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Backseat drivers

Posted Sep 11 2011 12:01am
I was reading a memoir of chronic loneliness ( Lonely by Emily White ), and she was discussing  the genetic predisposition to loneliness. She described it as having a backseat driver in your life. Emily was still the driver of her life, but she also had a backseat driver (the predisposition to loneliness) who was shouting out directions.

Of course, you usually don't always know that your backseat driver is an arrogant ass who really doesn't care where you're driving. If you're me, you might be confused about where you're going or how to get there. As much as you might dislike the person giving directions, you're simultaneously grateful to have directions. So you follow along.

Sometimes, the backseat driver gaines in power and influence, and all of a sudden he's sitting in the passenger seat. As Emily said, sometimes the backseat driver even grabs ahold of the wheel from you and is driving the damn car.

The ultimate goal of treatment is to wrest control back from the backseat driver  You might not always be able to toss the SOB out of the car, but you can turn up the radio to drown out his directions. Or you can work to push him back to the backseat, and ultimately to the trunk.

Genetic predispositions work this way. They rarely start out by suddenly grabbing the wheel away from you. Rather, they creep up in importance and influence. We do, ultimately, remain the driver of our lives, but as anyone who has followed GPS directions only to end up at the wrong place knows all too well, bad directions can lead to a very different road traveled.

Our predispositions towards eating disorders or anxiety or bad boyfriends tend to nudge us. They change what environments we're likely to seek out, and our environments can provide new backseat drivers (or new directions for the existing ones). They can be annoying passengers in our lives, but there's also not a lot we can do about them. We're often stuck with them for the ride.

The goal is to diminish their influence. Most backseat drivers I know don't change no matter how many times you tell them to shut their traps. It's much easier to deal with them effectively once you know that they're a) a backseat driver and b) know that their sense of direction really sucks.

Of course, throwing your backseat driver in the trunk can leave you directionless. This makes the asshole in the trunk all the more appealing. It's much more appealing (and less anxiety-provoking) to have someone in control and telling you where to go than for you to be driving the streets of a neighborhood you don't know in the dark. Directions--any directions--seem ridiculously helpful.

Maybe they are, but I have to keep reminding myself that the backseat driver never asked where I wanted to go. He's not interested in that. He just wants to drive. So I can't necessarily get to where I want to go by listening to the jerk.

I also have to remember that the wannabe driver is going to be trying to give directions for a good long time, and that he might figure out how to get out of the trunk and back into the car at some point. I have to be ready for that. I have to get my own directions and be confident in that. I also need a killer playlist for my iPod so I can drown out his racket.

Perhaps I've taken the metaphor farther than it was meant to go. But I think it explains a lot about remission and recovery in EDs. Lock the bastard in the trunk and drive secure. Also be prepared for him to bust out and try to drive your car again. Remember this, however: you are the driver. You get to pick where you want to go. All sorts of things are going to give you a nudge in one way or another. But you're always the driver.
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