Monday, January 25, 2010
Why Hitting Rock Bottom is Better Than Quicksand
A couple of weeks ago, author Kerry Madden did a post over at “A Good Blog is Hard to Find” called, “Rock Bottom.” I was fascinated reading this after meeting Kerry at the 10th Anniversary Pulpwood Queens Girlfriend Weekend January 14-17. (Photo is Kerry participating on a panel during the weekend.)
Kerry has five published books, and just being around her smiling face and cheerful disposition all weekend, I would have never guessed that she had struggled with the events she chronicles in “Rock Bottom.” And no, it’s not a struggle with addictive substances, but with the publishing industry. Still, it got me to thinking about what “Rock Bottom” means.
It reminds me of a similar phrase, “hitting bottom.” As one who struggles with addictive behaviors, I’ve read quite a few of what I call “sobriety memoirs.” All of them have this in common—the addict usually finds his or her “bottom” before she can heal.
Best “sobriety” memoirs?
Lit by Mary Karr, which I blogged about recently, “No More Delicious Numbness: Pride, Cookies and Good-Looking Men”
Dry: A Memoir by Augusten Burroughs, reviewed here, “Why Does Sobriety Have to Come with Feelings?”
All of Anne Lamott’s memoirs, especially Traveling Mercies and Grace Eventually. (I’ve done several blog posts about Lamott, if you’re interested:
“Once You Know Where True Is”
“I Want a Rush”
Okay, I’m procrastinating. It’s almost 5 p.m. and I’ve been trying to write this post all afternoon. But it’s hard to put into words what I’m feeling. I’m just gonna throw some thoughts up against the wall and see if anything sticks. I’m really hoping to hear YOUR thoughts, which always enriches my blog posts. Here goes.
When my children were little I took them to a woman (in Jackson, Mississippi)
for private swimming lessons. Her name was Lou Lee. She had a very aggressive method: Each hour, she took 6 students and their mothers in the pool, and within the hour she spent 10 minutes one-on-one with each child. (The mothers practiced with their children during the other 50 minutes of the hour.) She taught the mother to help, as she would push the child under water through the pool to the mother’s waiting arms, a few feet away. At age 3, all three of my children learned in two weeks to dive off the board and swim the length of the pool. Her method worked great for them.
Something else that Lou did was teach “water safety awareness.” Even if a child couldn’t swim yet, he could learn what to do if he was to fall into a pool. She taught the children to let their bodies fall to the bottom of the pool so that they could then push off with their feet and catapult themselves up to the side, reach up with their hands, and hold on to the side of the pool. This might seem like something you would automatically do, but not if you’re four years old and scared, right?
So, I was thinking of this the other day when I read Kerry’s post about hitting rock bottom. See, I had hit a “bottom” or sorts recently, when I drank too much. It’s pretty scary and humbling (and yes, a big reality check) to realize that you don’t remember things from the night before. The last time that happened to me was over 30 years ago at a swim-up bar in a pool in Mexico, but I was very young and naïve at the time. I’m getting close to 60 now, have two grandchildren, am responsible for an 81-year-old mother with Alzheimer’s, and just went for my annual physical exam. So now I’m wondering if my recent “bottom” was just the rock I needed to get my footing so that I can push back up to the top—to the real world.
I just read an article online in Psychology Today called “The Various Ways High-Functioning Alcoholics Hit Bottom.” I’ve never embraced everything that AA and Twelve Steps programs say about alcoholism and other addictions, but there’s certainly a lot of truth in their literature and programs. As an Orthodox Christian, my desire is to enjoy all things in moderation, but that moderation is often an elusive goal.
Food is as difficult a struggle for me as alcohol is, and of course it’s something one must learn moderation in because you can’t be abstinent with food—you’ll starve. I think that’s part of why the Fathers of the Church in their wisdom introduced the practice of fasting, so that we could gain (or re-gain) mastery over our passions. It’s not the total absence of food that’s prescribed, but food in moderation, and cutting out the heavy stuff (like meat and dairy) and the “seductive stuff” (like wine and oil) for a portion of each week, and each season of the Church year.
So, I’m thankful that I hit a “bottom” of sorts recently—and for the wakeup call it was for me to restore balance—or maybe find it for the first time, in my drinking and eating habits. And all habits, really. Spending money unwisely. Talking too much or inappropriately. Unhealthy sexual behavior or thoughts. All “things” that God intended for good that we warp with our out-of-control passions.
Great Lent, that annual School of Repentance, begins again on February 15. I remember in the past hearing people say they were looking forward to it and I thought, are you nuts? Who’s looking forward to self-denial and lots (and lots) of (very) long church services? But this year, I’m looking forward to the spiritual food the Church offers those who struggle to overcome the passions—the Scripture readings, the special prayers, and the special services. I’m glad I started my 1500-calorie “budget” a month before Lent begins, because I think it’s important not to confuse fasting (for spiritual reasons, as outlined by the Church) with dieting, in order to lose weight. So, when the Fast begins, I’ll continue my calorie budget, adjusting it only to include more fruits and vegetables to make up for the meat and dairy, something I should probably be doing year-round anyway! And it's also been a reality check to see how few calories are left in my budget for nutrition if I use up half of them with wine!
Certainly those people who never fall into the pool (or the mud) in the first place are better off in many ways, but for those of us who do fall, the solid floor on the bottom of the pool can be a lifesaver, if one knows how to push up and reach for the top. Consider the alternative—quicksand—which allows no solid footing. I think that’s what denial is like—trying to get out of quicksand. Thank God for solid ground, even if it’s sometimes at the bottom.