In the first blog post of this series, I introduced the Life Model and its relevance to addiction recovery. The intention was to help individuals struggling with addiction move toward wellness through this approach. Life Model co-creator, Dr. Jim Wilder, describes the model as “a lifespan approach to being fully alive” (Wilder & Woolridge, 2022, p. 16). In the Life Model, addiction is a neurological attachment to BEEPS, which are pseudo-joyful Behaviors, Events, Experiences, [codependent] People, and/or Substances. On this topic, being fully alive and well in the Life Model looks like replacing destructive, pseudo-joyful BEEPS with healthy, joyful attachments to people. This is necessary because, when healthy people are in pain, they use relationships to calm down instead of BEEPS. It is much easier said than done, of course! This second blog post in The Life Model’s Approach to Addiction Recovery will explore how that is achieved, as it outlines the major components for shifting our primary attachments from BEEPS to people. Those components are building a joyful identity, filling in maturity gaps, healing from past trauma, and creating a belonging-based community. No matter our age, pursuing these components can help us transform in order to live our most joyful life.
The Life Model offers this promise of a joyful existence by employing age-old wisdom found in the Bible alongside new-age neuroscience founded in the concept of neuroplasticity. Neuroplasticity is our brain’s ability to create new ways of viewing the world and interacting with it. To understand neuroplasticity, we must appreciate the way the brain forms attachments. [Diving into more brain science would be too much for this post, so refer to my 2022 blog series called Journey to the Center of the Brain for complementary details on neurology.] The origin of our attachment style dates all the way back to the first year of life. During that time, parental [and community] interactions shaped and formed our brains depending on how consistently, predictably, and safely our caregivers met our needs. If caregivers offered physical and psychological consistency, predictability, and safety, our brains realized we have worth, people are trustworthy, and the world is [generally] safe, as well as meaningful to explore. This is called secure attachment. When our caregivers are less-than-effective in these areas, we learn the opposite, which is called insecure attachment. Imagine a person’s self-worth is below average, she believes others aren’t trustworthy, and she assumes the world is scary; BEEPS then become very attractive for soothing oneself amid emotional and relational insecurity.
So how do we reverse these learnings by adjusting our brain’s neural pathways (a.k.a., neuroplasticity)? To do so, we must surround ourselves with healthy people. Amid these individuals, it becomes safer to practice new skills, leading us to form new habits and ultimately form secure relationships. We start with understanding the concept of joy-identity, which is founded on secure attachment. In Living from the Heart Jesus Gave You, Friesen et al. (2016) describe that insecure attachment is based on viewing relationships through fear bonds. Fear bonds might be described as viewing others, indirectly or directly, as a threat. When we live out of fear bonds, and we are constantly prioritizing our survival in a scary world, we naturally tend to live out of enemy mode (Wilder & Wooldridge, 2022). Enemy mode means that to survive, we must win in life, and others must lose. When enemy mode is our default mode network (DMN), life gets much harder. A DMN is a set of brain regions that are active even when we are resting and not focused on our external world (Buckner, 2013). A DMN is essentially our mental state when we are not intentionally focused on something. If our DMN is fear-based, it becomes very easy to isolate, and isolation is often accompanied by depression, alcohol [and other substance] abuse, child abuse, sleep problems, personality disorders, and Alzheimer’s Disease, as well as various physical disorders (Mushtaq et al., 2014). This establishes that the brain and body break down when living out of insecure attachment, fear bonds, and enemy mode. Thankfully, the Life Model outlines how we can shift from fear bonds to joy bonds via a joyful identity. To live in a DMN of joy, we must grow in maturity, heal from trauma, and develop a belonging-based community.
This is one of my favorite parts of the Life Model. As a counselor, I perceive that maturity is often an under-developed, polarized, and even stigmatizing word. In my experience, it is used to positively reinforce a helpful behavior or to insinuate someone’s childishness. This is far from the way it is helpfully utilized within the Life Model. Instead, the maturity concept details healthy human development through the lens of Biblical insight and modern psychology/neuroscience. To build one’s maturity, the Life Model authors state we must learn new relational skills that our caregivers and community members failed to teach us when we were young (Friesen et al., 2016). Maturity development tasks, as Friesen et al. (2016) call them, are essential if we want to build a joy-identity. Friesen et al. (2016) put together maturity charts outlining necessary tasks for us to become emotionally/relationally mature at each stage of life (i.e., infant, child, adult, parent, and elder). Until we fulfill each stage’s tasks, we cannot mature into the next stage. Now, maturity tasks are based on brain skills (Coursey, 2016) not inherent traits. For this reason, we all can grow, though it takes effort, resources (like the Life Model), and relationships. When we are stuck in the throes of addiction to one or multiple BEEPS, it is not too late to shift the way our brains work. Incredibly, living out of a joyful identity and secure attachment makes BEEPS less attractive for self-soothing. This is established in current addiction recovery models, such as 12-Step Recovery and IITAP’s Certified Sex Addiction Therapist training. [For further reading on maturity through the lens of the Life Model, see the Center for Family Transformation’s 2021 blog series entitled Psychological Maturity by Monica Mouer.]
