Former rock-bottomers: What made you say "this shit needs to stop?"
May 30, 2016 8:46 AM   Subscribe

A loved one told me she's hit rock bottom and has pretty much ruined her life. She thinks her situation is hopeless; according to her, no one would be able to climb out of the mess she's dug herself into. I'd like to share with her some examples of people - famous, or otherwise - who HAVE been able to recover from seemingly inextricable situations which they have created for themselves due to poor life choices. What moment sparked the change in mindset that allowed said person to recover? Personal anecdotes are welcome as well.

I don't want to disclose too much, but I can say that her issues have to do with compulsive deferring of urgent decisions until the proverbial shit hit the fan. She knows she screwed up - in fact says she knew the whole time, but her anxiety kept and is keeping her from doing anything about it. I agree with her that what she's gotten herself into is quite serious, and she seems to be dealing with a good amount of guilt and self-loathing. In any case, I'd like to keep the replies specific to the question at hand:

I'm looking specifically for stories of people who have managed to 180-degree turn their lives around after having hit rock bottom of their own doing; I'd also like to know, if possible, the impetus for the change in mindset which enabled them to recover. What kept them from falling even further? Was it a lightbulb moment, or something else?

I don't care if the person in question is famous, or even if it's a fellow MeFite; actually, personal accounts might be more helpful as I'm doubtful many historical accounts delve into the "hows" of recovery from poor life choices. Thanks.
posted by CottonCandyCapers to Health & Fitness (17 answers total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
I'd be a little worried that your loved one will just use such stories as more examples of her own inadequacy -- "They could do it, why can't I? I really do suck" -- or decide that you're telling her she's not as good as these people (because depressed and anxious brains tend to twist things like that). Do you have good reason to believe that your loved one will find such stories inspiring rather than depressing? You might help your loved one find appropriate treatment for her anxiety, instead; someone talking about "rock bottom" and "hopeless" and "self-loathing" should at the very least be screened for suicide risk.
posted by lazuli at 9:32 AM on May 30, 2016 [6 favorites]

The comedian Rob Delaney's book about his shiftless alcholism and subsequent recovery is one of my favorite narratives of this kind precisely because getting sober didn't cure him of having issues.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 9:55 AM on May 30, 2016 [2 favorites]

Anne Lamott wrote about some of this stuff in her book Operating Instructions. She was clean about 3 years by the time she had her son.
posted by bilabial at 10:02 AM on May 30, 2016 [5 favorites]

The most important thing your friend needs to do is to get the anxiety under control. Pharmaceuticals can help so much, but so many folks don't recognize that their anxiety is undermining their recovery.

What I might say is, "Hortence, I'll admit, you're in a dilly of a pickle, and it's going to look bleak until you get your anxiety under control. Let's do this, I'll make an appointment and go with you for that."

There are on-line questionnaires to help a doctor understand where a person is coming from. Google them and help her through it.

Hope is what you're peddling, but there's no hope when anxiety is messing with your brain.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:08 AM on May 30, 2016 [9 favorites]

A well known example on AskMe and elsewhere, but this is exactly what Cheryl Strayed's memoir "Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail" is all about. In her twenties, Strayed loses her beloved mother to cancer. Her siblings and stepfather grow distant; she feels alienated and turns to heroin and casual sex, which leads to the dissolution of her marriage. She's penniless and utterly alone, so she sells what little she owns and hikes the Pacific Crest Trail, in California, by herself. The months-long hike becomes, to quote your post, "...the impetus for the change in mindset which enabled them to recover." She had no prior hiking experience. She had no idea what she was doing. Hiking alone forced her to contend with her anger, her boredom, her confusion, her impulsive and self-destructive behavior; she often considered giving up altogether. If your friend hasn't read it, it may be worth reading it and sharing your copy with her.

Strayed's Dear Sugar advice column is worth a look, too, as she shares more of her personal experience with hitting rock bottom.
posted by nightrecordings at 10:15 AM on May 30, 2016 [5 favorites]

Hope is what you're peddling, but there's no hope when anxiety is messing with your brain

This rings true to me. I don't know if I quite look like the "blew it all had to start from rock bottom" or "moment of clarity" type narrative you're describing, but I've had that feeling before. I've had weeks of depression where I've been in the place of "I just wasted all my real opportunities in life and now I'll just wait around to die because I fucked it all up." I don't think that anyone else's story of recovery and growth would've helped me when I was at that place, because the only thing I could see from that POV was my own inadequacy.

