This lesson is excerpted from Lightning Path Workbook Two: Healing. This excerpt examines the causes of addiction (mostly trauma and neglect), what happens in our brains when we are addicted (neurotransmiters are released to help make us feel better so we can function “normally”), and some things we can do to treat our addiction.
So far in this workbook, we have looked at the issue of getting help if you need it, and the importance of safe and non-toxic environments to the healing, connection, and human development process. We have emphasized the need to focus on creating a healthy, protective, and nurturing environment so you can protect, clean, and treat your wounds, especially when they get infected. We have also said, if you need help, get help. Getting help may be particularly important if you find your wounds are infected, or you are dealing with serious emotional sepsis. When wounds are infected, right environment, mindfulness, and simple affirmations may not be sufficient. When wounds are infected, you may need competent and professional help.
This is especially true when it comes to the third point in the LP HEALING Framework, addictions. An addiction is anything upon which you, or rather your physical unit, has a biological, neurological, psychological, or emotional dependency. An addiction is something you do that you cannot stop. As you will see, you can get addicted to substances (i.e. money, heroin, cocaine, alcohol, opioids, etc.), behaviours (running, sex smartphones), and even people (i.e. relationships).
How do you tell if you are addicted to something? The test for addiction attachments is quite simple. If there is a substance or activity that you cannot stop, and that you justify and make excuses for, you are addicted.1 You have an addiction to alcohol if you cannot stop drinking for any significant length of time. You have an addiction to shopping if your day is not complete without a consumer purchase of some sort. You have an addiction to gambling if you compromise your financial security and obligations to feed your fix. You are addicted to social media if you spend all day long interacting with your screen.
What causes addictions? In the not-too-distant past, scientists explained it by blaming the “addicts” themselves, basically suggesting that there was something wrong with them. Addicts were “bad, crazy, ignorant people”2 who were addicted because they were weak, had moral failings, or were mentally ill3. Of course, scientists have now admitted that there is no such thing as an “addictive personality”4 and that genes do not play a prominent role; unfortunately, science’s understanding of the causes of addiction hasn’t advanced that much beyond this appalling “blame the victim” strategy. Nowadays, folks are just subtler about it, blaming an individual’s defective neuro-mechanisms,5 their lack of “psychosocial skills,”6 the presence of “outlying traits” 7 (read “abnormal”), how individuals interpret their “experiences,” 8 and even difficulty with “self-regulation.”9 As one scientist puts it:
When genes are abnormal, brain enzymes and other proteins that are involved with neurotransmitter function may be abnormal. For example, the production (synthesis) or breakdown (metabolism) of dopamine is the responsibility of various enzymes. If the person has a genetic defect such that the enzymes that make or break down dopamine are faulty, then the amount of dopamine in the brain will be abnormal. Also, the response of that person’s brain dopamine systems to changes in the environment may be abnormal as well. In the mesolimbic system such abnormal” functions of dopamine may lead to distorted mood, such as too little pleasure from positive experiences or too much pain from negative interactions. The person with such a genetic defect may be especially susceptible to the ability of cocaine to elevate brain dopamine to levels that are closer to “normal.”10
Are “bad genes,” “brain illness,” lack of social skills, or “faulty” readings or reality the cause of addiction? Absolutely not. All these explanations blame the victim while ignoring social, political, and economic contexts. These explanations conveniently and intentionally divert attention from the real culprit causing addiction, which is our toxic environments, toxic societies, toxic cultural practices, toxic educational practices, and toxic religious practices. In other words, Toxic Socialization causes toxic attachment.
It is the avoidable toxicity of our collective
human realities that are the proximate causes of addictions.
Remember, toxic socialization involves violence, frustration of needs, chaos, destruction of attachments, and indoctrination. Violence and assault, the neglect of our essential needs, the experience of chronic chaos at home and in the world, the destruction of our attachments, not to mention the profound guilt and shame we experience as a consequence of the disjunctive and harmful actions we engage while trying to survive, all hurt us and make us feel bad.
When we live in toxic environments and are
subjected to toxic socialization, we feel bad.
