The High Bottom Disadvantage
One of the great divisions that sometimes seem to occur in our membership is the tired old wheeze “..aw, he (or she) is a high-bottom drunk.” This usually implies that the subject of the conversation has no real understanding of agony and pain, and is really a dilettante regarding recovery.
This was my opinion in my early days on the program, inasmuch as I had come off skid row and felt that those that had retained families, homes or jobs never really suffered the way I had. After watching, sponsoring and listening to AA’s for well over twenty years, I no longer have that opinion.
It’s certainly true that the low-bottom drunk has a lot going against him. When he’s sick, he usually stays sick…when he’s hungry, he often stays hungry…when it rains, he gets wet…when he must get across town, he either begs carfare (hitches a lift) or walks. The list of disadvantages can go on and on. On the other hand, the high-bottom drunk has certain definite advantages. When he’s sick, he can make arrangements to get well…when he’s hungry, he can eat… when it rains, he can stay inside…when he needs to get across town, he has (or can obtain) wheels to do it. This list also can go on and on.
So far it all seems pretty one-sided. But what is easy to overlook is that nearly all these categories of advantage/disadvantage are physical, dealing with bodily discomfort and pain. There is another side of the coin that is easily missed in the recitation of the lack of creature comforts.
The great advantage of the low-bottom drunk is that he no longer needs to pretend that he is well. He does not have to look well, nor act well, nor impress people that he is well. Very few men in the line at the blood-bank are worrying about meeting the mortgage payment, or trying to decide what to tell the boss this time, or wondering if the car is totalled out again, or if the lawyer can beat the current 502. The low-bottom drunk lives one day at a time by necessity, perhaps better than anyone in the world. There is no future and little past; the struggle is to get through today.
And obviously, the great disadvantage of the high-bottom drunk is that he must never be known to be a drunk, that he must get it all together every day so that people won’t know, that he must keep his “front” no matter how bad he feels. In other words, his major problem is the conflict of attempting to look one way while forced to act another.
It still would seem, perhaps, that the discomforts of the low-bottom drunk outweigh the abstract anxieties and conflicts that afflict his high-bottom brother. But, just for a moment, let’s see one example of how they stack up.
The suicide rate on skid row, for example, is almost non-existent. People die brutal deaths there, but these deaths are rarely self-inflicted. Suicide is the province of prolonged and intense emotional conflict. The suicide rate in Beverly Hills is tremendously higher than in skid row. And not just Beverly Hills, but any type of “better type” of residential area.
All suicides are not alcohol-related, of course, but a great many alcoholics pass through suicidal depressions…and a number of them act on it. And almost every alcoholic suicide is traced to the same old depression caused by the conflict of no longer being able to sustain the role which the alcoholic feels is essential for him to survive.
So, whether the conflict ends in suicide or nervous breakdown or any of its related emotional destructions, the high-bottom drunk is much more prone than his companion who lives a physically degrading but relatively conflict-free existence. Alcoholism seems to take its toll, whether the patient is up or down, rich or poor. The unifying characteristic for both is desperation.
Or, to put it quite simply, to be an alcoholic of any kind without getting help is just a hell of a way to live!
Clancy I., Venice, Ca.