There's a moment where you realize that it's not all lost, and where you see that there is still life to live, and there are still chances to make life better- but that moment (to me) doesn't come from hearing someone else's story of success. It comes from therapy, or counselling, or meditation or prayer. It comes from a whack on the side of the head. It comes from a paradigm shift. Tell your friend to go to therapy and try to address her anxiety. In my experience, that works far more than a story.
posted by DGStieber at 10:27 AM on May 30, 2016 [6 favorites]

Dry by Augusten Burroughs is VERY VERY good!
posted by flink at 10:30 AM on May 30, 2016 [1 favorite]

Anxiety & depression. I recommend the cartoons.

Encourage this person to focus on small steps. Someday, you look back and you have come a distance, and even if the distance is small, it feels less bad.
posted by theora55 at 10:51 AM on May 30, 2016 [2 favorites]

It sounds like the idea behind this question is to provide evidence via examples that hope for better can be justified even when it seems that things are past the point of no return.

The person I often think of for this is Buckminster Fuller. Now, he had a kind of epiphany that was affecting enough to carry him through his later efforts; that isn't replicable, not anything you can manufacture. But he's someone who made changes after having been somewhere dark, after having found a purpose to hold onto and slog through obstacles for (related).

(That said, things probably aren't as bad as your friend imagines. Or if they are, there are other options she's not seeing; the anxiety is certainly playing into it and does need to be addressed.)
posted by cotton dress sock at 12:04 PM on May 30, 2016 [3 favorites]

Well, this is Step 1 in addiction recovery: admitting you are not in control of your life. Nearly every addict who enters a 12-step program or a similar program of recovery is there because they have crashed and burned just like your friend. Many many many people have been there and have climbed out of the hole. Your friend is not alone. Please tell her that. (you are welcome to MeMail me if she wants to get in touch.)

Personally, my rock bottom happened about a month ago following a severe crisis brought on by my own avoidance patterns, and the impetus for change was that I saw the pattern of my life and knew that if I didn't change I... wouldn't change. I guess it's difficult to describe. Pre-bottom there's a sense that I am barely holding things together and it will all work out if I can just... if I can only... and then when it all collapses, you see the wreckage, you admit you cannot hold it together, you admit you don't even know if you could if you tried, and you stop trying. The 12-step traditions call this moment "surrender" or "letting go". Post-bottom you come face to face with everything you've been trying to avoid, you learn who you really are, and you start the task of reassembling yourself from the ground up. It is a long and difficult process, but people have walked this path before and there are lots of ways to get guidance and support.

In the early stages of my program, the social contact and structure has done a very good job of keeping me focused on recovery, and not on my addictions. I was very isolated and I find it powerful and healing to be around people that I can be "real" with. Also, talking to people who have walked a similar path and have made obvious progress has really given me hope and helped me see a way forward. I highly encourage your friend to look for some kind of support or recovery group that she would feel comfortable being "real" in. The path to recovery involves being "real" to oneself, probably after a lifetime of avoidance; only she can do this, but she need not do it alone.
posted by anybodys at 2:37 PM on May 30, 2016 [4 favorites]

I just finished reading this little article about Duff McKagan from Guns N Roses. Obviously, if there's a chance to read his book, it gives a lot more information about how he got to, and recognized, the point at which he needed to change - and how he began to do it. The article is a nice start though.
posted by VioletU at 4:54 PM on May 30, 2016 [1 favorite]

Sarah Hepola's book "Blackout: Remembering the things I drank to forget" might very well be what you're looking for.
posted by Thistledown at 7:15 PM on May 30, 2016

"I just wasted all my real opportunities in life and now I'll just wait around to die because I fucked it all up."
ouch. this. right now. no substances, but i can't state this any more clearly.
posted by j_curiouser at 10:19 PM on May 30, 2016 [1 favorite]

As somebody who is on the periphery of being able to identify with your friend after a year of illness? I would make a special fire just to burn books like those. Sorry. You are a very good friend to want to help, but this sounds like a terrible idea unless she has specifically requested it.

Stories of miraculous life changes are just that -- miraculous. The likely reaction to somebody at this level of misery will be "that's exactly it -- I need a @#$*ing miracle to get me out of this. That's not going to @#$*ing happen."

