Rock Bottom.

Rock Bottom.

 

A couple weeks ago I was working on the east coast. On my way back I turned off my phone when I boarded my first flight at 6am east coast time. We sat on the tarmac for almost two hours and then had a 3 hour flight. Because of the delay I had to run to make my connection and never turned on my phone before boarding another 5 hour flight. The point of this is I was out of contact for almost 12 hours total. When I landed in LAX I had a text from a friend. “Call me as soon as you land.” I smile and think maybe she wants to pick me up from the airport as she knows I like that. I call her back with a grin on my face while the plane is still taxiing to its gate.

“Hi” I say when she answers.

“Hi” she responds “Um…have you talked to anyone yet?”

I start to get that feeling. “No, I just landed and my phones been off for a long time. What’s up?” There is a pause and she responds “I’ve got some bad news.” My throat tightens, my body tenses, I know what’s coming next. “This one is bad” she continues.

Fuck. Fuck Fuck Fuck. I’m instantly full of grief and rage and I don’t even know what she’s going to tell me. Except that I do – she’s going to tell me another friend is dead. This one is really bad? What the fuck is that supposed to mean? Is it two again? Is it one of our best friends? “Just tell me who it is” I blurt out.

“It’s JVH” she responds.

We share a few more words I really don’t remember. To be honest I’m not even sure if the above recollection is 100% correct. I was surrounded by hundreds of people and not able to react, say, or do anything. I willed my brain and emotions to temporarily shut down for the time being. I was a zombie for the next hour. I got off the plane, got my bags, and got in my uber to take me home. While in the car another friend calls to make sure I knew and to check on me. I mumbled that I knew and quickly got off the phone. I had to text him back apologizing saying that I just couldn’t physically talk at the moment.

My thoughts race as I’m driven home. I can’t breath, can’t think straight, can’t figure out what I’m supposed to do. I can’t fix it so what can I do to get rid of this feeling? My first thought is to go back to LAX and fly to Switzerland. Surely some wingsuit BASE jumps and solo time in the mountains would help. Besides the following week was my birthday so I wouldn’t even feel bad about sneaking off.  My duffel’s half packed, I could book the plane ticket from my phone, the train ticket when I land in Zurich, and figure out accommodations when I got to Lauterbrunnen. Yes, I thought, maybe that’s what I’ll do.

Ad-dic-tion

Noun: addiction

The fact or condition of being addicted to a particular substance, thing, or activity

Synonyms: dependency, dependence, habit, problem

I walk into my apartment full of energy. I’m ready to pack, to make shit happen, to do something, to do anything. Before I can even drop my bags I see the vase that sits in my kitchen and my flowers are dead. At this point I truly break down and lose it right in the middle of my kitchen. It was the final push that I just couldn’t take. Which is silly really as I knew those flowers wouldn’t survive the entire time I was gone but seeing them there with empty stems surrounded by dead fallen petals did me in.

Our community is addicted to a very dangerous activity. We’re lying to ourselves and others when we try to claim otherwise. When you get right down to it and be honest we share an astounding number of traits with junkies. We do something that’s incredibly dangerous. We risk bodily harm and death. We risk our jobs and careers. We spend exorbitant amounts of money to do it. We seemingly don’t care about our friends and family because we do it despite their concerns. Most evident of all though…is not only do we continue to do it while others die all around us, but their deaths drive us to grief and the need to cope…by doing more of the same activity.

My first reaction to deal with the grief of losing John was to do the exact thing that killed him. This is a common response. Others deal with it by abusing drugs and alcohol, but replacing one vice with another is still addictive behavior. We’re dealing with addiction pure and simple.We can deny it which is just another sign/trait of addiction. I recently asked someone close to me to borrow something. They said yes, but what if I die before they get it back? In the past I would have got upset and defensive about that. Not these days. They’re right, they’re more than right and it was said out of love and concern.

These days I find myself wondering if maybe we need to hit rock bottom before things will change. The scary question is: is we haven’t hit it yet, exactly how much further do we have to fall?

Rock Bottom

The lowest possible level

The term rock bottom gets tossed around a lot these days but anyone who has experienced it first or second hand know how scary it can be. However we also know how critical it can be. Sometimes it’s the only thing that can make a person change. I can say from personal experience that watching, waiting, hoping for someone to hit rock bottom is a brutally painful experience…but a necessary one to save their life.

