if they had the courage.

And it is this matter of courage where the addict struggles. For no sooner does the thought to confess rise up then it is forced right back down. He might fight the urge down through minimizing:

“Oh I don’t need to do anything as drastic as that! I just need to really try my best and I’ll be able to take care of it.”

Or he might come up with some reason why he can’t:

“I would tell my wife the truth…but it would break her. I just can’t put her through that pain, she doesn’t deserve it.”

Or, if he’s being more honest, he just isn’t willing to face the fear:

“If I tell, I’ll lose everyone and everything. I can’t lose my marriage. I can’t lose my kids. I can’t lose my church. I can’t lose my job. I can’t and won’t do it.”

The Mind’s Fear, the Heart’s Hope)

This fear is the real reason why the addict doesn’t confess. If he could have solved it on his own, he would have done it by now, and he doesn’t protect anyone but himself by living under a false image. The only reason that stands up to scrutiny is that he isn’t willing to lose the things that he has.

Is that selfish? Yes, but it is also human nature. We are terrified of losing our surrounding structure and that’s not always a bad thing. A healthy dose of fear keeps us from doing things that jeopardize our lives and well-being. The problem is that the addict’s fear is keeping him in a behavior that is destroying all the things that he doesn’t want to lose anyway.

He isn’t present at work, he isn’t working on his faith, and he isn’t faithful in his marriage. The things he is afraid of losing he is slowly gutting of their original virtue until they become an unfulfilling career, a hollow faith, and a sham marriage. So, in his self-interest, he is ironically destroying his own self-interest.

Thus, when it comes to hiding one’s addiction, we can immediately comprehend its root. The desire to hide comes from within the addict. It comes from the fear of losing himself. But now contrast this with the recurring notion that keeps returning to the addict that he should confess. Where on earth does that thought come from?

If hiding is about self-preservation, exposing is suicidal! As we have shown, excessive self-preservation can erode what the addict already has, but exposing his secrets seems that it will surely blow it all away! What possible reason would an addict’s mind have to conjure up an idea that is so against himself?

And the answer is: none. Because it isn’t about intellectual reasons. Any addict who appraises the idea of confession will realize that it did not come with a reason, it came with a feeling. The idea did not come from their analyzing, rationalizing, efficiency-focused brain, it came from the heart. Might it destroy the addict? Yes, that is a distinct possibility. But it just feels right even so. It feels like it might be just the thing to save the aching soul. Why? The addict might not have any idea why, but it just feels true in their heart.

Thus, hiding is to preserve yourself, but confession is to save yourself.

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 50:16-18

16 And they sent a messenger unto Joseph, saying, Thy father did command before he died, saying,

17 So shall ye say unto Joseph, Forgive, I pray thee now, the trespass of thy brethren, and their sin; for they did unto thee evil: and now, we pray thee, forgive the trespass of the servants of the God of thy father. And Joseph wept when they spake unto him.

18 And his brethren also went and fell down before his face; and they said, Behold, we be thy servants.

Joseph’s brothers still did not believe that he had truly forgiven them, and they were afraid that he would take his vengeance upon them now that Jacob was out of the picture. In this they show a lack of faith, but it is worth noting that they have at least improved from the men that they were before.

Earlier they had felt threatened by Joseph, specifically by their father’s favoritism of him and his visions, and at that time their response was to try and destroy him. Another time they had felt insulted by the people of Shechem and had destroyed the men of that land. Today, though, there is no violence in them whatsoever. Today they are willing to humble themselves, fall before Joseph’s face, and beg for mercy instead. There is faith to believe in the forgiveness that we have been given, but lacking that there is at least the faith to ask for it.

What of their claim that before Jacob died he expressed that Joseph should forgive them? If they mean that Jacob said this only to them, intending for them to convey the message secondhand to Joseph, that seems highly suspect. We know that Jacob met Joseph shortly before his death, to bless him and his sons, so why would he not have just told Joseph his wishes directly then? This claim of theirs seems entirely made up.

