Sunday, February 13, 2011

Getting off the merry go round

One of my favorite pieces of literature in Al-Anon is entitled The Merry-Go-Round of Denial. Any kind of addiction can set up a Merry-Go-Round of blame and denial. I am going to relate some of what I found so helpful in this pamphlet. I am using the alcoholic as an example but probably the same could be true for the addict.

There are three types of people who ride the Merry-Go-Round with the alcoholic. One is the enabler who is impelled to rescue the alcoholic from the disease. The enabler, by trying to save the alcoholic, also is meeting a desperate need himself. What happens when the enabler steps in is that the alcoholic is denied the process of learning from mistakes. Instead, the alcoholic learns that someone will be there to come to the rescue. And the rescue attempts will continue as long as everyone stays on the merry go round.

The other individual on the Merry-Go-Round is the victim. This person is responsible for getting the work done, if the alcoholic is absent due to drinking or is half on and half off the job due to a hangover. The victim essentially tries to protect the alcoholic. And the victim can also become a real emotional victim who feels shame, disappointment and eventually rage over the behavior of the alcoholic. This is a role that I played for sure. I absorbed injustices, endured social embarrassments, accepted broken promises, and was broken in spirit. My reaction was to spew out hostility, anxiety and anger. And I was as sick as the alcoholic.

The provoker is another individual who usually lives with the alcoholic. This person is generally hurt and upset by the drinking. As a result the relationship with the alcoholic becomes one that is filled with bitterness, resentment, fear and hurt. The provoker tries to control and force changes. But the provocation only brings about anger and blame from the alcoholic. And here is another part of me that I could see.

Because of these behaviors by those around him, the alcoholic's dependency increases. Others have cleaned up the mess and suffered the consequences of the alcoholic's drinking. Why should the alcoholic change? Everything is done for her/him so why not continue to drink or drug?

Here's where this really ceases to be a Merry-Go-Round but more like a House of Horrors with a revolving door. The alcoholic denies that there is a problem. And begins to blame the family for nagging and creating problems. I know this one well too.

The real problem is that the alcoholic is well aware of the truth which he so strongly denies. He is aware of his drunkenness. He is aware of his failure. His guilt and remorse have become unbearable; he cannot tolerate criticism or advice from others.

Everyone in the family of the alcoholic vows not to repeat their insanity but they continue to do so. And the alcoholic will continue to drink unless the cycle is broken when those associated with the alcoholic decide to change.

Thus, the Enablers and the Victim must seek information, insight and understanding, if they plan to change their roles. The Enabler must make a decision that he is powerless over the alcoholic and let the alcoholic suffer the consequences of his drinking . By doing so, the Enabler allows the alcoholic the dignity to fail or succeed.

The Victim who is often a spouse becomes crushed, empty and nearly destroyed. By seeking help through therapy or Al-Anon, the spouse will change roles and not be the victim anymore. When that happens, it may get the attention of the alcoholic. If the non-alcoholic changes, this may make the alcoholic seek help. But there are no guarantees of that.

There is no easy way to change behaviors. Some find it more painful to change than to just keep things the way they are. I found that if I didn't change, I would be sinking so low that my life no longer mattered. I decided that I had to break that cycle of the downward spiral. Thankfully, my wife entered AA at the time that I went to Al-Anon. I think that we both realized that the life we had wasn't really living.

So if you are doing the same things over and over with nothing changing, it may be time to get off the Merry-Go-Round. When your heart and soul are tied up in another and you despair for your own sanity, it may be time to change what you are doing and try something different. This is the only life I have. I am not willing to give it up for the sickness of another. And once I reclaimed myself, things began to change for all around me. It is a big step to change old behaviors, but it may be your salvation.


  1. It truly is "keeping the focus on yourself", but without any agenda as to controlling outcome. That's the toughest part for a lot of us--being in the gray area, and not forcing solutions. It requires patience, work and trust in a higher power. Still, I'm finding it is the only way to go in order to stay in the present and to experience what is really happening (as opposed to what we "think" should happen). It can be wonderful, but also scary. Ultimately, it's worth it.

    BTW, hope C. is doing better.


  2. That pamphlet opened my eyes and made me realize I am an alcoholic. It was like someone held a mirror up to my face and for the first time in my life I could see the truth.
    I will be forever grateful to the folks in Al-Anon who knew before I did, for loving me unconditionally until I was able to figure it out, their patience, for not judging me :)

  3. Really good post! We must be the change we wish to see in the world.

  4. great post syd...this merry go round extends well beyond alcoholism...and i have ridden it...

  5. I was all three....the enabler, the victim, and the provoker. I am so thankful that I found my way to Alanon. Great share Syd...thank you so much.

  6. Such simplicity. Such difficulty. Well, I guess the harder something is, the more worthwhile.

  7. With a mother, mother in law,and three children one after another in their addictions in the early days of my wife's and my recovery my favorite expression was "stop the world I want to get off.
    I found I had to work my way through the three types with each one.
    My wife hit Al-Anon first and based on her example I followed. Changing my behaviors was/is like turning a ship around in a Typhoon.Still turning,still(since 62) in AA & Al-Anon.

  8. It is a sad place to get to and to realize you aren't living a real life, only through the other person. Letting go and letting the alcoholic and user be what they are and deal with their own issues does give a person time to begin working on their own stuff. For me, I had to learn not to be so nosy. It just was not my business. Taking care of me is my business. Nice post, Syd. I always like how you relate how you and your wife got to a place that you each began working on recovery, as individuals and how that helped your marriage.

  9. I could never quite figure out where my husband stood in regards to my drinking. Years ago he threatened to leave me, so I cleaned up my act for a month or two knowing in my heart it was not enough to get me to stop. Then he just used avoidance for years, but I was using the drinking as a way to avoid him too.
    Then when I quit altogether for almost a year the other issues in our marriage were suddenly glaringly obvious.
    But he's never really been an enabler, and never really been a victim. He's always remained detached about it.

  10. Changing my behaviors has been slow, rewarding and sometimes difficult. My character defects dont want to leave without a fight. Some of these were signed on in my early years of life but they no longer serve me.
    Learning to have compassion where I am and keeping it in the moment serves me today.
    I turn it over to HP and do the footwork.
    Everyone has a HP including my qualifier.

  11. My first sponsor introduced me to that wonderful pamphlet, and like you, I saw myself in each of those three roles.

  12. That Merry-go-Round can be quite a bitch; thanks for this post

  13. Change is absolutely crucial to good sobriety...or at least it was in my case. It is a slow process but your entry points out how it can be done and why. Thanks.

  14. Best post I've read online in a while. Straight to the point.

  15. "When your heart and soul are tied up in another and you despair for your own sanity, it may be time to change what you are doing and try something different." So worth repeating, repeating, repeating for me. Thank you Syd.

  16. It strikes me what a miracle it is that you and your beloved got off the Merry go round together and walked into a new way of life. I feel joy for both of you. A sober marriage is a gift that keeps on giving. My beloved and I wish you both a happy Valentine's Day, Syd.

  17. Great post Syd, it is so hard to look into the mirror and see the truth. We all want to see the image that we want to project not the image or reality.

  18. As an acoholic/addict, I recognize those carousel horses from my own merry go round of insanity!

    Thanks for the reminder of those I put through hell. I cannot afford to forget that part of my life.

  19. This one help me get off the merry go round... I read the pamphlet this morning ...I read it everyday when I first came in to program...

  20. Thank you for sharing this. I am exiting the Merry Go Round. Your post gave me encouragement that I am not crazy! <><


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