drug user rock bottom

Rock Bottom Is When You Stop Digging

03-21-2024Recovery Tools

We’ve all heard the saying that you need to hit your rock bottom before we truly change. The phrase can be helpful, but it’s common to wonder what “rock bottom” really means, and why it varies so much from person to person.

The phrase "rock bottom is when you stop digging" conveys the idea that our situation begins to improve when we stop taking self-destructive actions.

The phrase also implies that we get to determine on an individual level what “rock bottom” truly means to us.

In this article, we’ll discuss:

  • What this phrase really means
  • Why asking ourselves if we’ve “hit bottom” is often the wrong question to ask
  • Provide some practical suggestions for how to change

You hit bottom when you stop digging: Meaning

There’s two portions of this saying; let’s look at them in isolation.

Defining “rock bottom”

For many of us, when we envision rock bottom, we’re envisioning someone who has lost everything and may be locked up or on their way to an early grave. The truth is that most people actually don’t hit this point before they recover.

So, what does rock bottom really mean? Simply, it’s the point at which we decide we’ve had enough.

More specifically, rock bottom is the point at which the pain of our current situation outweighs the pain and embarrassment of having to own up to our mistakes and begin to take suggestions from others.

Defining “stop digging”

When we say that your rock bottom is wherever you stop digging, what we mean is that we need to discontinue trying to live by self-propulsion, only listing to ourselves and ignoring advice from others who have recovered.

A couple of relevant one-liners; the point at which we stop digging is the point at which we, “take the cotton out of our ears and put it in our mouth.”

In other words, “rock bottom is the point at which we start listening.”

Rock bottom is different for everyone

Contrary to popular belief, rock bottom isn't necessarily a specific event or circumstance. It can be an emotional low that drags on for months at a time. In recovery, there are as many different types of “rock bottoms” as there are people, because a true rock bottom is an internal phenomenon.

Everyone has a different threshold for pain – for some it is as devastating as being resuscitated, for others it is as simple as missing a job interview.

The point is – there’s no magic to this: you get to choose your bottom because you get to choose the point at which you start taking suggestions.

The flip side is this: if we’re continuing to run by self-propulsion, then we haven’t stopped digging.

Why, “Have I hit bottom?” is often the wrong question to ask

For all of the reasons above, getting hung up on whether or not we’ve hit bottom can be an unproductive question for many people. Many of us have used this question to justify continuing to use drugs or alcohol. The real question is, “am I ready to start taking suggestions from others.”

If you are, then there’s no reason to wait for an arbitrary “rock bottom” to smack you upside the head.

Rock bottom is really an understanding that you do not want your life to continue in the same direction that about this feeling of powerlessness. If you relate to that statement, you can start taking suggestions immediately!

When someone “truly concedes to their innermost self” that they have a problem; when their waking life feels more like a nightmare; that they must use or otherwise they cannot handle the reality of their existence.

Most importantly, It is usually at this point that a feeling of despair sets in that might actually be helpful to someone who needs to get sober but does not want to. It's that moment of utter darkness when the pain of staying the same becomes greater than the fear of change.

High bottom vs low bottom

From among the many participants we have worked with at FullCircle, there have been cases of participants that indeed were homeless, incarcerated, or even worse. For a lot of these individuals, this was indeed a clear and undeniable rock bottom.

Some of us even needed multiple trips to jails, prisons, hospitals, or institutions before we realized we had hit a bottom.

We have also had participants that used substances less than a dozen times. For those of our participants who have not had as “low” of bottom, many of their bottoms looked more like:

  • Family relationships being strained or on the brink of ruin
  • Financial loss or instability
  • Feelings of loneliness or despair
  • Suicidal ideation or attempts
  • Simply being dissatisfied with their life and the direction it is heading.

All of these are a valid bottom for whoever wants to stop digging.

Regardless of who we are, where we have come from, or what we have done or failed to do, a rock bottom can be as low or high as we let it be. Here's the crucial realization: rock bottom doesn't have to be a place of defeat.

It can be the solid foundation upon which to rebuild a life free from the shackles of addiction.

How to “stop digging”

The question then becomes: “how do I stop digging?” For many of us that have been using drugs or alcohol for a period of time, the answer can be elusive. We’ll break down some practical suggestions here:

Recognize that how you have been living is not working

If you feel that your life is becoming a nightmare, the first thing to do is to recognize and acknowledge that your way of doing things is failing you. This is not a value judgement; it does not mean that you lack willpower, that you aren’t smart, or that you’re a bad person.

It simply means that whatever tools you’ve been using to live life aren’t working, and that continuing to use them will likely yield the same result.

In other words, we’ve got to become willing to take suggestions from others. It is being willing to stop using drugs, and seek help in staying sober.

Get connected to some resources

There are a nearly endless number of resources available to someone who has reached the end of their rope and is willing to change.

  • If you’re using opiates, alcohol, or benzodiazepines, start by looking for detox facilities in your area and get a consult with a professional (there are often free resources available for this)
  • Google 12 step meetings in your area centered around your drugs of choice (Alcoholics Anonymous, Cocaine Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, etc)
  • If you prefer a religious angle, look for Celebrate Recovery meetings in your area
  • Check to see if there’s a FullCircle Program in your state

Start developing relationships with people who can help

We’ve written extensively on our site about the importance of honesty in recovery, and why getting a sponsor is an important step in getting sober.

While this can be done piecemeal, we don’t suggest waiting a long time to get a sponsor, get some phone numbers from people in your meetings, and beginning to use a phone call.

Remember that not digging means taking suggestions. We can’t get suggestions unless people know we need them!

Take suggestions

It’s common for people in their first 30 days of recovery to struggle with some of the suggestions they’ll get. Oftentimes, the suggestions we’ll get seem counterintuitive.
First, don’t be afraid to ask “why?” when you get a suggestion you don’t understand. Next, we usually suggest that you take the suggestion anyway.

The critical piece here is that we’re relinquishing control over our own lives for a period of time. Remember that “we can’t fix bad thinking with bad thinking,” and that nothing lasts forever. Over time, you’ll be able to have deeper discussions as to the how and why of the situation you’re in. For now, it’s all about surrender.

Rock bottom is not the end – it’s the beginning!

Ultimately, rock bottom is not the end—it's a chance to start over. It's the moment when you reclaim control of your life and take the first steps towards a healthier future. It's about recognizing your worth and believing that you deserve better than the cycle of addiction.

So, if you find yourself at a low point, decide that this is your bottom! Remember that you are not alone, and recovery is possible. All it takes is the courage to be honest, seek help, and start climbing towards a life of sobriety and fulfillment.