Updated: Aug 27, 2019
I myself was once a person powerfully affected by Borderline Personality Disorder, and now I’m not. I escaped, against tremendous odds. Because of this experience, and because of the insights I gained both while having the disorder looking forward, and then later as a recovered person looking back, I’m an authority on this subject.
The forces required to break free from extremely-subtle, yet powerfully-convincing distorted perspectives on the fundamental nature of various aspects of life (this is the genuine cause of emotional unhealth) cannot be overstated. It really does take dramatic forces for people caught in these distortion bubbles to break free from… themselves, to state it as plainly as I can. They themselves are their first and greatest barriers to authentic recovery.
How do I know this? I know it because I myself still often sit in awe, and gratitude, thinking about where I once was, while comparing it to where I am now, and remembering the unlikelihood of my own escape from those distorted, life-long patterns of thinking. Without a doubt, it will go down as one of my life's greatest accomplishments. Against the odds, I managed to break free from something that has probably consumed both sides of my family for generations.
When I look back and consider where the turning point happened - that is, when I finally, for the first time, and in a completely genuine way, opened my mind to the possibility that perhaps my perspective on certain fundamental aspects of life were inaccurate - it is clear to me that the phenomenon known as hitting rock bottom was where everything changed for me.
What is hitting rock bottom? Among people who follow me regularly, there has been some confusion about this in the past. Some have imagined that hitting rock bottom means, in every single instance, losing everything you love, forever. You can see why recovery wouldn't be a very appealing prospect given these imagined conditions. But this is not the case. Hitting rock bottom is merely when the pain from the natural consequences of one's unhealthy perspectives becomes so great, or the future prospects for pain become so real, that an individual is forced into a mindset of total and utter sincerity in his or her approach to fixing the problem.
As individuals, we all have different pain tolerances. Some of us are willing - or capable - of suffering much greater losses than others until we reach the stage where hitting rock bottom can occur.
Before one hits rock bottom in a genuine way, individuals go through the motions of recovery in an effort to keep their lives from falling apart, or to appease partners, or to try to ratchet in the disruptions happening in their lives. Clearly, the objective in these cases is not to genuinely identify and fix whatever the problem is; rather, the real motivation is to simply hold on to what one doesn't want to lose. The individual simply has not yet accepted, in a truly sincere way, that it is his or her own perspectives that are creating the trouble. Because of this, he or she wants to try to 'fix' the immediate life disruptions, while being able to continue living the way he or she is accustomed. They resist, at all cost, the really difficult work of closely examining their inner selves. Why? Because it is exhausting, terribly uncomfortable, and painful work.
Have you heard of the Law of Minimal Effort? It correctly says that human beings will choose to put in the least amount of effort that is necessary to achieve their objective. For example, if you want to vacuum your carpet, you start with an idea in your head of how clean you want your carpet to appear. Therefore, once your carpet appears as clean as you intended, you do not continue vacuuming beyond this. You would perceive doing so as wasted time and energy once your objective has been reached.
The Law of Minimal Effort is what is happening in instances when hitting rock bottom is fake. The individual's objective was never to genuinely identify and address the causes of the problem. No, his or her objective at this stage is to simply not lose something external, such as a partner, or a job, or visitation rights with the kids, or whatever you can imagine a person losing. As soon as he or she achieves the objective, what happens? Does he or she continue afterwards to address the internal issues in himself or herself that brought about all of these problems in the first place? No, because the Law of Minimal Effort now kicks in: The genuine objective has been accomplished (not losing the wife, for example), therefore further effort is subconsciously viewed as wasted time and energy.
Let me describe for you what hitting rock bottom involved for me: Everybody in my life firmly rejected me and my behaviors. I lost my wife, my home, my dog (different dog than I will talk about later), my job (unrelated to emotional unhealth, but the timing was interesting), and all but two of my friends. My mistress, who I loved, and who was pregnant with our child, miscarried. So I lost a child, and then the mistress packed up and moved far away because she could no longer deal with me, nor with the pain associated with me. I went from a life of total comfort to a life of nothing in the course of three months or so.
And still I did not authentically surrender to the idea that my own distorted ways of thinking had brought about all of this pain upon me. I still firmly held to my way with white knuckles, and I instead engaged in even more unhealthy behaviors. I did this to distract myself from the emotional pain, as well as to avoid exploring the issues that were in play, in any sincere way.