She has an anxiety disorder. You don't "this shit needs to stop" your way out of illness. Mine is the side effect of a hardcore vitamin b12 deficiency. I get to wait, medicate, and be scared. I couldn't give a shit if somebody else had a super-duper-wonderful life after going through exactly what I did. It would further freak me out (look how much fail!) and make me sad and angry. (Also, if it was a book about substance abuse and how the person's whole life was heroin for years and now they were all happy and productive and famous and so on now while drug-free, I would probably read it and think it would be easier and more realistic for me to distill all of my problems into "more smack NOW plz" instead of being happy and productive.)

Practical help, on the other hand, is...helpful. Ask her what phone calls you might be able to make, what appointments you might be able to set up and drive her to, does she need a bill paid, does she just want a person to go grocery shopping with.

"Chicken Soup for the Soul"-style pap is for people who are already happy. I used to know a lady who would mail cards to people with glitter in them. She likes glitter. The whole 'ship glitter to your enemies!' business did not put her off even when multiple people pointed her to it. She likes glitter, so everybody else should want a horrible mess to clean up; she thinks she is being charming and cute and fun -- problem is, she doesn't give a toss what others think; giving people what you think they should want is a selfish act. Feel-good success stories for the anxiety-stricken/"I've ruined my life" are a little too close to putting glitter in cards. Looks so cute to somebody doing well, but such a shit bomb for the recipient.

Take a day off work and spend it driving her around to offices that do things that might be able to help her, advocating for her where needed. Call and follow up with these offices if need be. Fill her freezer with good pre-cooked food. Tell her you love her and that even though you know it doesn't do anything to change her life right now, you have confidence that she'll make it through and come out on the other end, and you are pulling for her. Anything but the book/anecdote equivalent of glitter.
posted by kmennie at 1:31 AM on May 31, 2016 [8 favorites]

Nthing Ruthless Bunny

Hope is what you're peddling, but there's no hope when anxiety is messing with your brain.

Perfect, just perfect.
posted by jtexman1 at 7:58 AM on May 31, 2016 [1 favorite]

When I was at my absolute worst in terms of depression and anxiety, what helped was ignoring anyone who focused on long-term goals and instead spending time thinking, "What's the next step?" Maybe, "What are the two next steps?" And then doing those. And I mean seriously next step: "Put on your socks." "Lace up your shoes." "Make a phone call." "Take your medications." "Make a grocery list." Any time I thought bigger than that, the overwhelming anxiety and beginnings of hopelessness crept back in. So, "Put on your socks, lace up your shoes. Don't worry about anything else until that happens." Someone asked me what I was going to do in a week and I'd respond, "I'm not thinking about that right now." Because thinking about that made me worse. Any thinking about "getting all the way better" or making a "180-degree turn" made things worse for me, not better.

The more acute the crisis, the shorter-term the goals need to be. Sometimes down to seconds -- What can you do in the next 30 seconds to feel better that's not harmful to yourself? Then try for another 30 seconds.
posted by lazuli at 8:08 AM on May 31, 2016 [7 favorites]

It's hard to know what will reach your loved one not knowing anything about them, but in my case, my turning point was not particularly inspiring or optimistic. I was too low to be inspired by anyone. If anything, I was inspired by the fact that it could be worse. I was so anxious constantly that I was barely functional, but I bought a book of 1st person accounts of anxiety and read a story about a woman who would shit herself during anxiety attacks. That added level of humiliation on top of the terror of anxiety made me feel like it could be worse, which was a feeling I hadn't had in a long time.

After that, a few other things happened...I had a panic attack in public (one of a million) and blubbered that I wanted to stop being this person, go back to who I was, and my companion flatly told me I couldn't, so I needed to start here. Around that time I accepted that since I was unwilling to kill myself I had nothing but time to try to get better. If I couldn't, whatever, but I had to do something because killing myself was off the table and staying where I was for the rest of my natural life with no other means of remedying the constant misery of the anxiety and sadness I felt was an unbearable outcome. I simply couldn't do it anymore. Even if my life ended up looking nothing like I hoped, if I could not feel that feeling again at some point, that would be enough of a win for me. So I started trying. It took a few years - yes, years - but one night I was walking to my car after work and I realized I felt happy for no particular reason.

So I don't know what her turning point will look like, but if she just hangs on long enough and just tries to do better, starts here, whatever it looks, eventually she will have her version of reading the story of her own life but worse because that person shit their pants too.
posted by amycup at 10:14 PM on May 31, 2016

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