Tales of a High-Bottom Alcoholic

By Jackie Monahan 05/17/19

Having a high bottom can be more dangerous because it can go undetected for life. You can end up just living a soulless life. 

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Jackie Monahan with friends.
It's my job every day to remind myself that my life is so much more rewarding now. Cash and prizes are just extras, the real rewards are free and deeply fulfilling.

When I first got sober someone referred to me as having a “high bottom.” A friend, trying to be funny, yelled out, “that’s just because she has long legs!”

I was then told that a high bottom meant I had not caused too much damage to myself or others while I was drinking, but I feel like that’s subjective. A “low bottom” does not really leave much open to interpretation: jail, interventions, hospital, losing your family, your job, your home. You have to decide: get sober or suffer terrible consequences, one of which might be death.

A person experiencing a high bottom may not appear to be suffering outwardly, but inside life can be unbearable, unmanageable, or just not as good as it could be. My periodical heavy drinking was interfering with my quality of life and I had had enough. Surviving isn't half as fun as thriving, not just financially but emotionally and physically.

When I first got sober I was sort of mad I didn't have a low bottom; I might have gotten sober sooner and I would know for sure I had a problem. I was also mad that my idea of fun had to change. I wore beer goggles to view my whole life. Anything was tolerable if there was a “reward” later—later that night, later that week, or later that month. If I could look forward to cutting loose at some point, the rest of life seemed more bearable.

I co-wrote and co-starred in a film called The Foxy Merkins. It went to Sundance, sold out premieres, and was nominated for an Independent Spirit Award. I drank on and off when I was writing, filming, and at all the premieres. In every situation, I felt like something was missing and I would drink more to get to the place of feeling complete...but it never came. Drinking had stopped being fun or gratifying because I wasn't connected to myself. For me, that was a low bottom. I want and need to be fully connected to great moments in my life.

Some of my friends/enablers still try to get me to drink and don't see what the big deal is, while other friends say “if Jackie can quit drinking, anyone can do it.” It’s not black or white, and that gray area almost kept me drinking for life. I can always point to someone else who has a worse drinking problem. If you have cancer, you’re going to treat it no matter how minor it is. Your mind isn’t trying to tell you to look at how bad the other guy's cancer is. No one’s saying “your cancer is nothing in comparison. Stop being a baby. You can moderate cancer. Forget about it.” That is what my brain did for years, and what my enablers told me: “That guy is falling down drunk. Have you ever fallen anywhere? NO. Then you are not an alcoholic.”

When I first got sober I thought “why me?” Today I still wonder “why me,” but it’s more “why am I so lucky to get to live in the moment and to feel all of my feelings?” When I finally got to this place, I stopped being mad that I did not have a clear low bottom. It sounds ridiculous to me now but I had been really frustrated about it. I thought: “I am doing this program with all I got, I should be able to half-ass it because I have not caused as much wreckage as most people.” That is an example of my crazy alcoholic diseased thinking.

Now I know everyone has a different bottom. Every day of my life, my head tells me I can drink and I have to remind it I don't even want to drink. My mind wants to kill me: it only leaves me alive to have a vehicle to run around in. It is my job every day to remind myself that my life is so much more rewarding now. Cash and prizes are just extras, the real rewards are free and deeply fulfilling.

Being honest and useful to the world is priceless. It's easy to sleep at night when I am not lying to anyone, especially myself. Even if I'd never experienced any external repercussions from lying, it took a toll on me, because I knew. There is nothing like going to sleep at night with a clear conscience.

When I heard that they might be putting high-bottom stories in the Big Book, I experienced a range of emotions. I was happy that other high bottoms will find stories they can relate to in the book. My ego, on the other hand, went nuts: WHAT?!! I would have killed to have heard high-bottom stories when I came in. I might have gotten sober sooner. Or maybe my dad might have been able to get sober. But for today, I am not waiting to blow off steam. I don’t feel that I deserve to drink because I have been wronged. That’s how I used to live. If something went “wrong” I had to have a drink.

I never want to make blanket statements, these are my opinions and they change often. At no time do I want to claim that my opinions are set in stone. As my perception continues to grow, my opinions will change for the better.

“Normal” drinkers are people who never or rarely suffer consequences from drinking. They rarely get drunk, nor do they ask themselves if they have a drinking problem. They never feel they must learn to moderate their use. High-bottom drinkers can hold down a job, they can have relationships, and no one gives them an intervention; but their souls deteriorate over time. They tell themselves they will learn to moderate. High-bottom drinkers are usually surrounded by other functioning alcoholics and enablers—people who do not want the person with alcoholism to get better because that means they will have to look at themselves, and they won’t look better in comparison anymore.

Having a high bottom can be more dangerous because it can go undetected for life. You can end up just living a soulless life. Everything seems fine, but you never feel real gratification or get to know the real you or the greatness you are capable of.

With a low bottom, people are forced to quit drinking: they have to or they will die. High bottoms aren't necessarily facing death, but they have to quit to really live. At least I did. Things still don't go perfectly, but how boring would that life be? I now do my best to welcome my life challenges. I now know how to deal with them head-on, and if I don’t I have a crew of new friends that can help me help myself. Now, fun is always being in the present moment, connected to all that is, and not trying to figure out the next drink.

Life is not perfect, but at the same time, it kinda is.


See Jackie in Wild Nights with Emily, now playing in selected theaters!

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Jackie Monahan has been called "The Queen of deadpan" by Roger Ebert, "A F%cking Genius" by Roseanne Bar, "Unstoppable" by Curve Magazine and "the funniest b$tch on the Block" by Amy Schumer. Monahan toured with Amy for 5 years. Jackie has since been headlining clubs and making guest appearances on TV and is beloved in the indie film scene. She performs at: The Comedy Store, Improv and alternative rooms. You may have seen seen her on Adult Swim’s The Eric Andre Show, Last Comic Standing, or Comedy Jam on Showtime. In addition, Jackie starred in and co-wrote Madeleine Olnek’s beloved Sundance feature film "The Foxy Merkins" which was also nominated for an Independent Spirit award for best Director. Jackie was Zylar in Olnek’s Sundance hit "Codependent Lesbian Space Alien Seeks Same" which received rave reviews from both Variety and The Hollywood Reporter. She has been professionally trained at UCB and Groundlings but she was born with a spot on sense of timing and a unique look at life that cannot be duplicated. Jackie won Time Out New York Joke of the Year, and was voted comic to watch by Esquire magazine who said “Jackie has the looks of your friend's hot older sister with the jokes of a deranged serial killer. She will kill you and you will be smiling.” 

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