Unless, of course, they mean that Jacob did express such a wish at that final gathering, with all the brothers including Joseph hearing it, in which case the brothers are simply reminding Joseph of that request. In either case, the fact that the brothers are invoking these wishes of Jacob, whether real or fabricated, supports my theory that Jacob was at some point made fully aware of how Joseph’s brothers had sold him into Egypt.

As for Joseph, he is moved to tears by their pathetic plea. Those tears are not explained, but they could be tears of pity for his brothers’ fear, or perhaps tears of frustration that they still think they have to fear in the first place.

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 32:13-18

13 And he lodged there that same night; and took of that which came to his hand a present for Esau his brother; 

14 Two hundred she goats, and twenty he goats, two hundred ewes, and twenty rams,

15 Thirty milch camels with their colts, forty kine, and ten bulls, twenty she asses, and ten foals.

16 And he delivered them into the hand of his servants, every drove by themselves; and said unto his servants, Pass over before me, and put a space betwixt drove and drove.

17 And he commanded the foremost, saying, When Esau my brother meeteth thee, and asketh thee, saying, Whose art thou? and whither goest thou? and whose are these before thee?

18 Then thou shalt say, They be thy servant Jacob’s; it is a present sent unto my lord Esau: and, behold, also he is behind us.

Jacob had sent messengers to let Esau know that he came in humility and peace. Then he divided his camp into two parties, so that if Esau fell upon one the other could escape. He still wasn’t done, though, for now he put together an impressive gift of more than five hundred livestock, divided between goats, sheep, camels, cows, and donkeys. If Esau did not have flocks already, he certainly would now!

And that’s not all. Jacob showed a shrewd tactic by having the gift arrive in parts. First Esau would receive the sheep, and then a little later the goats would arrive, and then the camels, and so on. Depending on whether he divided the male and female of each species, Jacob sent the gift in five to nine different droves. This technique was likely calculated to flatter Esau multiple times over and excite him to see what good thing his brother was sending to him next.

But would it work? As we will see in the next verses, Jacob had done everything that he could think to assuage Esau’s anger, yet he remained terribly unsure what sort of greeting awaited him.

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 32:1-2

1 And Jacob went on his way, and the angels of God met him.

2 And when Jacob saw them, he said, This is God’s host: and he called the name of that place Mahanaim.

We are about to read of Jacob’s reunion with Esau, and it will be abundantly clear how worrying this meeting was for him. He had made it safely away from Laban, but for all he knew he was going out of the frying pan and into the fire!

How comforting it must have been, then, to meet these angelic figures. We do not know what transpired between he and they, clearly the messengers did not remove the issue of meeting with Esau, but at least there would have been the comfort of knowing God was still watching over him in this, his greatest moment of need. Jacob would still have to continue into the lion’s den, but he would not have to go alone.

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 24:5-9

5 And the servant said unto him, Peradventure the woman will not be willing to follow me unto this land: must I needs bring thy son again unto the land from whence thou camest?

6 And Abraham said unto him, Beware thou that thou bring not my son thither again.

7 The Lord God of heaven, which took me from my father’s house, and from the land of my kindred, and which spake unto me, and that sware unto me, saying, Unto thy seed will I give this land; he shall send his angel before thee, and thou shalt take a wife unto my son from thence.

8 And if the woman will not be willing to follow thee, then thou shalt be clear from this my oath: only bring not my son thither again.

9 And the servant put his hand under the thigh of Abraham his master, and sware to him concerning that matter.

There is a natural hesitation in us when asked to make a pledge that depends on elements not under our control. What if we simply can’t fulfill that promise? Of course it is good to have faith in the face of the unknown, but faith is a muscle that is strengthened over time, and sometimes we lack the faith that the moment requires.

To the servant’s credit, he tries to find a solution to help bolster his commitment. He asks if he should just bring Isaac back to the land of Ur of the Chaldees if he fails in the first attempt to find a wife. He is ready to commit to try and to keep trying, he’s just not so sure on guaranteeing success.

