Addiction – the longing to Connect and to Belong
All addiction is unresolved past Trauma
Early Trauma, Disorganised Attachment and the Stress Response
In my clinics I see clients with all kinds of addictions: from alcohol, drugs, sex, gambling, work, shopping, opioids, behavioural, exercise to food, sometimes all combined in one. Their first port of call is usually for physical, mental or emotional pain, as the tip of the iceberg. Once they commence on the Craniosacral Therapy path, they realise that Craniosacral therapy (CST) not only assists with their pains but also with their unregulated nervous system, their physiological stress states and their anxious brainwaves, as they fire in unregulated hyper vigilant and dopamine seeking waves. All those variables often led them to their addiction in the first place, as a means to try and seek a solution for their internal turmoil and emotional stress states. The roots of any addiction go back to childhood experiences, childhood trauma, disorganised attachment and misattunement (physical and emotional needs not been met), as it forms the foundation of our physiology, mental, emotional health and behavioural patterns. These roots often lie deeply and subconsciously in the body but have formed hard-wired grooves and behavioural patterns in the brain and nervous system.
Trauma in addiction
Current research is showing that childhood trauma and disorganised attachment are a major underlying source of addictive behaviour. The early years of our lives are the most critical development period for the architecture of our physical, mental and emotional well-being. Here, our brain grows at a rapid rate, firing and wiring, laying the foundation of our neural pathways. We also entirely dependent on the relationship with our caregivers. As we have no ability to regulate our own stress or uncomfortable feelings, we depend on healthy, nurturing attachment styles and emotionally responsive caregivers in the development of: a healthy stress response, emotional maturity, how we receive and are able to give love and how we obtain a healthy sense of belonging, connection and self-worth. We need all those ingredients so our nervous system can self-regulate, self soothe, our physiology can remain in balance and most importantly, we feel intrinsically safe inside.
Addiction is often complex and multivariable. There may have been a history of mental health issues or addiction within the family. Usually the trauma is not caused by one major event but by an accumulation of hurtful events and painful experiences: a cold, harsh, punishing and critical parent, never been made to feel good enough, an emotionally absent or co-dependent parent, bullying amongst siblings, abandonment, unhealthy patterns of physical or emotional abuse between parents (punishment) and then seeing the parents all loved up again (reward), not having been kept safe by other parent from the abuse or not having been able to save the other parent from the abuse. This often all marinated in a deep sense of having felt powerless, shame and unworthiness.
Addiction is an attempt to solve the problem of what is so out of control inside them. It is an attempt to escape the distress, the high inner physiological arousal, overwhelm, thoughts and emotions. It is as an attempt to cope with the trauma by self-medicating, smoothening the nervous system, numbing the emotional pain as the body is not able to do this through self-regulation. It fills false wants: altering consciousness, filling an inner emptiness and feeling some form of power, control and validation. But of course this is always short-lived and fuels the desire for more false wants above real needs, as the internal state stays unregulated and the search for a solution outside of oneself, continues.
The Stress Response
From an early age, the nervous system is driven into a freeze, fight or flight survival strategy and the imprints of trauma start layering here. When a natural discharge of the intense survival energy of freeze, fight/flight was not able to come to its complete natural cycle, it will leave the body highly charged. The imprint of the trauma and/or accumulated life experiences stay very much alive in our system, even if we are not aware of it. It is much like a brewing tropical storm - eye of the hurricane - in the background. The internal intense energy and power is still there, as the pressure has not been released. As the nervous system stays stuck on the higher wired side, emotional imprints are stored in the body and behavioural patterns start to emerge.
Secondly when as a child something threatens our capacity to feel safe, to function and to develop a healthy sense of being, the body can repress and shut down conscious awareness of overwhelming painful emotions. The body is very clever as it stores these memories below our level of awareness and hides it in the body. This will not only ensure our survival but also our capacity to endure the trauma or ongoing painful experiences. Although stored below our level of awareness, the body still unconsciously experiences it as a sense of danger and this will continuously reactivate the nervous system and the bodily systems remain on high alert. This internal state starts to feel normal and addicts often have no idea how stressed, tense or chaotic their lives really are, as they have normalised it.
When unprocessed trauma, core attachment wounds and emotional layers, remain stuck in the nervous system, trauma reenactment is a common theme. Through a nervous system survival strategy called: disassociation - they often act their trauma out, as that is their way of remembering by repeating the old wounds. Children from controlling or (emotionally) abusive homes finding themselves married to a controlling, domineering spouse, having a bullying boss or tyrant neighbour. The sex-worker, promiscuous person with a history of sexual abuse. Whatever it is, they often find themselves in situations and relationships that replicates the original trauma/childhood experience sometimes subtlety, sometimes disguised and sometimes overtly. Other stress responses are: hyper-vigilance, hyper aroused, firing on all cylinders, mood swings, sleeping problems, sugar cravings, attracted to danger, the dark side, living on the edge, panic attacks, isolation, avoidance or emotionally numb, often coupled with guilt, remorse, anger and depressive/low moods.
Addicts starts to rely on the dopamine and serotonin hit as a means to regulate, numb and sooth their inner turmoil so they don’t have to feel the real mental, psychological and emotional pain and in effect, create a split-off persona.
How it relates to CST
Addiction is often about past experiences that are still being carried in the present through the biology of stress and cut of body responses. Until you break that pattern, heal the trauma and the core attachment wound – the destructive cycle will continue. CST deals with the primary innate biological forces of trauma, working through the different levels of the nervous system, the emotional brain, allowing for psychological changes to occur, rewiring of fight and flight brain (limbic) patterning and allowing for any physical and emotional releases.
My addict clients tell me that in talk therapy they skirt around subjects, cover things up or fluff a few lies, fiercely protecting the persona they have created and believed themselves to be. The beauty of a body-based therapy like CST is that in treatments, the body can’t hide and the body can’t lie. Talk therapy alone is inadequate for Trauma treatment as trauma is stored in one part of the brain (limbic), while talking, listening and understanding accesses a different part of the brain (neocortex). CST allows for the 2 brains to start talking to one and other and by doing so: making the unconscious, conscious.
Addiction fills a need - a need to belong, a need to connect. The closest I ever felt to a deep connection, belonging, oneness, stillness and shredding the emotional and mental layers of my (childhood) experiences was in deeply held CST sessions. In hindsight it was the (re)birth of me. You have to be really complete in your wounding before you can come from a healed place.
CST Treatments in working with Trauma and Stress responses in Addiction lead to:
Part 2. The Addicts Brain – role of CST
Part 3. The Addicts Physiology and bodily symptoms – CST wrap up