Imagine there is this roller coaster that you have ridden before and you absolutely hate it! It is the scariest, twistiest, loopiest, craziest, whatever. The point is that you cannot stand being on this particular roller coaster. Any time you’ve ever jumped on this thing, you’ve been a complete and utter mess afterwards.
When you’re on this roller coaster, you feel like crap. You’re anxious, you’re scared, you can’t get your bearings, your heart is racing, your stomach is churning, you feel like you could throw up at any moment, and you are certainly not having any fun. However, you just keep volunteering to ride the damn thing….
Ooohhhh, yes. We’re fixing to jump right into a metaphor, friends. Can you feel it? Here it comes, here it comes…
The roller coaster ride is my personal favorite way of explaining how I used to handle my relationships with the alcoholics and addicts in my life. I used to be the first one clamoring to ride front row through all of the ups and downs and terrible twists of their addictions until I was an emotional, spiritual, financial, and physical mess.
Here’s a tidbit of what that looked like for me:
- I got up at all hours of the night to pick them up and drive them home because they were drunk
- I lied for them
- I hid bottles and drugs from them
- I dropped anyone and anything to be at their beck and call because I thought I could keep them safe if I was there with them and in “control” of the situation
- I called in sick for them at work when they were hungover or missing
- I gave them my money
- I put myself in terribly dangerous situations. If someone is drunk and high and pointing a gun at you, that is not a safe place to be!
- I sat up in a state of terror all night after they made suicide threats
- I put myself last in everything
- I obsessed over helping them and fixing them and saving them
- I cried myself to sleep a lot
Do you see what I’m saying? I allowed my entire life to be jerked around continuously because I was unaware that I could choose to not ride the roller coaster anymore. When I arrived at Al-Anon and learned about “Detaching with Love,” it was the equivalent of someone noticing my panic and anxiety and anger about riding this terrible roller coaster for the umpteenth time and saying to me “Hey, you know you don’t have to ride the roller coaster, right? You do have a choice here.” Wait…what?!? *Mind Blown*
Because here’s the deal: When you’re a little kid growing up with alcoholics and addicts, you’re strapped into that coaster from Day 1 for a long, miserable ride. Little kids in that situation are powerless and they do not have a choice in the matter. They don’t “volunteer” for the coaster but they ride it anyway. It sucks but it’s true. The thing is – a lot of times those babies grow up and become so accustomed to the dips and turns and terrors of the roller coaster that they seriously don’t realize as adults that they do have a choice; they do get to decide whether or not to participate in the roller coaster ride from hell anymore. And just so you know, even if you’re not actively involved in a relationship with your alcoholics or addicts but you grew up in that type of situation, you can still be “riding the roller coaster” in a sense simply by suffering from the effects of the past. Have you ever read The Laundry List? Without a doubt, our childhood trauma affects us.
This roller coaster metaphor works for anyone who loves an alcoholic or an addict. It works for anyone in any relationship at all where you feel like you have given away your choice and your power. And it works for anyone who grew up in a dysfunctional family situation whether it involved alcohol and drugs or not. The roller coaster happens all the time in a lot of different scenarios. Next time the situation presents itself, take a moment to think before reacting; ask yourself: “Am I jumping on someone else’s roller coaster right now?” And remember that you do not have to choose to go through that anymore.
Feeling like you have no choice and no control over your own life is a terrible place to be emotionally. When you are in relationship with someone who is plunging deeper and deeper into their personal darkness, the heartbreak and anger and fear is profound. But you have to realize, despite what you’ve maybe been told: Love is not going down with the ship. Love is not constantly setting yourself on fire to keep the people you love warm. And Love is not riding their roller coaster. You cannot really be of any service to a sick person by making yourself sick as well. It doesn’t work like that. In fact, I truly believe that the best thing I’ve ever done in my quest to help my alcoholics and addicts has been to take care of me. Intriguing, isn’t it?
So what do you say? Do you like the roller coaster metaphor? Are you currently allowing yourself to ride on someone else’s roller coaster nightmare? And if so, are you ready to stop? Because planting your feet firmly on the ground after a rough ride is a powerful step to freedom and recovery.