The Motivation of Rock Bottom in Recovery

rock bottom totem

Rock bottom is a phrase that I have heard a lot since finding sobriety. And I realize that the term “rock bottom” is subjective. I originally thought rock bottom was an event that would define a singular course of action for me to recover from my addiction. In fact, my first rock bottom happened on a night that resulted in a concussion while in black out. And it was the reason for my physical and emotional surrender to this disease.


Rock Bottom Recovery

But I now understand that a rock bottom can happen over and over and take many different forms. I have certainly had many “rock bottoms” before the final one that lead to sobriety. Each time I bottomed out, I realized that I had been repeating the same behaviour and thus, producing the same result.   


As the old saying goes, “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.”


My second rock bottom was emotional. And it happened while I was sober. In fact, it resulted in a mental breakdown and a second surrender of myself. I had to take a serious look at the life I was living and the pace at which I was going. I was running on self-will and putting on a mask that showed everyone I was fine. Inside, however, I was far from it. I was living as I did while drinking, but without the alcohol to numb me. My mind was obsessing – convincing myself I was useless.  


This was another trauma that I was able to come back from and luckily (strange use of words, but it is what I believe) it was bad enough for me to recognize I needed help.  And others could see my pain. The fellowship stood around me and propped me up until I was strong enough to stand on my own.



Rock bottoms are not always so obvious. They can be as simple as picking the wrong argument. Or listening and believing the wrong advice. It doesn’t really matter how nonthreatening it can seem to others – rock bottom is personal. And if anything takes one’s thinking too far afield, it can lead to relapse or mental collapse.

What does it mean to be at rock bottom?

“Hitting rock bottom” is a phrase that refers to a time or an event in life that causes a person with a substance use disorder to reach the lowest possible point in their disease. It is a time when the person feels like things cannot get worse for them.


Strangely enough, rock bottom (however you define it) can motivate a person to quit their substance of choice and embrace recovery.


I have heard stories of people finding their way into sobriety because of their perceived worst case scenario.  These stories vary. I have even heard of someone surrendering over Sunday dinner. There was no emotion, drama or physical harm. In fact, no one else at the meal was even aware there was an issue. But to the person involved, the situation was bad enough that they felt the need to reach out and get some help. 


Of course, others have had stories way worse than mine that have caused emotional and physical harm to themselves and others. Mothers and fathers alike have lost their children, livelihoods and homes. But, for everyone who felt the need to reach out and say, “I can’t do this anymore,” the lowest point was the motivator to get well and get sober.  



The further I get into this journey, the more I understand the process is individual. Everything I do and experience is of my own making.  My demon right now is boredom. My life is a little too settled and quiet. I enjoy a lot of alone time and that is when I can be self-destructive. But I am aware. I catch myself when I am feeling low. And in long-term recovery, the lows are still there, but they never reach the bottomed-out helplessness of addiction. No more rock bottoms for me!


We can help.

Nicola Lee

Nicola Lee had it all - a successful career, 2 children, marriage, car, house... She found herself at alcoholic rock bottom on the 5th December 2015. Nicola says, "After some time in sobriety, I decided to write down my journey through recovery and finding a way to live happily and sober. By writing my truth I hope to dispel some of the myths around what defines an alcoholic." Nicola Lee lives in Hampshire, England. She writes a blog at called 365 'Days a Year' and also writes for the Huffington Post UK.