Nobody wants to feel bad, especially when it is ongoing. Not only does it feel bad to feel bad, but it is bad for the health and well-being of the physical body. Feeling bad washes us in negativity, impairs us physically, emotionally, and psychologically, and makes our brain chemistry neurotoxic.11 Our physical unit, our body, has an instinct to avoid pain and bad feelings programmed into our body (Sigmund Freud called this the pleasure principle), and that is exactly what we try to do. When our environments are highly toxic, when our needs are not fully met, when our life experiences are highly painful, when there is chaos all around, we have an instinct to try and do something about it.
When we feel bad,
We do things that help us feel good
At first, we will do the only thing that really works, which is try to halt the assault, reduce the toxicity, and have our needs met. As children, we might cry when our needs are not satisfied or when we are subject to forms of assault. As adolescents, we might point out the hypocrisy and the toxicity of the violators in front of us in the hopes that truth and good sense will prevail.
Unfortunately, however, our families our social networks, and indeed our societies, are sometimes so toxic that our efforts to stop the toxicity and get our needs met often fail. As children and adolescents, our needs are simply ignored and toxicity and violence is excused. We are told the toxicity is good for us (spare the rod and spoil the child), that it builds character (what does not kill you makes you strong), or that we did something to deserve it (karma, original sin, bad behaviour, etc.). As adolescents, our insights and requests are dismissed, and we are told either that we are “going through a phase” or it is our own genetic or psychological weakness that is causing the problems. As adults, we are expected to be able to “deal with it,” otherwise we are labelled weak and whiny. Often, our protestations are met by increased violence and censure—attempts to keep us silent. In the long run, for many of us, our attempts to reduce violence, chaos, and neglect fail.
What happens when our attempts to halt assault and reduce toxicity fail. “do something about it” fail, as they often do? When that happens When our efforts to reduce toxicity, improve our environment, meet our needs, and feel good fail, as they do for many, we can
- seek out things that calm the internal chaos caused by the violence, neglect, and chaos of a toxic environment (soothing, in other words),
- numb the emotional pain we feel.
- look for ways to escape the environment (we escape the house, we run away, we take drugs),
- look for ways to repress guilt and shame,
- seek out “things” (substances and activities) that help make us feel good or
- find things that satisfy whatever need has been neglected.12
This is where addictions come from. Addictions arise as a consequence of our self-soothing attempts, our attempts to escape from violence and chaos, our efforts to repress, our need to better, or to satisfy some unmet need. When we cannot improve our life experience because of toxic environments, when we cannot get our needs met authentically, when we need something to make us feel better, or to help us ignore and forget, we find things to do it. We start smoking because it a) calms our frazzled nerves or b) helps us fit in (i.e., satisfies a need for belonging). We drink alcohol because it a) helps us fill the hole left by failed parental attachment,13 b) helps us numb, c) makes us feel good, or d) helps us forget. We shoot heroin, go to a casino, even shop and go running for the same reasons. It is the same with all attachments/addictions. We engage in behaviours and consume substances because these soothe us, help us escape, make us feel good, and so on. When our environments are toxic, we look for ways to compensate/cope/escape.
We should note, there is nothing wrong with this. This is natural, normal, and healthy. As Sigmund Freud pointed out, the avoidance of plain and the pursuit of pleasure is the most fundamental and basic algorithm of life. Certain substances and certain behaviours are pleasurable, and so when we feel bad we naturally seek out these things. But this self-medication does not explain where addiction develops, especially when it comes to addictions like running. Lots of people run, but not everybody gets addicted to running. Lots of people drink alcohol, but not everybody becomes an alcoholic. Because our societies and families can be so toxic, everybody self medicates to one degree or another, but not everybody develops a toxic attachment (i.e. an addiction) to their medication
So why do some substances and behaviours turn into addictions, while others do not? As it turns out, there are two reasons for this.
On the one hand, toxic attachment arises because substances like alcohol, tobacco, cocaine, Fentanyl, etc., are actually physically addictive. These substances hook your body and cause physicals craving for the substance. But the physically addictive properties of some substances are not the only, nor the most important, mechanisms at work. As Szalavitz explains, “only 10%–20% of drug users become addicted to substances like marijuana, alcohol, cocaine, and heroin.”14 That is a remarkably low percentage, especially considering common perceptions about the dangers of things like heroin. Thus, the addictive properties of some substances do not explain why a) most people who try addictive substances do not become addicted and b) why some activities such as shopping, social media habits, or hoarding (none of which could be physically addicting) become addictions nevertheless.