What did my ex-wife do? Well, she didn't simply leave me to fend for myself. But she also did not cave to any tendency she might have felt at the time to ‘help’ me in the sense of enabling my extreme unhealth. Instead, she wisely gave me hope that I could possibly – possibly – salvage things if I personally, on my own, independent of whatever might happen between us, made efforts to improve myself, for myself.
Still, I did not surrender to this immediately! I tried everything in my power to continue to live, and think, as I was accustomed.
Although at the time I entirely believed that I was being sincere with her in my approach to my emotional issues, looking back now, it is blindingly obvious to me that what I was really trying to do was fool her, and myself, into believing that I was not continuing business as usual, all while continuing with business as usual. The truth is, I was making no genuine efforts to 'fix' myself, because I did not truly believe, deep down, that there was anything to fix. The Law of Minimal Effort: My true objective was to simply not lose what I had, rather than to honestly analyze myself in the interest of fixing the root causes of whatever emotional issues I might be living with.
I did eventually hit rock bottom. Once my losses became too great to ignore anymore, and the inner pain was so severe that nothing was able to distract me from it, this finally brought about the total collapse of my willpower. Only when this happened, and not before, was I ready to begin analyzing my emotional unhealth with sincerity. Unfortunately for me personally, this meant first losing everything I loved at that time in my life, forever.
This is not to say that this has to happen in the case of every single person who is emotionally unhealthy. But it is universally true, across the board, that every single individual will have to reach the same stage of sincerity in their approach before authentic recovery can begin.
The emotionally-unhealthy person, who exists on a foundation of life-long, learned, erroneous perceptions, will do everything possible – and I do mean everything possible – to cling to their unhealthy perceptions. The reason why it's important to understand this is so you can also understand that 'helping' them is not helping them. It is instead enabling them.
Hitting rock bottom is the most effective way of authentically escaping the first, major hurdle, of recovery; that is, of simply getting out of one's own way. People must be allowed to suffer the full, painful consequences of their unhealthy thinking. They must be allowed to reach a point of genuine desperation and surrender. It's the only way that people who are trapped in this cycle can begin to surrender to the process of authentic recovery.
This is what hitting rock bottom is: Genuine surrender. It’s saying, “I give up. I can’t take this anymore (or, I can’t stand the prospect of this becoming a reality). I am at a point of total desperation. My way isn’t working. My way has never worked. My way is simply too painful. I have to figure this out, for real.”
When the people who care about us are constantly stepping in to ‘help’ us, what they are actually doing is preventing us from ever reaching this stage of genuine surrender. Think of the alcoholic whose mother’s pity won’t allow her to stand aside and see him suffer consequences – necessary consequences for recovery. She instead gives him gas money, and a warm bed; she bails him out of jail, and pays his legal costs. This isn’t ‘help’, and it isn’t very loving. Because the loving thing to do is to always give the object of our love what is best for that person's greatest long-term well-being, over what makes us feel immediately better.
Often, suffering is the beginning of the remedy. Brutal consequences are a start toward the cure.
No, brutal consequences are not a guaranteed way for people to eventually hit rock bottom. Since we all enjoy free will, some people will choose to suffer inexhaustibly right to the grave. Yet, this doesn’t mean that cushioning people from consequences is ok. You still have an obligation to demonstrate genuine love to those you care about, who you would like to see have a real chance of escaping emotional unhealth, by allowing them to suffer consequences.
This reminds me of my dog, Bradbury. When he was young, I used to have a lot of female guests in my apartment. Since he was in training, I would give people strict instructions ahead of time: When you come into my apartment, pretend as if my dog does not exist. He is in training. I am trying to train him not to get excitable when new people come into my home. So you must not pet him, or even acknowledge he is there.
How many women do you suppose followed my instructions? Zero.
Now my dog, who just turned eight years old, still goes crazy every time somebody knocks on my door. Why? Because he thinks that everybody is there to shower him with affection and coo and caw over him!
See, the women would come into my apartment, see Bradbury's adorable face, and they just couldn’t help themselves; they melted. They had to touch and pet and adore him. But was this in the interest of my dog’s ultimate benefit? Or was this for the immediate benefit of the women's own feelings? Clearly, it was selfishly for the immediate pleasure and benefit of the women themselves.
Although my wording may seem a little harsh, my point is not to criticize those ladies. I'm simply describing, in unsoftened terms, the true nature of the dynamics happening in that situation.
My dog is mostly a well-trained pooch today, despite the forces I had working against me. But hopefully you see my point: Just because something feels good for us at the moment, does not mean it is what the other person (or dog) genuinely needs for their greatest, long-term well-being.