Sunday, November 19, 2006

Phil Hits Bottom
The varieties of experiences "hitting bottom" are extraordinary. Some people go fast and hard, some young, some older. For me, it was a long, slow, inexorable descent.
Some people have said I had a "high" bottom -- whatever the hell that means. I heard a woman say her bottom was so bad, she didn't even make her bed every morning. To me, that sounds like a "high" bottom...
...but no bottom is "high" if you're the one sitting on it.
I like a couple things I've heard. Alcoholism is an elevator going down -- and you can choose to get off at any floor! Another guy put it this way: we need to raise the bottom to where we are.
What all the bottoms seem to have in common are the emotional and spiritual components. Whatever our outward circustances, we all seem to have shared complete emotional despair and spiritual bankruptcy.
There was a famous airline crash in 1989 that I've often thought of as a metaphor for me hitting my bottom. In mid-flight, a DC-10 lost all of its control surfaces: rudder, ailerons and elevators, along with the tail-mounted engine. The pilots, through ingenious improvisation, managed to keep the plane aloft, and contrived to steer by varying the thrust in each of the two wing engines. They were able to get the plane in position to attempt a landing at a deserted airport in Iowa.
There's a graphic, horrifying video of the final moments of the flight. (It was replayed endlessly on TV, but DO NOT click the link if you have any qualms about risking nightmares.) One of the remarkable things about the video is that as the plane approached the runway, by all appearances it looked like a normal, everyday landing of an airliner. I would never guess that anything was wrong, let alone that the plane was completely out of control.
And the plane almost made it. At the last moment, a wing dipped and hit the ground. The plane burst into flames, cartwheeled and broke apart, and burning wreckage careened down the runway for many long horrible seconds.
(As an aside, and where my metaphor breaks down: more than half the passengers and crew, including the pilots, survived that plane crash! The brilliant, heroic conduct of the flight crew has become a textbook case of "resource management" in handling a crisis aboard an airliner.)
By all outward appearances, there was not a serious crisis in my life. I had a job, a career, a home, a family. It looked like a routine flight, heading for what looked like a routine landing. In truth, I was out of control. It was only by ingenious improvisation (which we alcoholics are famous for) that I could maintain the appearance of routine normalcy, using every last ounce of my focus, attention and energy. My life was, actually, a highly stressful emergency, not at all a routine flight.
I feel like my long, slow, inexorable, out-of-control descent into alcoholism finally came to an end when I hit bottom last summer, like that plane hitting the runway at the end of its flight. Now I've got this flaming wreckage tumbling across the bottom. The old-timers tell me the first year or two of sobriety is hell -- I guess it takes that long for the wreckage finally to come to a stop, so rescue operations can begin in earnest.
Some days the best I can do is not drink for today, remember that I'm still in the wreckage, and trust God that this, too, shall pass.

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