Healing from Trauma
As discussed in the first blog post of The Life Model’s Approach to Addiction Recovery, the Life Model and other evidence-based models posit that it is essential for addicts to attend to their trauma during recovery. Going further, trauma healing is necessary in the maturity building process, since trauma holds us back from cognitive, emotional, relational, and neurological growth. So, maturity building, trauma healing, and addiction recovery are all related. Healing from trauma opens our neurological capacity to mature so that we no longer repeat the same mistakes, nor do we react to others like they are enemies (Wilder, 2018). We then relate to people in new, healthier ways during life’s difficulties, making BEEPS unnecessary. My favorite Life Model work on trauma recovery comes from Friesen et al.’s (2016) book called Living from the Heart Jesus Gave You. In it, the authors outline specific trauma types with recovery methodologies that are very applicable to addiction recovery.
For instance, Type A traumas, or traumas of omission such as physical, emotional, medical, and other forms of neglect, deprive the brain of essential nutrients like love, attention, and affection. The absence of these emotional necessities often leads to distrusting others, a consequence of the DMN called enemy mode. [The neurology behind “enemy mode” is excellently detailed in Wilder’s works The Pandora Problem (2018) and Escaping Enemy Mode (2022).] Type B traumas, on the other hand, are traumas of commission, where bad things happen to people. These abusive, hurtful, overwhelming events cause fractures to our minds. “In order to resolve Type B traumas, the memory that contains feelings must be uncovered…and the specific wounds need to be opened up in the presence of caring persons” (Friesen et al., 2016, p. 91). This method mimics evidence-based models like Eye-Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR). Because Type A traumas have a different impact on the brain, they require a different recovery approach: “therapy helps with the traumatizing effects of the absence of things that were needed, and loving relationships provide the presence of those things so that healing can take place” (Friesen et al., 2016, p. 86). This is where a belonging-based community enters addiction recovery.
Creating a Belonging-Based Community
Belonging is a Life Model concept defined in the following manner. Effectively, belonging is:
…receiving what we need at the right time in our development, primarily from parents and other significant people in our community. These people are to be ‘mirrors’ through which God shows us who we are and what we can become. But every mirror is a little damaged or warped, so everyone needs more than one mirror to get an accurate image. (Friesen et al., 2018, pp. 109-110)
This is an elegant way to detail how our brains grow in the early years of life through mirror neurons mimicking and duplicating our caregivers’ brains. When we do not have caregivers and community members in our lives to mirror an accurate image back to us, we suffer Type A traumas, and our identities become warped from joy to fear based. Wilder (2003) talks about this with eloquence when he details the underpinning neuroscience around the Life Model. It is summarized by Friesen et al. (2018) here: “[Drs. Allan Schore and Dan Siegel]…provide a powerful model of how attachment failures produce the destructive cravings of badly bonded men” (p. 174). So, for recovery, “badly bonded men” and women must find/create a safe community to receive new, more accurate images of their identity. Thus, in review, trauma recovery, maturity building, and belonging establishment offer synthesis for joyful identity, restructuring the brain to be relationship-oriented instead of BEEPS-oriented in the process.
The Life Model’s approach to addiction recovery requires reorienting our brain’s Default Mode Network (DMN) from fear, and reliance on BEEPS, to people. This is done through healing from trauma and growing into maturity amid a healthy community, where we can truly belong. Thus, addiction recovery cannot be done in isolation; it takes a village as the adage goes! Moving forward, in my final blog post in this series, I outline how the community is positively impacted when we recover from addiction. I will also cover how the Life Model’s methodologies apply to communities of various cultures and traditions; being fully alive is still the outcome. Don’t miss it.
Buckner R. L. (2013). The brain’s default network: origins and implications for the study of psychosis. Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience, 15(3), 351–358. doi:10.31887/DCNS.2013.15.3/rbuckner
Coursey, C. M. (2016). Transforming Fellowship: 19 Brain Skills that Build Joyful Community. Shepherd’s House: East Peoria, IL.
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: East Peoria, IL.
Mushtaq, R., Shoib, S., Shah, T., & Mushtaq, S. (2014). Relationship between loneliness, psychiatric disorders and physical health? A review on the psychological aspects of loneliness. Journal of Clinical and Diagnostic Research:JCDR, 8(9), WE01–WE4. doi: 10.7860/JCDR/2014/10077.4828
Wilder, E. J. (2004). The Complete Guide to Living with Men. Shepherd’s House: East Peoria, IL.
Wilder, E. J. (2018). The Pandora Problem: Facing Narcissism in Leaders & Ourselves. Deeper Walk International: Carmel, IN.
Wilder, E. J., Khouri, E. M., Coursey, C. M., Sutton, S. D. (2014). Joy Starts Here: The Transformation Zone. Shepherd’s House: East Peoria, IL.
Wilder, J., & Wooldridge, R. (2022). Escaping Enemy Mode: How Our Brains Unite or Divide Us. Northfield Publishing: Chicago, IL.