Backseat drivers

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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EmilyH said...

Oh, so true!!! Exactly as Emily said, I have no idea where to direct myself, so I hold on to ED to give me directions. What a spot-on metaphor.

-Emily H.

Jessie said...

So true. Backseat drivers suck. Especially my ED one. They yell and yell and yell at you, but you get used to it. In a way you hate to admit, it's comforting. And then, suddenly, you have to try and make them go away. You decide to hell with that and fight recovery, even though a tiny part of you kinda wants to not hate yourself, and be warm, and have normal coloured skin, and be able to actually eat. But then one day, you realize 'Damn, this sucks. I'm tired of this.' And start fighting against your voice.
I don't think you went too far into it. I analyze everything too. My English teacher says you can't over analyze something.
I just want you to know, I really look up to you. You've had a really severe blow of eating disorders and OCD, but you don't let it stop you. You're determined to get your life back, even though recovery really sucks sometimes. Keep it up, I know you'll get there one day. :)

hm said...

Wouldn't it be nice to open up the car door and watch him fall headfirst out, tumbling over and over, in the rear view mirror? (kathunk, kathunk, splat, scrape) Putting a creep in the trunk feels so ominous... that tickly feeling on the back of the neck that someone could show up right behind you again at any minute...

Heather said...

Wow. I am really grateful to have read this. This is a timely and powerful metaphor that I can use for my ED, as well as the relentless self castigation that I engage in on a daily basis. While it may not be simple or EASY to high-jack the backseat companion, it is possible to remove them from the driver's seat and start exercising the atrophied muscle of "direction" in life. While their route rarely takes us to a good place, the scenery is repetitive after while. It's time for a new landscape.

IrishUp said...

Hey! *That's* a weird place to put a piano! [steals metaphor]


saffy rats said...

I have too often felt like a passenger and taking control is the hardest thing to do. Yet it is so worthwhile as you can see the path you want to take and you will only travel that way once you can take charge.

Drivers Ed Nevada said...

Backseat drivers really sucks and divert the attention of the driver, and gain the wheel access, when we just unable to understand where we are driving to?... it's so true that those make us lost control of our self in some of times.

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I'm a science writer, a jewelry design artist, a bookworm, a complete geek, and mom to a wonderful kitty. I am also recovering from a decade-plus battle with anorexia nervosa. I believe that complete recovery is possible, and that the first step along that path is full nutrition.

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