Abraham absolutely does not want his son brought back to that land, so he turns down the servant’s idea, but then he does two things to help inspire and alleviate his servant. The first is that he encourages the man by saying that this is the will of God. God was the one who made a solemn covenant to Abraham that a righteous nation would be raised through Isaac, so God is actively interested in Isaac finding a righteous companion, and He will prepare the way for the servant’s success. The servant has nothing to fear.

However, in the case that the servant does still fear, Abraham then tells him that if he is unable to find a wife for Isaac then he is free of any obligation. That would, of course, leave Abraham without a solution to his problem, but Abraham isn’t concerned about that. Unlike the servant, he has sufficient faith in this plan that he does not require a backup. Thus Abraham is extending his own faith to cover the lack of his servant’s in this instance.

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 20:7, 9-12

7 Now therefore restore the man his wife; for he is a prophet, and he shall pray for thee, and thou shalt live: and if thou restore her not, know thou that thou shalt surely die, thou, and all that are thine.


9 Then Abimelech called Abraham, and said unto him, What hast thou done unto us? and what have I offended thee, that thou hast brought on me and on my kingdom a great sin? thou hast done deeds unto me that ought not to be done.

10 And Abimelech said unto Abraham, What sawest thou, that thou hast done this thing?

11 And Abraham said, Because I thought, Surely the fear of God is not in this place; and they will slay me for my wife’s sake.

12 And yet indeed she is my sister; she is the daughter of my father, but not the daughter of my mother; and she became my wife.

God tells Abimelech what he must do to remove the threat of destruction from his house, and when Abimelech awakens the next day he quickly follows through. He doesn’t hold back in expressing his frustration with Abraham, though. “Thou hast done deeds that ought not to be done!”

And now Abraham is frank and forthcoming. “I thought the fear of God is not in this place.” He also admits the exact nature of his relationship to Sarah, yes her husband, but also that he actually is her half-brother.

At last Abimelech and Abraham are having a real and honest communication. Abimelech expresses his genuine offense and Abraham discloses his genuine fears, and now at last the two men are seeing each other honestly. It may not be the happiest of conversations, but their understanding of one another is now in harmony with the truth, which is the only foundation that a real relationship can be built on. Assumptions and unspoken fears lead to relationships that are not congruent with reality, and that disparity always causes harm.

The Epic Life- 1 Samuel 17:22-24, 32

And David left his carriage in the hand of the keeper of the carriage, and ran into the army, and came and saluted his brethren.
And as he talked with them, behold, there came up the champion, the Philistine of Gath, Goliath by name, out of the armies of the Philistines, and spake according to the same words: and David heard them.
And all the men of Israel, when they saw the man, fled from him, and were sore afraid.
And David said to Saul, Let no man’s heart fail because of him; thy servant will go and fight with this Philistine.

COMMENTARY

And David ran into the army, and came and saluted his brethren. And there came up the champion, the Philistine of Gath, Goliath by name. And all the men of Israel fled from him, and were sore afraid.
When David visited the army he found Israel in dire straits. A hero was being called for, and not a single one could be found. Thousands of soldiers, to be sure, but not any hero. And among so many fearful, who would have blamed David if he cowered, too? He could have heard that giant’s taunts, shrugged his shoulders and slunk away. No one would have blamed him. If anything he had more excuse than all the rest, for he was still a youth. They were soldiers and he was merely a shepherd!

And David said, Let no man’s heart fail; thy servant will go and fight with this Philistine
Yet David did not slink away, tail between legs. Because in spite of all rational reasons to be scared, he wasn’t. Or if he was, that fear was overrun by the call that he must answer. He was not just a lowly sheepherder, he was a son of God, and obligated to defend his country.
The giant was calling for a challenger, old King Saul was calling for a champion, God was calling for a representative. Many heard the cries, but it was David alone who elected to answer. This is the beginning of David’s great life, and he lived it only because he applied to the position.