by Glynis Hart

Something that comes up again and again in dealing with my family member with addiction is this concept of hitting bottom. It came up most recently over Thanksgiving: no one wanted me to invite her to dinner. And the line goes like this: “She has to hit bottom before she’ll change.” It’s like treating cancer with chemotherapy, where essentially the treatment pushes the body to the brink of death and cancer says “chicken” first, and leaves.

“If she’s not welcome at (people’s houses) at Thanksgiving, that’s the direct result of her own choices,” one said, adding that this could be motivate her to make different choices.

I get that.

I get that I have a history of enabling/codependency, and there are times (okay, lots of times) when my “helping”  has helped maintain a really bad situation.

But on the other hand there’s Gabor Mate and the supervised injection site in Vancouver: Mate said the object is to keep the addicts alive until they get to the point where they can quit. So while you don’t want to enable someone in their addiction, you don’t want to abandon them, either.

How far do you take tough love? Do people change when they hit bottom? Where is the bottom, anyway? Talking to my friends Miles and Keri, both former addicts, I got some interesting answers to this. No ultimate answer – of course, it wouldn’t be that easy – but stuff worth thinking about. Both of them pointed out that what looks like the bottom from the outside may not be the bottom to the person in it.


“I have so, so much to say about this.

“If the friends and family in my life at the time I was using had gone for a tough love approach I think there’s a really good chance I’d be dead. I feel like tough love is the approach people tell themselves they want to use when they are too fed up – or, frankly, too cowardly – to deal with something as messy as addiction directly. I mean, it’s a really convenient thing to tell yourself that giving up on a person you’ve sick of dealing with is somehow morally the best thing to do.

“I think that this belief that you somehow have to help people hit bottom is based on a very common misunderstanding of what bottom is. Bottom is a mental state — not necessarily one that coincides with what, from the outside, might look like bottom — and you really can’t help someone get there. You can just love them until they do…

“There were a lot of times where I was in situations where I would have been homeless if everyone in my life subscribed to a tough love approach. I was homeless repeatedly over the course of my addiction and it never motivated me to get sober. It just put me in a position to do more dangerous things to feed my addiction. Additional periods of homelessness would not have made me get sober sooner, they just would have prompted me to put myself in more dangerous situations and be more likely to end up dead.”


“The concept of hitting bottom is just like tough love. It has to be looked at from different perspectives. I have a zero percent record of saying, ‘I’m going to clean up my life.’ You spin such a web of self-deceit in this game, you can justify anything. You can say to yourself, ‘I’m not homeless, so I haven’t hit bottom.’ or, ‘So and so doesn’t have a job, and I have a job, so my addiction isn’t bad.’ ‘My addiction isn’t that bad, because I don’t have this problem or that problem. Eventually, I’ll quit down the road’…

“In the web of self-deceit you don’t see the prison you’re in; you can’t see outside of the box. There are low points where you can’t see an exit. The choices seem to be A and B, and they’re both terrible. You have lost the ability to choose another lifestyle without external intervention. One of the lines in AA is, you know that continuing in your addiction leads to jail, institutionalization, or death. And you just have to hope it’s not death…

“When you walk into inpatient, you’re giving somebody else all the decision making power. Unfortunately, with me, it’s when some external factor, like getting arrested, caused an period of forced clean time before the fog lifted.”

Note: Though this blog usually features writings by its creator, this piece is written by Glynis Hart. 


One thought on “Hitting Bottom: A Conversation

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