To understand why, we must understand the reward/reinforcement mechanisms in the brain, specifically the role of dopamine. Dopamine is a learning chemical. When dopamine is released in your brain, your brain “learns” something, specifically an association. When your brain releases dopamine it creates an association. This association is what creates the learning, and the addiction. When we endure toxic environments, we look for things that help us cope. When we find the “thing” that helps us escape, calms us, makes us feel good, or meets a need, dopamine, a chemical long linked to addiction,15 is released. This release creates an attachment to the substance or behaviour that will cause your brain to seek that out.
As psychologist David J. Ley says, dopamine release is “like a little red flag to your brain, saying ‘hey, pay attention, this is about to feel good, and you want to remember this, so you can do it again.’”16 The more dopamine is released in relation to your thing (alcohol, shopping, sex, money, etc.) the stronger the association, or attachment, will be. Once there is a dopamine attachment built up, whenever your brain sees the thing” your brain will trigger a desire for it. The stronger your dopamine attachment, the stronger your desire, and the more addicted you will be.
In the case of a behaviour attachment to running, when you repeatedly go running to self-sooth, escape, meet unmet needs, etc., dopamine slowly and inevitably attaches you to that activity.17 On the other hand, if you go running not to escape, calm yourself, or feel good, but to simply exercise and stay in shape, dopamine is not triggered in the same way.
You can see, addition is caused by a response to toxic environments that, when paired with dopamine programming, leads to some form of addiction. If you experienced toxic socialization, if you live in a toxic environment, you are prone to developing addictions because you will be motivated to find something that offers relief/release/pleasure/escape. When you find that “thing,” dopamine will attach you to it.
Because addiction is caused by an attachment which is facilitated by dopamine release in the brain, we might prefer to call addiction Toxic Attachment.18 because that is what it is, a toxic dopamine attachment. When an individual is in the “throes” of alcohol addiction, or is addicted to running every day, we might say they have an Active Attachment to alcohol or running. Similarly, instead of using the word “clean”19 to describe someone free of “addiction,” we would prefer to say they have an Inactive Attachment or Broken Attachment to alcohol.
An active toxic attachment is an attachment which the individual currently attempts to service. An inactive attachment is an attachment that is controlled, but for which neurological vestiges remain. That is, individuals may “crave” especially during times of discomfort and distress. A broken attachment is an attachment that is unlearned and for which no neurological vestiges remain.
Note that inactive attachments are not the same as broken attachments. An inactive attachment is an attachment that still exists, i.e. vestiges of neurological attachment remain, but the attachment is not dominant or overpowering. Because vestiges of neurological attachment still exist, inactive attachments are prone to reactivation, especially when toxic conditions are still prevalent. On the other hand, a broken attachment is an attachment where the neurological attachment no longer exists.
Because of the neurological programming involved, while one can inactivate an attachment over a brief period (a few days to a few months, depending on the addiction), it can take many years to completely break and attachment. A good example here is smoking. An individual can quit smoking (i.e., inactivate their attachment) after only a few days, perhaps a week or two. However, the attachment remains and may be reactivated after only a single cigarette. It takes many years to break an attachment to the point where smoking a cigarette will not reactivate the latent attachment.
Moving forward from here we will refer to “addictions” as toxic attachments. We will further refer to addictions as either active, inactive, or broken. Thus, if you are an alcoholic, you are not an addict, you have developed a toxic attachment to alcohol. If you are a shopaholic, you are not addicted to shopping, you have a toxic attachment to this horrifically toxic behaviour. If you have your one-year coin you have not been “clean” for a year, your attachment has been inactive for one year.
At this point we can become “attached” (i.e., addicted) to anything. Anything that gives escape, relief, or pleasure, and that repeatedly triggers dopamine expression in the brain, can become a toxic attachment, especially when the substance or behaviour is in response to toxicity, neglect, anguish, etc. It is not about “bad genes,” weak moral character, faulty learning, or whatever; it is about this toxicity we live in and our brain’s evolutionarily ability to cope with the toxicity and pain by programming itself to seek out compensating pleasure. The mechanism is simple. We become attached to substances and behaviours because they help us cope and survive.
Toxic socialization causes toxic attachments
to both substances and behaviours.
At this point, we should note that toxic socialization is not the only cause of addiction. Other factors are involved. For example, Pushers push us into addiction and Enablers encourage it. We will look at pushers and enablers more in the section on Lies and Ideology later. These additional factors are probably insufficient by themselves to cause addiction. Social, political, and economic toxicity, which cause the body to seek pleasure, which releases dopamine, which causes an attachment, are the necessary and sufficient causes of our challenging toxic attachments.
Consider cutting as an example of a toxic behavioural attachment. Cutting is a deliberate act of self-harm. When someone cuts, they use a sharp object to cut into their flesh. Cutting is a serious mental health problem. We know of children, mostly females, as young as ten who cut.
Why does cutting start and how does it become an addiction? Cutting starts as a distraction/escape from the pain and anguish caused by violence and chaos in the home or at school,20 as an outlet for emotional pain. Physical pain is less painful than psychological and emotional pain; thus, cutting provides relief and escape from physical and emotional pain by drowning out the physical/emotional pain. Cutting may also start as a desperate plea for help or change. A kid who cuts is asking for help and crying out for attention. A kid who is cutting is attempting to send a clear message to parents and others: “pay attention to me, I’m in need, I’m in pain, and something needs to change.”
Cutting is thus an attempt to effectuate change, to get a need met for safety, esteem, and power, in an otherwise toxic environment.21 Cutting also starts because physical harm releases the “feel good” endorphins in the brain.22 Thus cutting provides many of the “services” that individuals in toxic environments seek. Cutting provides escape, distraction, endorphin release, and at least at attempt at needs satisfaction. As with all other attachments, we become gradually attached as the dopamine “hits” slowly program our brain. The more often we cut for relief, distraction, etc., the more dopamine is released, and the more attached we become to the cutting behaviour. Eventually, we become so attached that we are recognized as “addicted” to the cutting.
Cutting is not the only serious behavioural attachment we may develop. As many reading this will be aware, we can also develop toxic attachments to social media. The mechanisms of toxic attachment to social media are identical to the mechanisms that attach us to cutting. We use social media a) as a way to distract/escape from chaos and violence in the home environments, b) as a way to get some essential needs met that are not otherwise being met in the home or in our relationships, and c) because the “likes” and shares we get release boost our self-esteem and give us shots of endorphin. Because all these things make us feel better, dopamine is released. Over time, toxic attachment to the social media platform develops. This is not rocket science. In fact, it is well-known science. Facebook, and no doubt other platforms, were deliberately designed for behavioural addiction.23 The creators of Facebook set out to make you dependent on the platform. If this sounds like an awful thing to you, it is. At least one former Facebook executive, Chamath Palihapitiya, feels “tremendous guilt,” as he rightly should, at the damage these platforms, which he helped develop, are causing.24
Lightning Path Attachments Analysis
When we examine attachments to Facebook, cutting, alcohol, and shopping as we have done above, i.e., when we identify the behaviour or substance and clarify the reasons why we are attached (it meets a need, it helps us escape from violence, etc.), we are engaged in step one and two of a Lightning Path Attachment Analysis (LPAA).25
Step one of the LPAA is identification of the toxic attachments. This step is easy. If you cannot stop the substance or behaviour, you have a toxic attachment. For example, at one time, “I was addicted to cigarettes.” I started smoking because it helped calm me, and also because it helped me fit in with the “cool.” Because I couldn’t stop, I was addicted to cigarettes.
Step two of an LPAA is classification. In this step, you classify the severity of your toxic attachments from mild to severe, and their toxicity from benign to fully toxic. Mild toxic attachments are attachments which you have a degree of control over, while severe toxic attachments are attachments which consume your body and mind. Similarly, benign toxic attachments are toxic attachments which have minimal negative impact. One can be mildly addicted to coffee, alcohol, running, sex, or whatever and not experience serious issues. Addictions only become problematic when they cover over unresolved trauma and damage, or when they have a negative impact on you and those around you. For example, an addiction to coffee only becomes a problem when you drink too much daily, and this undermines your health. Similarly, an addiction to alcohol only becomes a problem when you are a) using alcohol to escape, provide relief from toxic environments or internal pain and anguish and b) cannot control your intake and therefore drink too much. Finally, an attachment to sex only becomes a problem if you’re driven by unresolved trauma, married, in a relationship, and hurting the people you are cheating on and hooking up with.
