The ocean has a floor, but you don’t. Your life can always take another dive. Either by accident, or choice. We’ve romanticized the idea of reaching rock bottom. But a bottom doesn’t exist.
You can let yourself sink forever. Your very last words could be, “It can’t get any worse than this.”
A lot of us comfort ourselves with the idea of a bottom. A point where things get so bad, they have to start getting better.
They won’t, not on their own. We already know this on some level. Still, we give into a narrative.
We think once a downward spiral starts, we have to follow it to an end. Some of my college friends used to spout this philosophy. We’d watch someone conducting a symphony of poor choices.
They’d say, “She’s just finding her rock bottom.”
Or, “He’s on a bender. He’ll bottom out eventually.”
Some of these people never did. A couple of them nearly ruined their lives beyond repair. They just kept screwing up and making excuses.
We think once a downward spiral starts, we have to follow it to an end. The bottom is supposed to magically save us from sinking any further.
That’s what happens when you give into the idea of a bottom. You expect the bottom to stop you from sinking further.
It’s a nice idea, similar to fairies and unicorns. There’s just one problem. Like magic and ghosts, rock bottom is make believe.
I’ve reached a number of supposed rock bottoms in my life. The first one happened in college. My grades plummeted. Friendships rotted. Nothing had really changed except my view of the world. Suddenly, things started looking bleak. Instead of making decisions with my life, I started giving up. And not in a quiet way. My descent was entertaining.
People loved watching it.
If nothing else, I had fun on the way down. But the bottom sucked once I thought I got there.
I remember sitting in a cafe and thinking to myself, “Wow I’ve really reached bottom.”
That night, I got mugged after my shift at the bar where I worked.
Then I thought, “Okay, this has got to be bottom.”
But it wasn’t. After that, I got dumped. My boss threatened to fire me three times for things that weren’t my fault. A couple of my best friends let me down. That’s when I finally realized.
Bottom is a relative term.
We comfort ourselves with the idea that we can bottom out. It’s a nice idea, similar to fairies and unicorns. There’s just one problem. Like magic and ghosts, rock bottom is also make believe.
It’s like a bed time story for adults. You tell yourself today was so bad, tomorrow has to bring a little good news.
You’ve screwed up so much, eventually you have to start making good decisions. Something will knock some sense back into you.
Nothing just comes along and jolts you back to yourself.
Life doesn’t provide electro-shock therapy.
Sure, maybe an event can spur you to reflect on your actions and behaviors. But it doesn’t happen passively.
Think about how many people you know who just bleed through their disasters and tragedies, suffering without reflection. You can change without suffering, and you can suffer without changing. And sometimes, bad shit just happens with no apparent moral lesson.
We like to think of life as a ying and yang — a cycle. Some mystical force always balances out all the good and bad.
Sometimes, you have to add the yang yourself.
Finally, after reaching my supposed bottom in college, I started just going through the motions.
Today didn’t have to be any better than yesterday. It just had to be. I would take things from there and bring balance to my own life. That’s it. Disappointingly simple.
After a few rock bottoms, I realized a pattern. Your life doesn’t actually reach a peak of misery or suffering. Nothing hits the brakes for you.
Everyone’s rock bottom looks different. Some people feel like failures if they don’t exercise every day. Others celebrate just getting out of bed. Build an artificial floor for yourself, and try to go from there.
Rock bottom can still serve a purpose, depending on how you think about it. You can make one for yourself. An artificial rock bottom. You establish a point where you don’t allow things to get worse.
Everyone’s rock bottom looks different.
Some people feel like failures if they don’t exercise every day. Others celebrate just getting out of bed.
Regardless, you can always make a decision to stop screwing up. Build a floor for yourself, and try to raise it a little every day. Things might get worse, but not because you let them.