The Myth of the Low Bottom
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The Myth of the Low Bottom


This post was originally published on July 4, 2014.

When most people hear about a friend or acquaintance getting sober, what’s their immediate assumption or reaction? The one I’ve most commonly encountered is that said person must have been tragically desperate, flailing, and on the edge of crashing into the abyss because their addiction was just so intense and dangerous and deadly. Of course, for many people, that is the reality—low bottoms exist, and we hear about them often, especially in the media (hey, if it bleeds, it leads, right?). But that sort of crazy-pants melodramatic story isn’t always the reality.

Dramatic Expectations

Mandy Stadtmiller of xoJane recently wrote about her experience getting sober (full disclosure: I’m a contributing editor at that website). Discussing how she’s stayed clean for four years, she recounts other people’s reactions when they hear that, though she liked cocaine, she wasn’t necessarily at the point of losing it all due to the drug. She writes, “There is a look of disappointment that registers on people’s faces when they learn that I was not at the point of needing drugs or alcohol to make it through the day, that I did not have bottles of booze stashed away in my home or workplace, that I did not experience the shakes because I had a physical dependence.”

Sometimes, she describes, she just drank too much, plain and simple, and played around with a few hard drugs, here and there. The problem, she writes, is that she couldn’t decipher or determine when she would go over the edge into being wasted, and when she’d handle her substances just fine and be generally okay. “Ultimately, my life became better when I identified as an alcoholic and used this new accountability to stay sober,” she notes. “You don’t actually have to destroy your life to quit drinking. You don’t need some amazing story about punching your mom and setting your house on fire. You know that right? Your bottom could just be a blackout.”

Different Landings for Different Bottoms

I—and, I suspect, lots of other sober people I know—can relate to Stadtmiller’s story. I too had a high bottom, if a high bottom is defined as not losing, like, absolutely everything due to your habit. Me, I blacked out a lot. I called in sick a lot because of my excruciating hangovers. I acted out in ways that caused me to destroy my closest romantic relationships. But I didn’t get arrested, or get  a DUI, or lose my career, or lose my best friend, or cause my family to disown me. I mainly destroyed my own sanity and my own overall health.

Does that mean I’m not “qualified” to be in a 12-step program? Does that give others to right to judge me and my alcoholic “credibility”? Uh, I think not, and frankly, some of the comments I’ve seen around Stadtmiller’s piece are gross and disturbing. On a snark website, I found comments by folks openly discussing Stadtmiller’s status, saying she’s not a real alcoholic, she just…wanted to be part of something. Gross, guys. Get a life.

No Room to Judge

Not every addiction looks like the ones you seen in movies or TV. Not every drunk leads to a confrontation with a cop. Does that make the demoralizing things you did and said any less painful or frightening, any less worthy of being examined and worked on? I think not.

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About Author

Laura Barcella is a documentary researcher, author, freelance writer and ghostwriter from Washington, DC. Her writing has also appeared in TIME, Marie Claire, Salon, Esquire, Elle, Refinery29, AlterNet, The Village Voice, Cosmopolitan, The Chicago Sun-Times, Time Out New York, BUST, ELLE Girl, NYLON and Her book credits include Know Your Rights: A Modern Kid's Guide to the American Constitution, Fight Like a Girl: 50 Feminists Who Changed the World, Popular: The Ups and Downs of Online Dating from the Most Popular Girl in New York City, Madonna & Me: Women Writers on the Queen of Pop and The End: 50 Apocalyptic Visions From Pop Culture That You Should Know About…Before It’s Too Late.