Hitting bottom is not a place, it is a metaphor.
One of the gifts of the Twelve Steps of AA, is the black letter clarity they give to something that is otherwise full of confusion, weirdness, and anxiety. Alcoholism is a progressive disease, and it tears through the life of the alcoholic and his or her relationships like a pinball dashing unpredictably inside a box. It has ever-changing and usually deepening consequences that are physical, psychological, and spiritual. Oh, and the disease does not progress along an orderly path. The chinks, dings, and divots to moral character and ordinary competency are accumulative but can then suddenly fall headlong into a new and lower level.
No one knows exactly where bottom is until they hit it and make the call. For some it is a first DWI while for others, it is a fourth DWI accompanied by a prison sentence. The “high-bottom drunk” whose intervention came before he or she publicly lost anything, can seem like a mirage to the alcoholic in recovery who lost everything and everyone. But that is how “the bottom” is a metaphor rather than a GPS coordinate.
So, like alcoholism itself, the proverbial bottom is neither predictable nor the same for everyone. When someone enters the first step of the twelve steps – “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol, that our lives had become unmanageable” – the bottom has been discovered. (Those in recovery know it is one day at a time, and that the first bottom is only the last by grace and effort).
I have been in recovery for thirty-eight years, and that makes it one of the primary lenses I wear through which to see the world. I have been wondering lately, if there is a bottom for our nation when it comes to the current presidency and state of our politics. How much can we tolerate, or how much must we lose before a sufficient number of people say “enough.” As with the addict, there is no one other than us, a significant American majority, to make the diagnosis and admit that the life of the nation “has become unmanageable.”
Don’t get me wrong, I am not claiming Trump is an alcoholic – although his extreme narcissism and impulsivity are characteristics he shares with alcoholics – by all reports he is somewhat of a teetotaler. Rather, his self-orbiting mania and restive bullying is a wrecking ball at the center of our governmental structure. How much damage can we stand before crucial elements of the scaffolding fails? Do we have to reach total collapse to find our bottom? Even after he is gone, will the minority political party continue to practice the politics of “no” in which clever resistance stops any progress? Will the majority party refuse to include the minority in consensus building, opting instead for rule by coercion?
It does not take too much imagination to think that the Oklahoma City bombing, mass shooting in El Paso, and the pipe bombs sent to perceived enemies of the president, are but small sips of the bitter drink we have in store if this continues much further. The bottom is really our call, yours and mine.