When it comes to assessing the extent to which an addiction is problematic, there are lots of different things to consider. In the case of running or shopping, you need to consider the fiscal impact and lost time with your family and children, if you have them. In the case of alcohol or other harsh substances, you need to consider the long-term impact on your self, your physical unit (i.e., your mind and body), your family, your work life, and so on. For example, alcoholism can a) prevent you from connecting with and “self-actualizing”26 your Highest Self, b) cause physical and neurological damage to your body, and c) cause you to harm the ones you love, especially when you are a ‘mean drunk’ and you lash out at the ones you love. For all the reasons above, and some more that are not enumerated, attachments to alcohol are almost always a serious problem.
Once you have identified and classified your toxic attachments, the third step in analysis is clarification. In this step, you figure out why you became attached/addicted in the first place. To do this, recall that our attachments develop to things, behaviours, and people that calm us, help us escape, make us feel good, and satisfy a need. To clarify your addictions, simply ask yourself the following questions: “What am I escaping from and how does the attachment provide that escape?” “What do I need relief from and how is the attachment providing that relief?” “How is this substance/behaviour distracting me?” “What needs is this attachment meeting?” Finally, “Is the attachment helping me deal with guilt and shame.”
Identification, classification, and clarification are straightforward, if not always easy. For example, I (Mike S.) used to smoke. My attachment to smoking was severe and toxic. I started smoking because, at the age of nineteen, I had no significant attachments in my family (single parent mom, aunts, uncles, and cousins that “looked down” on us) and because I had a consequent unmet need to “fit in” and belong, I found smoking as a way to satiate my unmet need for belonging. I started smoking so I could fit in with friends. Even though it was thirty-five years ago, I still remember the motivation and the wonderful feeling of “fitting in” that I got from smoking the first time. I needed that feeling so bad that I ignored the physical distress (nausea and headaches, etc.) caused by the poisonous cigarettes. I needed to fit in more than I needed to feel physically well. It was the underlying need that drove me past the poisonous cigarette stick.27
Or consider my partner Gina R.’s addiction struggles. My partner started smoking and drinking for the same reasons as I did, i.e., not because she liked the taste of alcohol or cigarettes but because she wanted to fit in with her friends and family, and because her friends and family members “pushed” her into consumption. They said things like “if you are not going to drink then at least look like you are partying with the rest of us and smoke.” Continued “pushing” by friends and family, combined with her need to fit in, and the addictive properties of the substances, eventually led to toxic alcohol attachment and toxic nicotine attachment.28 Interestingly, even when she had committed to deal with her addictions, family members resisted her healing. They “pushed back,” making her feel like if she wanted to be a part of the family, if she wanted to “fit in,” she needed to continue to smoke and drink with them.
To summarize, an LP Attacments Analysis involves three steps, these being:
- Identification of the addiction(s)
- Categorization of severity and toxicity
- Clarification of the cause(s)
Moving towards treatment, you can safely ignore benign attachment (a mild attachment to coffee, wine, etc.,) and focus primarily on your most toxic attachments if you have them.
The LP provides an LP Attachments Analysis Form which you can use to help with your analysis.
As a final note, keep in mind when conducting an assessment on your addictions to see if they are problematic or not, there is a well-established tendency for addicts to lie to themselves and others to downplay their toxic attachments. We’ll talk more about the tendency and reasons for lying in the next unit. For now, when conducting an LPAA, you should ask friends and family what they think about your toxic attachments and whether they are toxic or benign. For example, if you drink, ask your wife or friends if they think it is a problem. If they say yes, then regardless of any lies you tell yourself, you have a toxic attachment problem.
At this point in your reading, you should have a good understanding of the nature and cause of toxic attachments and you should have identified your toxic attachments. Remember, attachments are toxic when they a) cover over unresolved toxicity and trauma and b) negatively impact you, your life, your family, and this planet. Some addictions, like running or coffee, may not be problematic at all unless you are harming yourself and others in the process.29 Others, like addictions to heroin or shopping,30 will be.
