Roller Coaster Sober

The safety bar lowers. Metal snaps into place. “All Clear.”

The steel floor below you sinks and now you’re suspended in place, hanging from a wheeled apparatus on a skyward looping track. The ascent is slow. Suspense builds like a good story, like how characters in a movie search an abandoned house, their movements measured. Any second now: the peak.


Your typical roller coaster ride lasts around 1 minute. The same amount of time it takes to load the car and get strapped in. Folks pay good money to stand in line for over an hour for 60 seconds of thrill.

My trip to Six Flags helped me realize the gap between “normies” and “alkies” is not as wide as I like to make it seem.


Non-addicts and alcoholics still go to great lengths for their fix.

Amusement parks are like ballparks or movie theaters or concert venues. Once there, you are expected to lose all concern for budget. A bottle of water with tax is over $5. You pay because there is no other option in the park, but you are also putting an inherent value in the park experience. By purchasing over-priced crappy food, you are saying “it is worth it because of the experience.”

The wait-times are absurd. If you’re lucky, you can get in 4 major rides in one afternoon. That’s roughly 5 minutes of real ride time for over $100 if you eat two meals.

The addict will also go to any length for his fix of choice. I wrote a story too long to recall here for the Recovery Revolution about the lengths I went to get high. At one point, for example, I ate nothing but bagels from the company kitchen for breakfast, lunch, and dinner to afford my habit.

The lengths we go for a thrill.

The lengths we go for a thrill.

We all need a break from the mundane.

Working, paying bills, raising kids, and other everyday tasks are taxing. They can wear us down. What better way to escape reality than to simulate the acrobatic nonchalance of Superman. For a few brief moments, amusement parks allow us to become acutely aware of sensation. We live in the moment; our senses warn our bodies to fear for our lives.

Substance-abusers, whether afflicted by the disease of addiction or not, certainly feel a similar sense of escapism.

I drank and drugged to simulate the feeling that I am someone else. To get out of my head by impairing my inhibitions. The miracle of my recovery is receiving this same respite from self through organic or spiritual means. If you click around on this site, you’ll quickly learn that is the main theme of my writing. I love (and hate) my work. As a sober man, I cherish parenting. I can even, at times, find joy in taxes: it feels good to be accountable and to see a year’s worth of work accumulate.

We find the rush is worth the wait.

We find the rush is worth the wait.

Visitors, like addicts, pass the time in anticipation of the thrill.

What do you do on those long lines, waiting to be strapped in for the thrill of a lifetime? You watch other people zoom and scream overhead. You imagine what it will be like when you are strapped in and reach 60 miles an hour suspended in mid-air.

I’ve spent nights in anticipation of scoring drugs. It dominates thought. You socialize with the people around you, but your eyes never leave the prize. You’re there because you know what time your dealer shows up. You know what he will give you. It is the anticipation that keeps you waiting, in every manner of patience, for your fix, for your thrill.

I recall a score gone wrong. The dealer did not show. I was distraught—the night had gone so contrary to my expectations that I went home, proving I wasn’t there for company; I was there for the thrill.

Imagine the reaction of visitors who wait in line for 90 minutes only to be told the ride is closed.

I can relate.

I can relate.

So maybe the normy masses are not so different from us after all.

At least, I’m learning that they are more similar to us than I once thought and it’s making me want restrain from using the words they and us because it is all in the human condition; it is we.

I have to credit the online recovery community for this revelation as it was not even on my radar prior to my starting this blog in January. In particular, Paul over at Buzzkill and Annette at Journey of Recovery for opening my eyes to the fact that I am not as unique as I think in my struggle with addiction. It is helping me work on a character defect:

Terminal Uniqueness: The tendency to think yourself uniquely opposed to the problems and solutions of the world.

Everyone has their struggle. And people of all ilks and dispositions flock to amusement parks for the thrill.

Still, I can’t help but—being the unique snowflake that I am—find a few glaring differences between amusement park enthusiasts and addicts. After “last call” at Six Flags, people don’t pile in their cars to head to the quarry for a bungee jump, for “one last thrill.”

And, there is something fundamentally different in the aspects of control.

The ride is predictable. There is a measure of security. You see how it all will play out while you wait in line. You know just what to expect.

As an addict, I am hooked on the unknown, the unpredictable, the impromptu. I loved the rush (until the consequences became life-threatening) of the blackout, waking up in strange places with strange people.

Addicts board their ride without a safety bar to keep them from the abyss. An addict will lose all control in order to upkeep his or her use; at Six Flags you only lose some hard-earned money.

As a sober man, I enjoy the ride, the quick succession of peaks and valleys is familiar to me. I recover my balance easily once the safety bar lifts.

8 Responses to “Roller Coaster Sober

  • Another good read Mark. The roller coaster ride comparison with addictions is very good. Having suffered with depression and self worth I can relate to the ups and downs like a roller coaster. With proper medications and the support of the people in the program that I don’t have to stuff those feeling with alcohol or a drug to make me feel better only to feel worse when I would sober up or come down from the high. Thanks again Mark for sharing.

    • Thank you for visiting Patrick. It’s great to get feedback. Sobriety is such a different ride isn’t it? That could open up a whole bigger discussion. What does sobriety’s roller coaster feel like? You’ve given me something to really think about.

  • Dwight Chapin
    2 years ago

    Watch out for that E-Ticket ride at Disneyworld!

    Isn’t that safety bar called “Meetings” great!

    Love, Pipps

    • Got to make it to Disneyworld Pipps, especially now with the kids and all.

      Meetings ARE the safety bar! Brilliant! Hadn’t thought of that.

  • Disney has a little thing called the fast pass, but you’ll hemorrhage more money than you thought possible. (And still it will be FUN.) Love this post, Mark, and the analogy to addiction, but most of all for the reminder this craving for something else – anything other than what we have – is part of the human condition. This morning I have a spring in my step mostly because of a slight deviation in routine with the family later. That anticipation will hold me all day. I know it’s mostly harmless, though I personally need to keep expectations in check. Oh and enjoyed the pics too. Good stuff!

    • Thanks for “getting it”. You know that feeling of doubt when you put something out there and then you realize it might only make sense to you. So, I appreciate your chiming in Kristen. Deviations in routine can go either way for me–wonderfully impromptu or disastrously chaotic. I hope yours goes the way of the former. Disney is a must I’m coming to realize. I’ll look into that fast pass–more thrills that way! Ahahah…

  • elvagreen123
    2 years ago

    Of course, if a normie falls out of the roller coaster and lives 2 or 3 times, they get the point. An addict needs to go back and fall out again, and again until they are truly smashed up. Maybe. I may not be unique, but I know I am not a normie. I must stay vigilant. I have no intention of going on a ride that flips upside down ever again, but I am not as sure about drinking again and so must constantly continue to follow a recovery process. Whew! Thanks for letter me comment. And thanks for your posts.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Get the latest posts delivered to your mailbox: