A Little Context
Welcome to the final installment of The Life Model’s Approach to Addiction Recovery. This journey began with post number one detailing the comprehensive approach of the Life Model to addiction recovery, starting with attending to trauma. The second blog post took that further, establishing how trauma healing, maturity building, and a belonging-based community are essential nutrients in the recovery recipe. This final post will work out the nuances around what happens when an individual takes the recovery voyage, and the accompanying explanations will be helpful for the recovering addict as well as everyone involved in the addicted individual’s life. Because a village is required to guide a person struggling with addiction into health, the implication is that both the addicted person and the village heal through the process. This is the Life Model’s special sauce. Their focus from the beginning has dedicated to solving this problem:
As evil [i.e., a cause of abuse, violence, or damage] spreads through any community or group, it leaves behind signs such as trauma, but even more insidiously, it brings about the disappearance of relationships, trust, and love. The basic skills necessary for joyful relationships weaken or disappear from one generation to the next. The abuse, violence, or damage spread from person to person without help. One in three abused children grows up to be an abuser. In the case of pedophiles, each one will abuse about 260 children. Two-thirds of addicts report being abused as children, and the children of addicts are three times more likely to be abused. At Shepherd’s House [now Life Model Works], we have seen first-hand how, when this evil spreads, everyone suffers. Not only do trauma and addictions cause much suffering, but they also produce damages in the brain. (Friesen et al., 2016, p. x)
As a reminder, this problem…how trauma leads to addiction, how addicts hurt community members, and how hurt people often become addicts…is an issue that other evidence-based models are also seeking to solve. Dr. Patrick Carnes (2001) talks about this in his seminal work Out of the Shadows when detailing how sexual addiction is a “family illness, [which] parallels almost every other emotional and addictive disorder” (p. 95). He goes on to say that “throughout the ranks of specialists in addiction, treating the entire family is regarded as critical” (p. 95) because “many of the stories [of addiction] throughout this book indicate the transmission of sexual addiction from one generation to the next” (p. 97). One special aspect of The Life Model is that it works on healing the addict, family, and community together through self-propagation. This means that the Life Model’s solutions naturally spread beyond the family to surrounding cultures and people groups, and they require fewer resources than traditional therapeutic mechanisms. Let us explore that more below, beginning with what happens when self-propagating recovery occurs.
Course Correcting the Community
The second blog post of this series showcased how finding or creating a belonging-based community is essential in addiction recovery. Carnes (2001), who founded the International Institute for Trauma and Addiction Professionals (IITAP), details the exact same message; he states that “recovery from addiction is the reversal of alienation that was/is integral to the addiction. Addicts must establish roots in a caring community. With that support, addicts can stay straight as they struggle for a perspective on their lives” (p. 31). Carnes (2001) goes on to establish that family/community members within the addicted system deserve healing of their own, as they are either perpetuating the problem or part of the solution. The Life Model builds on this. It takes neuroscience, human development, and Biblical wisdom to shape a methodology for creating a joyful, multigenerational group identity. This is what I believe to be an optimal version of Carnes’ caring community. In my prior blog post, I detailed that addiction recovery leads individuals through the process of creating a personal joyful identity. Most addiction models, from my perspective, tease this out with a focus on the addict being reintegrated into the family, and the family healing enough to hold the addict accountable. However, few approaches take it further like the Life Model!
In Joy Starts Here, authors Wilder et al. (2014) describe what a joyful group identity is, as well as how it is structured upon a healthy multigenerational community. In these communities, addiction cannot thrive because: 1) life-giving, joyful interactions are the norm since everyone is delighted in; 2) integrity and transparency are high, so people act like themselves instead of upholding pretend images of perfection and/or competency; 3) people must have, or aspire to have, healthy brains and relational skills to thrive; 4) weaker individuals (e.g., children) are protected by more mature individuals, and 5) maturity building is natural and expected, so everyone grows from strength to strength. In these types of environments, people do not seek to win (or cause others to lose) to feel special. It is not necessary. In fact, it is curtailed immediately and quickly so the whole community returns to joy.