At this point, the question becomes, how do you treat the toxic attachments that you and your loved ones deem as problematic? Unfortunately, treating addictions is complicated and difficult not only because the neurological attachment is complex and multifaceted, but also because the addictions can rewire the brain to the point where you develop a Hard Dependency. A hard dependency occurs because some substances and behaviours cause damage by rewiring the brain. This brain damage, this rewiring, can make you physically dependent on your substance or behaviour for proper brain functioning. Inactivating and breaking toxic attachments to substances and behaviours is even more difficult when you are dealing with a hard dependency.31
At one time, treatments for toxic attachments to substances and behaviours involved “cold-turkey” breaks and complete abstinence. While complete abstinence may be a long-term necessity for some toxic attachments like alcohol,32 going “cold-turkey” is hard and most people cannot do it without, sometimes quite costly, assistance. This is not because they are weak but because the attachment is strong, the neurological reprogramming deep, and the damage often severe.
Whether or not cold-turkey is something you want to try is up to you. If you can go a week without smoking, a month without coffee, a year without alcohol, etc., you can consider the toxic attachment inactive. Remember, it takes a lot longer to break an attachment. Also remember, until your attachment is finally broken, you are susceptible to reactivation.
In general, we do not recommend a cold turkey approach, not only because this can cause a lot of pain and distress, especially when a hard attachment has occurred, but because cold turkey attempts do not rewire the brain, they simply traumatize the individual and reinforce the addiction because the brain just wants more. We recommend a gradual approach that combines improving your environment, relationships, and behaviours with persistent reprogramming of attachments.
Remember the function of dopamine in your brain. Dopamine rewires the reward structures by attaching you to substances and behaviours that offer relief from the consequences of a toxic socialization process. This original toxic rewiring took place over time and as a consequence of many experiences. If your toxic attachment is drinking, for example, it took a lot of “pleasant” feelings of numbness, detachment, escape, sociability, etc., to get your brain rewired and hard attached to the substance. As William S. Burroughs says, “it takes about a year and several hundred injections to make an addict. That is because it takes about that long to hardwire your brain and create the hard attachments that function as chronic addiction. Unfortunately, it is also going to take a year, and several hundred new experiences in non-toxic environments with non-toxic attachments, to break the hard attachments and rewire the brain. You simply cannot skip these experiences and go cold turkey. If you do not go through the experiences, the rewiring never occurs. If the rewiring never occurs, all you will do is inactivate your toxic attachments. If all you accomplish is inactivation, the wiring will always remain and you will be prone to reactivation.
So, how do you rewire your brain and break your toxic attachments? First of all, complete an LP Addictions Analysis. A form for this is included in the LP HEALING Map. Completing an addictions analysis will help you identify, classify and clarify your toxic attachments.
When you have completed this analysis, look at the causes for the addiction you have identified and work to improve those. Remember, addictions start as a way to calm, numb, sooth, repress, escape, or just feel good. Identify the reasons why you are anxious, why you feel the need to numb and soon, why you are trying to escape, and why there is nothing else in your life that makes you feel good. If the cause is violence and toxicity in your relationships, improve those or find new relationships. If the cause is stress at work, improve conditions at work, find a new job if you can, and find better ways to deal with stress (yoga instead of drinking, for example). If the cause is an unmet essential need, like the need for love or to fit in, maybe change your social groups and find healthier ways to meet those need.
Keep in mind here our earlier advice about environment. If you want to heal, you need to clean up and detoxify your environment. In this regard you have two choices. You can either educate the people who make up your life about the consequences of toxicity and the impact it is having on your addictions and ask them to heal with you, or you can exit your toxic relationships and toxic families and begin to build up new ones. The easiest and least disruptive solution is to educate your family and friends about the consequences of physical and psychic toxicity, and request assistance from them in said detoxification. If possible, we recommend you immediately institute a no violence rule and work together to remove all instances of emotional, psychological, physical, and spiritual violence and exploitation. There can be no compromise here. If you want to heal and deal with your addictions, you must create healthy, non-toxic spaces within which you can heal and reprogram.
If you do not clean up toxic environments and deal directly with the causes of addiction you will find it impossible to rewire your brain. Getting away to a safe place for a period of time can help; addiction retreats can help; therapy can help; but, if you keep coming back to toxic environments, you will continue to be triggered into your addictions. If you want to reprogram toxic attachments and heal your brain, you have to remove the principle driver, which is toxicity in your life. There is no other way forward but that.
