This is for you
The twenty-first century has afforded us unprecedented, rapid, and alarming access to dopamine-driving activities. It requires little effort, beyond clicking a few buttons on our phones, to have delicious food delivered to our doorstep. With relative ease, we can exercise from the comfort of our homes by logging into a workout class through a smart mirror; we no longer need to leave our homes for community or accountability. Professionals take work calls from computers, half-dressed from the waist up, to do business. [In honesty, I have done it!] Teenagers connect with their friends through hours of online gaming versus interacting in real social settings. Courtship and dating have gone online, making it increasingly simpler to find a match without ever gathering. Effectively, we no longer need the first few dates to discover a compatible partner. Humanity, as we know it, has figured out through technology how to streamline many attractive aspects of daily life.
This blog series will not admonish against technological advancement, but instead, I want to focus on how modern-day machinery is making it exponentially easier for our brains to become dependent on things beyond relationships (e.g., substances, activities, etc.). As a licensed therapist in the state of North Carolina with specialties in trauma/addiction recovery and neurodevelopmental management, I see clients all the time who want healthier, less addicted lifestyles. It is my professional viewpoint that everyone struggles with addiction at some level, even if it is not clinical…including me. Anyone who has unsuccessfully tried to implement a New Year’s resolution or tried to alter a pesky habit might be able to relate. We want to shift to healthier, natural, less compulsive ways of living in a world that is full of constant temptations. I imagine many people are finding moderation and balance more difficult than ever to attain.
In my work, I am adamant about helping others pursue this endeavor of finding balance in life by focusing on holistic health and recovery from compulsive behaviors. If we as healthcare professionals are not guiding our people to become healthier in their physical, emotional, mental, social, and spiritual beings collectively, we are likely doing them a disservice. One of the most effective albeit unnoticed models that I have come across for integrated addiction recovery is the Life Model. The Life Model was developed by a team of specialists in fields like psychology, medicine, ministry, social work, and teaching to assist Christians with living maturely amid constant urges for self-gratification. “The Life Model is an advanced and proven set of relational and neurotheological practices that transform. We create practical tools for full-brained, whole-hearted applications so churches can build authentic community and transform lives” (Life Model Works, 2021).
My inspiration in writing this is to offer a bridge for the gap between addictive experiences and desired transformation, ultimately so that readers might find resources for healing through a model that prioritizes every aspect of wellness. Therefore, I welcome you to my newest collection of blog posts entitled The Life Model’s Approach to Addiction Recovery. This series will begin by outlining the correlation between trauma and addiction, then move on to the Life Model’s recovery methodologies in the second post. Finally, in the third blog post, I detail how the Life Model can apply to people of all cultures and backgrounds in their recuperation journey. It is important to note that the Life Model is based on the Christian faith, but it does not discriminate. It integrates the most recent neuroscientific and psychologically sound elements found in academic literature while focusing on the Christian audience. Nonetheless, it is sensitive to those who have different starting points of reference for healing.
The Life Model’s approach to recovering from compulsivity begins by detailing overall wellness. In other words, what does it mean to be well? How can one’s brain/body system grow to its fullest capacity without getting stunted, and how do we measure a person’s wellness (while leaving space for his/her unique values and culture)? Friesen et al. (2016) outline a powerful ideology for maximizing wellness focused on human developmental science; it focuses on understanding psychological wholeness. To be whole according to Friesen et al. (2016) means that our entire system (brain, body, spirit, soul, etc.) is firing and working together optimally. It requires integrating the broken parts/memories/experiences within us so that we understand exactly who we are, and this comes across to others in our world. Friesen et al. (2016) go on to detail that wholeness can be achieved through trauma recovery, maturity development, communal belonging, and relational application. A parallel experience to pursuing wholeness is joy – joy is not an emotion, but a relational mindset that occurs when we believe others are glad to be with us, and we mutually express gladness to be with them (Wilder et al., 2014). For a fuller description on joy and its neuroscientific foundation, check out my colleague Sherri Robbins’ recent blog posts here.
