The causes of addiction can be complex. However, many begin very early in our development, stemming from a lack of healthy bonding to our caregiver. When we experience healthy bonding or attachment, we come to see the world as a safe place. A place where we can be who God created us to be and explore our own authenticity without fear of punishment. This would be considered a secure attachment. Healthy connection, love, and bonding naturally produce feel good chemicals or endorphins in our brains meant for our survival.
Guess what drugs, alcohol and other addictions do? They release those feel-good chemicals too.
As humans, attachment is something we can’t live without. It is a God-given need. Addictive substances can mimic this process in our brains, but in unnatural and unhealthy ways. Therefore, addiction can become a fake form of bonding. If we did not get what we needed to become secure in our world, later in life we can turn to a substance in an attempt to meet our attachment needs. For instance, when I started drinking, I felt connected to people. The alcohol released feel good endorphins that made me feel warm, content and confident. I felt like everything was going to be okay. The problem is this is how we are supposed to bond with people; not heroin, alcohol, food, gambling, or other destructive things.
The insecurity from unhealthy bonding can cause anxiety, depression, panic attacks, and other problems.
We turn to the addiction to self sooth since not only does the addiction mimic the bonding, it becomes a sort of coping mechanism to replace the relational skills we lack due to the lack of bonding. There are several types of attachment disorders or styles. One of those is avoidant. We can develop this attachment style if we were ignored as children. I had a friend in high school who was ignored by her parents. Her brother never came out of his room and she was bulimic and addicted to drugs by age eleven. Sadly, she passed away from her addiction several years ago. While the drugs and alcohol may have killed her body, it was neglect that killed her soul.
This is why recovery is about learning to reattach to others without the substance and finding our way back to ourselves.
We must become the authentic person God created us to be prior to the trauma. The removal of the substance is the first phase of recovery. Only then can we begin to heal from our past and repair our brain, body, mind, and emotions. This is where the hard work comes in. If we are not properly attached, we can experience fear, anxiety, panic, depression or other challenges. These are the things we thought the substances were soothing, but they were only taking us further and further away from the root of the real problem. Initially, the most important thing to do is ask for help. This is where a good therapist or sponsor comes in.
When you share your authentic self and your story with another person who is validating you, a connection is formed based on your own authenticity.
Two enormous pieces of the recovery pie are attachment and authenticity. When we don’t get our attachment needs met, our authenticity (who God created us to be) gets squelched. The most obvious example is: “Stop crying or I’ll give you something to cry about.” So, you stop because to cry means to not get what you need. A child is always going to choose attachment over authenticity. When our true emotional needs are not met, we hide who we are and create a false self. We learn coping strategies to get what we need and we lose touch with our real needs and with who we are. Essentially we are in process (codependent) mode. We are trying to figure out who and how to be to get our needs met. Later in life we can become super confused. We don’t understand the world and we can agonize over making decisions, second guessing ourselves at every turn.
The reason we don’t know who we are is because when we tried to express our authenticity it didn’t feel safe. It was met with shame or abuse.
This is why recovery from addiction is about finding our God given authentic self. The good news is that we can heal. We can learn to bond with others in healthy ways and learn appropriate coping skills. The journey can feel long and sometimes difficult. But it is worth it because there is only one you, and you are worth knowing.
‘Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them” (Psalm 139:16).