Unfortunately, it has to be said, it will not always be possible to educate your family and friends and elicit their help. Many of you will find that when you point out the toxicity and make an appeal to family and friends for a change, they will resist or even attack. When you point things out, parents, partners, and friends will lash out in anger at you and even engage in violent emotional, psychological, or even physical assault. If this happens, if attempts to educate and enlist the authentic support family and friends elicit only defence and attack, do not waste your time. Do not hesitate. Break your attachments and find new family and friends. This might sound harsh, but it is a necessary and increasingly common practice,33 as for example among the LGBTQ community who often experience harsh violence at the hands of their old energy family and friends. If your family does not move forward with you, you have no choice but to remove them from your life, or dramatically limit your exposure to them. You will make slow to no progress in dealing with toxic attachments if you do not detoxify your life.
For your information, detoxification is part of the process of establishing Right Environment. We discuss right environment in more detail in Lightning Path Workbook Three: Connection, in the section on Alignment.
As you detoxify your environments, the final step to treating addictions is not to eliminate your toxic attachments cold turkey, but to rectify your attachments gradually. You rectify your attachments by finding better ways to meet your needs, and better ways to self-medicate. For example, if you suffer from anxiety and PTSD and smoking helps calm you down, rectifying your toxic attachment to smoking requires you learn to do something else to calm yourself down instead. Instead of jumping straight to the cigarette, do some yoga and stretching, take a hot bath, or talk to your spouse, family member, or friend. Instead of running off to the casino, do some mindfulness and meditation. Instead of pouring that drink, get some love from a loved one, or brew yourself a jasmine tea. Stimulate natural endorphin release with sex, laughter, purpose, giving, exercise, healthy diet, etc.
Putting a healthier activity or substance in front of the addictive response will encourage dopamine attachment to the new activity or substance, thereby rewiring your brain.
You may think it silly at first, especially if your toxic attachments have a loud voice, but you will find that the more you put “something before” the toxic attachment, whatever it is, the more attached you will become to the new thing and the less attached you will become to your addiction. You will still be self-medicating, of course, even if you are medicating with jasmine tea, but that is OK. Given just how toxic this world still is, there is absolutely no shame in that; and at least you will be medicating with real medicine (yoga, love, meditation, cannabis,34 etc.) and not the toxic crap (alcohol, fats and sugars, plastic bobbles, etc.) still on offer by the corporations of this world.
We have to say, detoxification and rectification are challenging, and breaking your attachments won’t happen overnight. This means you should be realistic about how long it takes to break the physical addiction and toxic attachments. In other words, do not kid yourself. This will not be easy. Inactivating your toxic attachments will require an ongoing act of willpower. Therefore, cut yourself some slack. If you still need the cigarette, casino, or drink after you have put an alternative activity or substance in between, that is fine. Do not torture yourself. Do not shame yourself. But, use your willpower. Resist as long as you can, then do as little of the addiction as you require, and remind yourself how good if felt/will feel to stretch, meditate, drink tea, and get love.
Also note, being addiction free does not necessarily mean giving things up; it just means breaking the toxic attachment and using experience to reprogram your brain. You might be addicted to shopping, for example, but when you break this addiction, you will still shop, you just won’t “enjoy” it so much, and you will be in control. The same thing goes for some of the other addictions people have. As long as you are in control, as long as there are no neural vestiges of previous toxic wiring, occasional use of a substance is fine, so long as it causes no harm to the physical unit. On the other hand, if you cannot gain control, or if the substance is simply too dangerous (e.g. opioids like Fentanyl), total abstinence may be the only option.
To summarize, in this unit we have examined toxic attachments. We have seen that both substances (i.e. smoking, alcohol, heroin) and behaviours (i.e. social media, running, etc.) can become toxic attachments. We have learned the difference between active toxic attachments and inactive toxic attachments. We have also uncovered the actual causes of toxic attachment—not “genetics” or “moral strength” but toxic environments and a toxic socialization process characterized by violence, chaos, neglect, destruction of attachments, and indoctrination. We have learned that toxic attachments start as attempts to cope, to self-medicate, escape, or meet unmet needs, but because of the dopamine reward mechanisms of the brain, we eventually develop toxic attachments. We have seen that to treat your toxic attachments, you must Identify, Clarify, Detoxify, and Rectify. You must identify your toxic attachments, clarify their sources, detoxify your environments, and rectify toxic attachments by wilfully reprogramming your brain.
