My previous blog entry focused on the issue of feeling stuck, stagnant, or in a rut in recovery. This blog entry takes this idea a bit farther: Not only is it possible to have periods of feeling stuck, stagnant, or in a rut in recovery, it is also not unusual to hit a “new bottom” in recovery. By a “new bottom,” I mean a time in recovery where your life basically falls apart, or where YOU basically fall apart. Beyond being simply stuck, stagnant or in a rut, it is a time of genuine crisis.
Here’s something interesting: The Chinese character representing “crisis” is a combination of two other characters that represent Danger and Opportunity. The dangerous aspect of a genuine crisis in recovery is obvious: there is the danger of going back to an active addiction, depression, and suicide. So, when dealing with a new bottom in recovery, it is extremely important to maintain vigilance in our recovery disciplines, beginning with not using, not picking up.
In a crisis, however, the other side of danger is opportunity. Now how can there be opportunity in a crisis? Well, it helps to understand the inner processes going on during a life crisis. Once these inner processes are understood, it is possible to also understand that the opportunity is to create a new and better life out of the ashes of the old one.
In growing up, we construct an ego identity, a conscious sense of who were are, which is pretty much solidly formed by the time we are teenagers. If we grew up in a dysfunctional or abusive family situation, that ego identity is filled with defensive, protective coping strategies, and, depending on the severity of the dysfunction/abuse, is often quite false, meaning that it bears little relationship to the ultimate nature of our authentic, true, inner self, which remains buried in our unconscious psyche.
So, if we have suffered early childhood abuse, trauma or dysfunction, we (unconsciously) built a false identity or self, together with a host of defensive coping strategies, which protected us from further injury as a child, but which ultimately are not functional or productive in our adulthood. So, we spend a long time walking through life not really knowing who we truly are, and using a bunch of operating strategies that prove less and less functional the longer we are alive.
Basically, a new bottom, or crisis, is a signal that some aspect(s) of the false self, and the life built atop the foundation of that false self, do not work anymore, and are beginning to crumble and fall apart. This period of crisis generally includes a long period of ambiguity and seeming formlessness: i.e. chaos. The chaos is in the outer world, and also in the inner world. During this time of seeming chaos, it is of the utmost importance to “trust the process” and to pay close attention to what is coming up from the inside – i.e. from the realm of the deep inner self, which has been laying unattended to in the unconscious. On the inside, invisibly, slowly, a new life is taking shape. If we pay attention to what is coming up from inside, if we trust our Higher Power, eventually a new order begins to assert itself in the outer world, one founded more firmly on the true rock and anchor of the authentic inner self. And generally, since it is more closely aligned with the needs of the authentic inner self, this new life is much better than the old one.
At this point I would like to introduce a quote from Appendix II (Spiritual Experience) in the AA Big Book: “With few exceptions our members find that they have tapped an unsuspected inner resource which they presently identify with their own conception of a Power greater than themselves.” A crisis, or new bottom, can actually aid people in recovery in discovering the spark of the divine – a Power greater than themselves – WITHIN THEMSELVES. If they trust the process, the notion that God is entirely “out there”, completely separate from themselves, can begin to dissolve and they can begin to access and trust their own inner power, the voice of God within. They can discover hitherto undreamed of inner resources, capabilities, dreams and visions, laying long dormant in the unconscious. They can finally learn to realize their full potential.
One final note: It is possible to have multiple “new bottoms” in recovery, since this process of the false self falling apart does not generally happen all at once, in one fell swoop. Generally, pieces of it fall apart, and a chunk of our life falls apart, and then comes back together in a new way. It takes multiple life crises, spread out over many years, to complete the process of coming fully in touch with our true self in all its fullness.