Why the Addict Needs to Do Their Own Attachment Work – with Luke Gordon

Disruptions in our earliest attachments and bonds can cast a long shadow, shaping how we form relationships and cope with life’s challenges as adults. For many struggling with addiction, intimacy issues, and compulsive behaviors, the roots often trace back to failures in having basic needs for safety, attunement, and emotional nurturing consistently met in childhood. Without a secure base, we can develop deep fears of being truly seen and struggle with emotional regulation.

Exploring attachment theory and one’s attachment story and the dynamics within the family of origin is crucial inner work. By honestly examining both positive and negative experiences with primary caregivers without blaming or villainizing, we can uncover unconscious generational patterns and gain self-understanding. Though this path is tender and harrowing, it allows us to interrupt destructive cycles and develop an “earned secure attachment” – the capacity for more authentic intimacy.

Early Childhood Attachments are Critical

According to attachment theory, our early experiences with our caregivers, like our parents or guardians, have a huge impact on how we grow up and deal with relationships and challenges later in life. Think of it like this: when we’re young, our brains are like sponges, soaking up everything around us. So, the way our caregivers treat us shapes the way we see the world and interact with others. 

If we’re lucky enough to have caring and supportive caregivers, we learn important things like how to trust, communicate, and feel safe in relationships. This helps us build healthy relationships as we get older and gives us the tools to handle tough times. But if our early experiences with caregivers are negative or inconsistent, it can make it harder for us to trust people or feel secure in relationships. We might also struggle more with dealing with stress or challenges because we didn’t learn healthy coping mechanisms when we were young. So, our early experiences really lay the groundwork for how we navigate the world as adults.

When Early Needs Aren’t Met

When we’re kids, our caregivers are responsible for meeting our basic needs like food, safety, and love. If these needs aren’t consistently met, it can cause some big problems as we grow up. Let’s break it down: Imagine you’re hungry, but your caregiver doesn’t always give you food when you need it. This might make you feel anxious or insecure, like you can’t rely on anyone to take care of you. 

As you get older, this feeling might stick around and make it hard for you to trust others or feel close to them. You might struggle to open up emotionally or let people get too close because you’re afraid of getting hurt. Plus, not having your needs met as a kid can mess with your emotions. You might find it tough to control your feelings or deal with them in a healthy way. This could lead to things like outbursts of anger or turning to unhealthy coping mechanisms like drugs or alcohol to numb the pain. So, when our basic needs aren’t met as kids, it can cause a lot of issues later in life with intimacy, emotions, and even addiction.

Honestly Explore Your Attachment Story

Exploring one’s attachment story and family of origin dynamics is a delicate yet crucial process that requires honesty without descent into blame or villainization of parents. A powerful technique is to make two columns – one for positive experiences and one for negative. In the positive column, you might write down warm memories of feeling soothed, examples of your authentic self being mirrored, or times your needs were prioritized. This allows you to honor the ways your caregivers showed up as best they could.

However, it’s equally important to unflinchingly catalog the negative experiences in the other column – the times you felt unseen, when your boundaries were violated, or moments of neglect or inconsistency that left an imprint. This shouldn’t be done from a place of anger, but rather radical self-honesty about your lived reality. The goal isn’t to cast parents as villains, but to own your full attachment narrative.

This exercise builds awareness around the attachment patterns that formed your foundational blueprint for relationships. You can explore how positive experiences provided moments of earned secure attachment, while negative ones created insecure or anxious-avoidant tendencies. Seeing the full scope of family dynamics allows you to understand how certain unconscious beliefs and behaviors towards intimacy were adaptive survival strategies for your childhood experiences. From this place of self-compassion, you can begin the work of unlearning the coping mechanisms no longer serving you and intentionally cultivating earned secure relating in adulthood.

Seek Professional Help

Professional support, like the coaches at Choose Recovery Services, plays a vital role in creating a safe space for individuals to explore and heal their inner struggles. Just like a secure base provides stability and comfort for a child, these coaches offer a similar sense of security for adults who may not have had that support growing up. Through empathetic listening, guidance, and encouragement, these coaches act as reliable anchors, allowing individuals to delve into their past experiences and emotions without fear of judgment or abandonment. They provide a nurturing environment where clients can feel understood and supported as they navigate through their healing journey. 

By offering tools, insights, understanding of attachment theory, and coping strategies, these coaches empower individuals to confront their vulnerabilities and develop healthier ways of relating to themselves and others. In essence, the coaches at Choose Recovery Services serve as trusted companions on the path to healing, helping individuals build the emotional resilience and self-awareness needed to thrive in their lives.

The Work is Challenging Yet Rewarding

Doing deep attachment work is one of the most challenging yet profoundly rewarding journeys we can undertake. On the difficult side, it requires extreme vulnerability to revisit the emotional terrain of our earliest bonds and experiences of feeling securely attached or disconnected. We have to get brutally honest about the ways our needs did or didn’t get met, facing the childhood woundings and adaptive survival strategies our psyches formed.  

This process can feel utterly destabilizing and evoke tremendous grief, shame, and even anger as we make sense of how our attachment blueprints warped our adult patterns in relationships. There’s no sugar-coating it – this is tender, courageous work that will likely crack you wide open.

And yet, this is also what makes it so powerfully rewarding and transformative. By doing this excavation with self-compassion, we can re-parent those abandoned parts of ourselves that still yearn for attunement. We develop a coherent narrative about how our coping mechanisms like addiction or struggles with intimacy were efforts to have unmet needs rescued, even as they created more suffering. 

From this deep self-understanding, we can interrupt generational patterns and consciously cultivate an “earned secure attachment” – an internal reservoir of feeling fundamentally worthy of love simply for being ourselves. This rewires our capacity for authentic relating, vulnerability, and experiencing the healing balm of being truly seen and accepted.

For partners supporting someone doing this work, it’s crucial to have empathy that these attachment wounds predated and impacted the relationship long before you arrived. The transformation possible is immense, but it requires patience as your loved one develops the emotional resources and embodied sense of safety for intimacy that was so lacking early on. This work is the bridge from self-abandonment to finally being at home within oneself and one’s primary relationships.

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