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Bottom's up

BY WILLIAM MOYERS Modified: October 15, 2012 at 11:34 am •  Published: October 15, 2012

What is the bottom?

That intractable question — twisted into emotional knots of anger, empathy and fear all tied together in the dread of powerlessness — is revisited here a lot, and almost every day, somebody reaches out for help.

A woman's story compels me to include it again. Only this time, I'm asking readers for their guidance; perhaps she will gain from another perspective beyond mine.

Dear Mr. Moyers: You spoke to our inmates last summer. Though I'm not an offender, I'm a guard who chose to stay and listen out of desperation, and what I heard you say is never to let a loved one hit "rock bottom," because "rock bottom" equals death.

When I married my husband, I took vows to stay with him. Twenty-four years later, he won't stop drinking. I've taken everything away from him — his kids, the house — and I called the police after he choked our son. He had to get out, and all we hear from him now is what he sends in the occasional text message.

Yesterday I spent hours on the phone with agencies — law enforcement, child protection, recovery centers — and every one of them said, "Well, he hasn't hit rock bottom yet, so there's nothing you can do."

I know he has to choose to receive help, but I can't believe I am supposed to sit here and wait for a phone call from some hotel manager that they found my husband dead. I guess I just need to know whether that is, indeed, his fate. If not, then what is used to change the course of events? Can they be changed?

Thank you for your time. Thank you for not believing in rock bottom. — Katy B., Minnesota

I called Katy and told her what I tell so many people like her: Don't give up. As long as the addict or alcoholic is still alive, it is not too late, no matter how ugly it looks or hopeless it feels.

But then how does that work? Because it is true that a sick person cannot get well without help, yet addiction's perverse potency often won't let go of a substance-saturated brain long enough for the sick addict to fathom the prospects of an alternative beyond just one more drink or drug.

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