The funny thing about "rock bottom" is that it's not an event, it's an action. It's that feeling in your gut when you miss a step walking downstairs, but that feeling goes on, and on, and on... and then you wake up. That's rock bottom. It's a sharp whack on your shoulders, a wake up call by cops as you're trying to sleep on the sidewalk. It's curling up in a sleeping bag stained with liquor and tears on the roof of an abandoned Hooter’s restaurant. It's sleeping in an teenage waitress’s car after nodding off at IHOP, and it's driving 45 minutes on a scooter in the pouring rain after getting off work at midnight only to find out that homeless shelters have curfew. That was my rock bottom. Not to be aimless, or even homeless. It was to be truly... unwanted.
When I was a kid, I thought I'd already been there, to the rocky place. Then I found out that things can actually always get worse. This is a good thing to know: because it makes you start fighting. Fighting to be happy, instead of fighting to convince everyone in the room that you've suffered the most. Fighting to be healthy instead of manipulating your body to feel anything except what you actually feel. When you don't know how you're going to eat that day or where you're going to sleep that night, suddenly the struggle to live becomes much more real. You can't afford to overthink that one offhand comment and wallow sensitively for hours, anymore than you can afford that teener of shitty cocaine or the $40 bar tab that will let you blackout and have a moment of peace.
I not only underestimated just how cruel life can be, I underestimated how kind it can be too. I have gotten piss drunk and blacked out and woken up on friend’s couches who paid my tab, drove me home, held my hair while I puked, took care of me, and never made me feel the fool for it. I have hitch-hiked in the bitter hours of the morning after sleeping under a bridge because my bicycle got stolen, and had a tattooed truck-driver pick me up and with tears in his eyes say, “I have a daughter your age. I’d give her a good talking-to if I knew she was hitch-hiking in this part of town at this hour. You ain’t my daughter so I can’t say nothing, but – I’d want to know my kid got home safe.” Then squeezed my hand as he dropped me off at the crack-den motel I was living in. “It gets better, kid,” he said.
Two local bartenders took me in and let me live with them when they found out I had nowhere to go; gave me a bed to sleep in, and took off my shoes when I was too drunk to walk. I will forever be indebted to the passing strangers in my life who had the decency to let me wrestle with my demons, and even more to those who had the graciousness to tell me, "Grow the fuck up. You're stronger than this. I love you."
My advice to the sad ones, the tender the ones, the dark ones, forever curious about the limits of human suffering: go to rock bottom. You will meet the demons that were to evil for Sodom and Gomorrah - I know, because I used to drink with them. And on your crawl back up, you won't be fighting to be happy, you'll be fighting to survive - and in that fight, as the sinews of your muscles flex to make it through one more day, one more night, may you meet your Good Samaritans just as I did, on many a highway road, thumb out, heart on sleeve, tear stains streaking a dirty face. It is in those gracious moments that I found happiness - scarred, bruised, and delirious, fighting to live, experiencing more from humanity than I thought I could bear but there, beating still, my heart was alive. I was still here. I was going to be okay. Existing is a quiet ecstasy.