“Addictions from an Attachment Perspective”—A Review (part VI)

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I hope everyone enjoyed the information on Executive Function (EF) I inserted last week from a workshop I attended by Dr. Jay Carter. As promised, this week we’ll get back to my multi-part review of the 2014 edited volume entitled Addictions from an Attachment Perspective—Do Broken Bonds and Early Trauma Lead to Addictive Behaviours? by looking at chapter seven—Struggling With Abstinence by Richard Gill. I’ll do my best to bring in information on EF where appropriate. Let’s cast off the lines and pull in the fenders.

Gill starts out by suggesting that a person recovering from addiction should abstain from engaging in the addictive process long enough “to enable [that] person to learn enough about themselves to be able to take from life that which makes life meaningful and fulfilling.” Recall from my last post that Dr. Carter told us that drugs and alcohol tend to turn off the various EF skills such as reflection and knowing the big picture. It would seem that Gill is suggesting that the main purpose behind abstinence is to provide an opportunity for EF to flow back into the picture, to find the higher level cognitive processes of purpose, meaning, and fulfillment. Echoing information that the previous authors (speakers) have presented, Gill simply states: “The motivation for any addiction is fear.…” He continues, “[B]y the time a person approaches stopping their use (of alcohol and drugs), that fear includes terror as well.” Here’s how Gill characterizes this fear leading to terror:

  • Fear of the circumstances that have resulted from their using and drinking
  • Terror of who they may become if they stop the addiction

Gill then echoes previous authors by talking about how for many an addiction is like a surrogate attachment figure. Deciding to abstain from an addictive process then means having to say goodbye to an attachment figure. As you would expect, this may bring up early memories (conscious or unconscious) concerning attachment relationships with actual primary attachment figures. When one decides to be abstinent, one is “in effect making the painful choice to say goodbye to a loved one, a main carer, a partner depended upon for rescue from all difficult situations” (quoting Gill). This is why Gill tells us that a person who decides to be abstinent needs to be in “a community, a group of people that at a core level understand.” Abstinence, then, is the process by which a person hopefully moves from being attached to a drug, alcohol, or other inanimate object, to being attached to an alive, living person. A community or group provides this bridging mechanism. This is a huge bridging process—one that often requires some type of twelve step program—because as Gill puts it, the addict has been “living a slow death for many years” while at the same time attached to a “dead object” as that person’s “primary relationship.” Recall from part II that attaching to a dead object is alluring for two main reasons:

  • Attaching to a dead object makes what you are going to feel predictable.
  • Attaching to a dead object makes when you are going to feel predictable.

Growing up in a chaotic and unpredictable environment creates in some a hyper need for hyper predictability. No human being can provide this level of hyper predictability. Only dead objects can, and maybe so-called manufactured intelligence or AI (artificial intelligence). This may explain in part why some young people are now attaching to their smartphones. (For more on this topic see Sherry Turkle’s book Alone Together.)

Echoing the information I presented in my last post on Executive Function, Gill suggests that a healing community should mimic a community with well developed EF, that is to say, a community with a well developed frontal lobe. Here are the EF characteristics that Gill tells us a healing community should display:

  • humility
  • open-mindedness
  • patience
  • compassion
  • courage
  • forgiveness (where appropriate)

In essence, a healing community should be about healthy attachment and robust EF. In my mind it would be hard to bring about such a healing community while staying at the level of the middle brain with its focus on rules and regulations, and rewards and punishments. Sure, you may need the middle or mammalian brain (see my last post) to help bring about abstinence, but true abstinence is about gaining the insight and purpose of the reflective upper brain. “Just saying no” only gets you part of the way there. Some have told me that “just saying no” to an addictive process allows one to step up to the starting line. Saying yes to the upper brain allows you to run a purposeful and mindful race.

I’ll end here and balance out my lengthy post on EF from last week. Next week we’ll look at chapter eight—Technology, Attachment, And Sexual Addiction by Cara Crossan. See you then.