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Do I Have to Hit “Rock Bottom” to Get Treatment?


Maddie is driving down Main Street–she’s only 7 minutes from the Starbucks where she’s meeting her best friend, Jenny. Maddie hasn’t seen Jenny in over a year and she’s been so  looking forward to this. Suddenly, a light appears on her dash–it’s a big, red genie lamp. What should Maddie do?

  1. Get to Starbucks and figure it out after her time with Jenny.
  2. Ignore it. It’s probably not a big deal. Lights happen
  3. Have it checked out at the next oil change.
  4. Pull over to the side of the road, turn the car off immediately, and make the calls to get the necessary help.

The answer is a hard and firm #4. Pull over IMMEDIATELY and turn off the car. Jenny’ll understand.

The big, red oil can (genie lamp) is the Oil Pressure light. When my dad taught me how to drive, he regularly grilled me on what I should do if that light comes on. It was serious–Don’t you EVER, EVER ignore this” type of serious.

If the Oil Pressure light comes on, it means the engine isn’t getting enough oil for some reason. If the car kept going even for a few hundred feet, the engine could very quickly seize up and be ruined…the most expensive repair that can happen to a car.

Why is a Treatment Center in South Florida Writing About Car Care?

You’re in Maddie’s situation. You’re driving along through your life. Different alerts come up at different times. Sometimes it’s just time for an oil change or your tire pressure’s low…maybe you need to improve your diet or get more rest.

Other times, the warning light that comes on is alerting you about something bigger, like the mysterious Check Engine light. When that comes on, it might be something simple or it could be critical. It’s easy to put it off because other things seem more important, but not without that nagging feeling that you’re playing with fire. The only way to find out is to take it to your mechanic. In real life, your mechanic might be your clergy, doctor, therapist, addictions counselor, or the person who will answer the phone if you dial the number on the top right of the screen.

Sometimes it’s the horrific Oil Pressure light signifying that everything else in life MUST stop in order to deal with this or the end is near. In addiction circles, we call the end “Rock Bottom.”

Approaching Rock Bottom

What does “Rock Bottom” look like?

  • Losing your job
  • Filing bankruptcy
  • Your husband or wife leaves you
  • Cancer or cirrhosis diagnosis
  • DUI conviction
  • Heart attack or stroke

All of these are possible with long term substance abuse/addiction. And any one of these or a combination of these can means you need to slam on the brakes and pull over to deal with it. You’re not going any further without dealing with this, and even you see this reality.

But don’t you have to hit “Rock Bottom” before moving forward?

The biggest myth out there is that you have to hit rock bottom in order to be ready to deal with your addiction. You don’t have to hit Rock Bottom, but you do have to be honest with yourself that you’re seeing signs of problems.

However, a defining characteristic of addiction is denial. When you have a substance abuse disorder, your brain craves drugs or alcohol so much you don’t want to see that you have a problem.

When the warning lights come on–you rationalize:

  • “I don’t have a problem, it’s just stress relief. I’m in control.”
  • “My family doesn’t really understand me. They don’t know what they’re talking about.”
  • “Everything at work is fine.”
  • “I’ll catch up on the bills soon. It’ll be alright.”
  • “Waiting for an Uber will take too long…it’s a short distance to drive.”
  • “I’ll make it up to my kids. It’ll be fine.”

What if you’re seeing warning lights?

You’ve seen signs that something is wrong. You’ve felt the pangs that come with the occasional realizations that alcohol or drugs are getting in the way. You’ve had fleeting thoughts that you might not have as much control as you think you do: The tears in your kids’ eyes, the bad performance reviews, the blackouts.

Your Check Engine Light is telling you something is wrong.

Or maybe your Oil Pressure Light is on and you realize Rock Bottom is imminent.

You Don’t Have to Hit Rock Bottom

If either of these lights are on for you, you don’t have to hit Rock Bottom. You can listen to those warning signs that are flashing that you have a problem. You can seek treatment before the crash and learn how to take control of your life for yourself and for those you love.

It’s not easy to stop everything before you get to the point that you can do nothing else, but it means less pain and less damage in the long run for you and for those you love.

It takes a certain level of self-awareness to look past the denial and see the problem, but if you do, that self-awareness will help you throughout your recovery.

Don’t wait. The time to heal is now.

Lora Horn is a writer in Escondido, CA. She covers psychology and recovery issues because humanity is fascinating. When she’s not writing, she’s usually enjoying a nice cup of tea with her cat cuddled by her side.

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