With this in the mind, the Life Model conceptualizes addiction as the result of chasing life’s pseudo-joys. Pseudo-joys are material substitutes for healthy relationships. When interactions with others seem too painful, unpredictable, or overwhelming to manage, we turn to things instead (Wilder et al., 2014). Let us unpack that. Pseudo-joys are the objects or external pleasure sources (driving internal dopamine) that we seek when we feel overwhelmed. Now, our brains were designed to process this overwhelm in relationships, which requires vulnerability (Friesen et al., 2016; Wilder et al., 2014). However, for those with attachment trauma, vulnerability can be terrifying. Attachment trauma is a condition of incomplete bondedness early in life, when our caregivers/community failed to supply us with our full set of emotional needs and brain skills. This condition leads to overreliance on the activities outlined in the beginning of this blog post: food, exercise, work, gaming, dating, sex, drugs, and more. We seek their dopaminergic pleasure in hopes that they will fulfill our emotional need for relational joy, but they cannot. The Life Model calls these BEEPS, which stands for behaviors, events, experiences, people, or substances “that the brain uses to regulate pain, pleasure, and emotion when it is unable to regulate internal distress” (Wilder et al., 2014, p. 44). In the Life Model, relying on BEEPs to manage distress instead of utilizing joy in relationships causes addiction.
Attend to Trauma
Encouragingly, the Life Model details how to begin the recovery journey so that BEEPS no longer dictate our wellness (or lack thereof). As we eliminate our need for BEEPS, we open ourselves up to the potential of experiencing true relational joy versus codependency (Wilder et al., 2014). If BEEPS derive from an inability to manage internal distress through healthy relationships, and this develops out of traumatic experiences and attachment woundedness from childhood, we must start with trauma healing to gain wholeness. [For further research on the relationship between trauma and attachment, I outlined a personal synthesis of resources on this topic in a 2020 blog post entitled Counseling Reflections on Attachment, Spirituality, and Trauma.] It is important to draw attention to the Life Model’s alignment with current scientific best practices on this topic. For instance, the Life Model’s focus on healing trauma to eliminate the need for BEEPS mimics the evidence-based approach to treating sex addiction taken by the International Institute for Trauma and Addiction Professionals (IITAP). As a Certified Sex Addiction Therapist (CSAT) trained through IITAP, I seamlessly integrate IITAP’s 30-task model into the Life Model’s wholistic methodology for recovery. Additionally, the Life Model has foundations in Drs. Allan Schore, Bessel van der Kolk, Dan Siegel, and Daniel Amen’s neuroscientific discoveries around brain science, and the Life Model builds upon Dr. Erik Erikson’s Psychosocial Model for maturity development (Friesen et al., 2016, p. 169). All these field experts showcase the relationship between trauma and addiction. Thus, clinicians using the Life Model, IITAP, neuroscience, and/or human development models will attest to the need to attend to trauma concurrently for comprehensive addiction recovery.
Addiction recovery is a complex topic requiring complex means of treatment. There are many viewpoints around helping people work through their dependence to BEEPS, but one of the most profoundly thorough models in my arsenal of therapeutic tools is the Life Model. Thus, I set out to write this blog series to introduce readers to the Life Model’s concept of addiction recovery. In the next blog post, I will get into more detail around how one might pursue recovery, maturity, belonging, joy, and authentic relationships to become whole, ridding the need for pseudo-joy and BEEPS.
Friesen, J. G., Wilder, E. J., Bierling, A. M., Koepcke, R., & Poole, M. (2016). Living from the Heart Jesus Gave You (15th ed.). Shepherd’s House.
Life Model Works. (2021). Growing a fearless people who love like Jesus. Retrieved from https://lifemodelworks.org/.
Wilder, E. J., Khouri, E. M., Coursey, C. M., Sutton, S. D. (2014). Joy Starts Here: The Transformation Zone. Shepherd’s House.