I remember my first day in rehab. I was scared sober, riddled with anxiety and fearful of the unknown. When I arrived at what looked like Little House on the Prairie, the other seven women who were in treatment there were on a break from class and sitting on the back porch hanging out and most all of them were smoking. I immediately felt like I was in the movie Mean Girls. I was Cady Heron (ironically played by Lindsey Lohan) and they were the Plastics.
Of course, this was just in my head. We were all the same, whether we wanted to recognize that or not. No economic, political, social or religious status separated us from being there. I was just the newest girl to show up to rehab and everyone wanted to know my story. I later found out that bets are made when the new person shows up.
The girls were shocked when they found out that alcohol was my drug of choice. Half had bets on cocaine and the other half had bets on benzos. You could usually tell by some of the withdrawal symptoms what drug people were coming off of. Me: a good, old-fashioned, garden-variety alcoholic. I was just hungover from a 49-day bender. My eyes were red. My skin was puffy and shiny. My hands were swollen. My walk was calculated because of the headache that lingered for days and my body was stiff and in pain. I was quiet and didn't speak much because I felt like I was going to vomit at the mere thought of opening my mouth.
My parents dropped me off and stayed with me through the admissions process, which reveals two things: They love me and I'm single. Some women drove themselves, which was somewhat of a mystery. Some of them had kids old enough to drive them there, others were dropped off by cabs. We made a judgment about each scenario, which was either confirmed or smashed when the woman told her story.
We'd sit on that back porch waiting for the next woman to arrive through the revolving door, making bets on what the story was. It was usually later that night after dinner, back out on the porch where we would start with the questions. Are you married? Kids? Arrested? Court ordered? Alcohol? Coke? Pills? And finally... what happened? Why are you here?
That's where the story was: The proverbial "bottom." You don't end up in rehab with your shit together. Something happened for you to get there.
What I later found out was that people's "bottoms" are all over the board. Some high. Some low. Some short. Some long. Some hit what they think is their bottom and find trap door after trap door of even lower bottoms. I guess I never gave the term "rock bottom" any thought until I hit it and even then, all I knew was my own rock bottom. I am confident my bottom has a trapped door but that is something I don't want to investigate. I've heard people say that your bottom is where you stop digging, and I believe that.
If you would have asked me about my bottom on June 11, 2012, I would have told you I was a "low bottom drunk," a term often thrown around to describe the most hopeless cases of alcoholism and addiction. When I showed up to rehab, I was drinking around the clock. I hated everyone, including myself. I was physically, mentally and spiritually dead. I didn't see how I could possibly go any lower than that.
Well, over the past 32 months sober, I have seen and heard just how much lower I could go if I were to go out and drink today. I am sure people who hear my story consider me to be somewhat of a high bottom alcoholic -- a functioning alcoholic, if you will -- and I have to agree on some level. I showed up to rehab with a well-paying job, a car in my driveway, a home that I own, and a family that loved and supported me. Some people may look at my story and think I didn't have to lose much to hit bottom, but what I lost was my brother to this disease. That 49-day bender I mentioned earlier was from the day he died from a prescription drug overdose until the day I showed up in rehab. That's my story. That was my bottom. That's what got me there.
My alcoholism only got worse over time. The consequences became greater and more frequent year after year. The last few years progressed quickly for me. I knew I was an alcoholic long before I ever fully conceded to that, but I was functioning pretty well as an alcoholic. What I know now is that a lot of us do but that doesn't make me any less alcoholic than someone who comes in homeless, jobless and without a license or a family.
Looking back, there were plenty of other bottoms that came prior but I wasn't done drinking yet. I hit rock bottom when the pain of staying the same was greater than the fear of change--and that looks different for everyone. Unfortunately, it seems a lot of alcoholics and addicts have a high threshold for pain, keeping them from ever hitting their bottoms and changing their lives.
J.K. Rowlings was right when she said, "Rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life." I got that chance: my rock bottom landed me in rehab with another chance at life. I may not know what bets were made on my staying sober when I got to rehab but I know which side is winning so far.
This post originally appeared on AfterPartyMagazine
Need help with substance abuse or mental health issues? In the U.S., call 800-662-HELP (4357) for the SAMHSA National Helpline.