The same day JVH died a prominent jumper posted something on social media about wishing we would all just hurry up and die. I recognized for what it was – an outburst of pain and grief at having lost another friend. I also read something else in his words. I saw a desire for us to hit rock bottom so we can pick up the pieces and be whole again. Many people took issue with it and jumped all over him. I found the responses more telling than anything. They denied, they lied (to themselves and others), they manipulated, they shifted blame, they became abusive. Anyone that’s spent any time with an addict can see the pattern and similarities here.

I’m sure many people will take issue with me calling our community addicts. “Well that’s just like…your opinion man.” Fine, let me spell it out for you:

Common Behavior of an Addict:

  • Denial – “I don’t have to jump but I want to.”
  • Lies – We lie to ourselves, family, and friends about the dangers and risks we’re taking
  • It Can’t Happen to Me – “That person died because they did XYZ, I don’t do that so I’ll be ok.”
  • Financial and Career Risks – We spend absurd amounts of money and risk our careers
  • Disregard for Family and Loved Ones – We selfishly ignore the impact our deaths could have on those that care about us
  • Coping Mechanism – We need to jump to cope
  • Rationalization – “All my friends do it…so quitting wouldn’t make a difference.”
  • Open Ended Promises to Quit – “I can’t do it forever”,”Just one more season/year”,”I’ll quit when i get older”,”I’ll quit when I have a family.”

 

So where do we go from here? How far down this road are we going to travel? How long can we deny our addiction and how crazy this all is? Because though we might deny it… we really are crazy – we continue doing the same exact thing and yet expect different results. Is there a way to change without hitting rock bottom? If not…will we ever truly know where the bottom is?

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4 thoughts on “Rock Bottom.

  1. Incredibly thoughtful; I wonder if there is a “rehab” program for you all. Verbalizing is a way of coping but the pain will not be relieved; only time will help heal. There will come a moment when you will leave your sport and choose another path through life. We wait anxiously for that moment…..

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  2. I’ve been struggling to get out of this sport my self… can’t seem to, want to but cant (or wont?) Denial, Disregard for Family and Loved Ones and Open Ended Promises… I’m stuck in that loop .

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  3. As someone who has participated in these activities, with these people, and has experienced the same cornucopia of emotions, I can totally relate to the sentiments expressed here. As basejumpers, we chase intense experiences, at some point a few years ago I started chasing another dragon, one notorious for it’s addictive tendencies. Long story short, it culminated in my checking into rehab, exploring and analyzing my current state of affairs, and attempting to pick up the pieces of what was my life prior to my hitting rock bottom. Late one evening, in my medically mandated dorm,after another long day of group discussions, I sat alone in the dark, pondering the concept of rock bottom. This was my take away: you don’t have to actually hit rock bottom, to escape the impending impact, you simply have to recognize the trajectory for what it is. We’ve made a “sport” out of recognizing this impending impact, and whipping out some nylon to save ourselves before it’s to late.
    I think that as a community, we are currently in freefall towards that impact, but luckily, we also possess the skillset and intuition to recognize it for what it is, as well as what to do to save ourselves.
    BASE has grown exponentially, there’s no stopping that. What we can do, as a community, is realize its time to pull, if you will. It’s time for a focus on safe, repeatable jumps, if we choose to continue to jump. It’s time to make safety margins “cool”. It’s time to reach out to the new jumpers, and it’s time to regroup, reassess, and strive to be a better, more knowledgeable community, with a laser focus on longevity.
    It’s time to take it one day at a time, and strive to simply do the next right thing.
    Mad love for you all.

    -BR, FL, USA

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  4. Barring minor subtleties, Nothing has changed in the last 20 to 30 years regarding the human desire for adventure and their response to tragedy when it occurs. Only the volume of people participating and dying. The thoughts and emotions expressed are a part of almost every active BASE jumpers cycle. As every person enters the sport, they follow similar patterns of thoughts, behaviours, and psychology. The only way to end the cycle is to stop it totally. And rightly or wrongly, that will not happen. It is a beautiful activity with many wonderful people. But participating has a price either directly, or indirectly. Open your heart and your mind and choose wisely what is right for you!

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