When I first heard about this, it felt like profoundly good news. Now, it has been years since I was introduced to the Life Model, and I have seen it applied in my own life and the lives of my clients. I am even more hopeful about the prospect of this model bringing sustainable healing and growth to recovering addicts everywhere. Like the Life Model proposed from the very beginning of its organization, “trauma and addictions change our identities; therefore, a solution must also change identities” (Friesen et al. 2016, p. xii). The change in identities must happen at individual, familial, and communal levels so that suffering is not perpetuated…otherwise we are only setting up addiction recovery centers for economic gain instead of real change. Friesen et al. (2016) go on to note that “abuse usually spreads through unhealthy relationships. The 19 brain skills…train and encourage people toward joyful healing” (p. xii). Thus, the Life Model helps people recover individually by reversing trauma’s effects on brain development, and it also helps collectively by promoting fundamental maturity tasks and relationship skills as our brains transform together. I love how Wilder et al. (2014) put it in Joy Starts Here:
Joyful multigenerational communities are when parents, children, grandparents, teachers, neighbors, friends, and church members see what is special in each other and light up with warm greetings. Joyful community grows when people long to be together and hold each other in deep affection…so a joyful multigenerational community is a place where relational skills that help us maintain joyful relationships are practiced and passed from one generation to the next without most people noticing. (pp. 77-78).
Don’t we all desire that? And as simple as it may sound, neuroscience and psychology point to the fact that the Life Model is onto something we fundamentally need in human groups. Maybe it seems too straightforward [although our human nature often makes this type of transformation incredibly difficult to achieve]. Overall, my clients and I have found that the reward of testing the Life Model’s principles in our lives and communities is significantly greater than the risk.
Diversity and Inclusion
The final point in this post on the community-oriented aspects of addiction recovery will detail how the Life Model can apply to diverse people groups inclusively. After all, what good would a model that focuses on overcoming addiction and restoring community be if it was only good for one community? The Life Model developers set out to bypass this challenge from the onset. Their solution principles detailed the following as necessities for the model before it was ever established:
- Trauma self-propagates; therefore, the solution must self-propagate.
- Trauma blocks the development of maturity and character; therefore, the solution must restore mature and godly character.
- Trauma encourages people to reject others; therefore, the solution must create belonging.
- Trauma and addictions spread without needing education; although the solution should be based on the best science, it should not require a Western education or medical model.
- Violence and terrorism traumatize whole groups at once; therefore, the solution must heal whole people groups at once.
- All human cultures, races, and ethnicities have the same nervous systems and spiritual needs. A solution based on solid neurology and Biblical spirituality would be a solution as universal as the causes of trauma.
- The recovery model must be high-tech in design and low-tech in implementation. (Friesen et al., 2016, p. xiii)
I reference these principles because it reflects the authors’ intentionality to create a healing system that connects the common elements of humanity while honoring different cultures and people. I especially love the seventh principle, as it reduces the need for expensive therapeutic techniques to help individuals in countries with higher poverty rates gain access to life saving materials. I think Wilder et al. (2014) talk about community with a greater perspective than we hold in our limited, Western-American viewpoint. Dr. Jim Wilder, the principal neuro-theologian behind the Life Model, grew up in the Andes Mountains of Colombia; his perspective of the Life Model as a lifespan approach for being fully alive was forged in this setting. As referenced above, one of the Life Model’s principles recognizes that solid neurology and Biblical spirituality are universal. Neuroscience is anything but specific to Western cultures, and Biblical spirituality was founded in Middle Eastern culture, then expanded to Asian cultures, and finally moved worldwide. Today, Christian cultural groups are found on every inhabitable continent. The Life Model is seeing their approach fulfill this multicultural expectation. Currently, Life Model curriculum and conferences have expanded to a multitude of countries, and Life Model books are available in twelve languages.
To wrap up the series The Life Model’s Approach to Addiction Recovery, let us review from the beginning. In Life Model terminology, addiction is a result of trauma that leads people to a dependency on pseudo-joys, called BEEPS. BEEPS are the behaviors, substances, etc. we rely on instead of people when life gets hard, especially if we live in low-joy communities. To heal from this, according to Life Model experts who based the model on cutting edge neuroscience and age-old Biblical wisdom, it will require trauma healing, maturity building, community belonging, and identity transformation at the individual and communal levels. Wonderfully, the Life Model is and always has been focused on inclusivity around global, diverse populations. This is evident in its widespread adoption by people groups in Western and Eastern parts of the world. If you are struggling with addiction, ask your provider today about the Life Model. If you need to get connected to a Life Model-focused therapist, reach out to us at the Center for Family Transformation. We would be overjoyed to help.
Carnes, P. (2001). Out of the Shadows: Understanding Sexual Addiction (3rd ed.). Hazelden Publishing: Center City, MN.
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.
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.