We are not going to lie to you. Even under the best of conditions, this is a lot of work. Unfortunately, we do not always operate under the best of conditions. When we try to heal and move forward we experience resistance not only from people and societies that do not want to change, but also from inside our own selves as well. Our internal resistance comes in the form of self-deception. That is, we lie. We lie to ourselves. We lie to our families. We lie to our partners We lie to our doctors. We lie to our workmates. We lie to everybody. No sense in denying it, because we have all done at one time or another.
Why do we lie? For two reasons. Number one, because actually changing our behaviours and detoxifying our environments is a lot of work. It much easier to pretend, and so that is what many people do. People pretend “it’s not so bad” or pretend they’ve made progress, even when they haven’t. Number two, because actually changing our behaviours often requires us to confront all the shitty things we have done, and that confrontation causes us intense guilt and shame. Pretending that “you did the best you could” or avoiding the confrontation altogether by pretending everything is OK, helps you avoid these intense feeling. When it comes to the realities around us, we lie, lie, lie, lie, lie, and when we are done lying, we lie and lie some more.
Unfortunately, if you are serious about treating your wounds and your addictions, if you are serious about healing and reconnecting, you’re going to have to stop lying. If you do not, there is no way for you to move forward. You either face the truth of things and do what needs to be done, or you stay stuck in the old energy world. Don’t worry though, when you identify the reasons you lie, learning to tell the truth is a lot easier than you think. It is to lying, the reasons we lie, and strategies for stopping, that we turn our attention to next.
1 ##Carlton K. Erickson and Richard E. Wilcox, “Neurobiological Causes of Addiction,” Journal of Social Work Practice in the Addictions 1.3 (2001).
2 ##Erickson and Wilcox, “Neurobiological Causes of Addiction,” 7.
3Thomas Szasz, “Chemical Straitjackets for Children,” 2000.
4Addictive Adaptation Disorder develops when there is a need for self-medication, and when primary persons, places, and influencers promote and model self-medicating practices.
5 ##Marc A. Schuckit, “An Overview of Genetic Influences in Alcoholism,” Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment.1 (2009).
6 ##Kenneth E. Leonard, “Perspective: Beyond the Neural Circuits,” Nature 522 (2015).
7 ##Maria Szalavitz, “The Addictive Personality Isn’t What You Think It Is,” Scientific America 2016.
8 Presumably, if one “interprets” an experience the “wrong” way, one can become addicted. ##Szalavitz, “The Addictive Personality Isn’t What You Think It Is.”
9 For the record, I find this author’s “self-regulation” thesis to be absurd. Her notion that addictions are “developmental disorders,” “learning problems,” that can be “outgrown,” is merely a restatement of “blame the victim” arguments she herself attempts to debunk, i.e., old “morality” or “character disorder” arguments. We have to say, the mental and spiritual gymnastics required to support and deny the exact same position are impressive.
Although, to be fair, she does get close. According to her “…addiction is a learned relationship between the timing and pattern of the exposure to substances or other potentially addictive experiences and a person’s predispositions, cultural and physical environment, and social and emotional needs.” She even points directly at the environment when she mentions autism and maltreated children: “solutions. In fact, severely neglected children often develop autistic-like behaviour such as constantly rocking as a way to soothe or stimulate themselves—and maltreated children often appear to have ADHD because they are hypervigilant to “distractions” like the sound of a door slamming.” ##Maia Szalavitz, Unbroken Brain: A Revolutionary New Way of Understanding Adddiction. (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2016). In the end, however, she finally says addiction is a “learning disorder” and “compulsives self-medication,” thereby placing the blame squarely in the individual’s lap, where The System needs it to be. and now what it really is which is a perfectly reasonable adaptation to a highly toxic environment.
10 ##Erickson and Wilcox, “Neurobiological Causes of Addiction,” 10-11.
11P. Salmon, “Effects of Physical Exercise on Anxiety, Depression, and Sensitivity to Stress: A Unifying Theory,” Clinical Psychology Review 21, no. 1 (February 2001): 33–61.
12 A rather interesting take is provided by the article “Is addiction an Attachment Disorder?” which says that alcoholics had terrible parents and as a result didn’t “attach.” Thus, failed attachment and neglect leads to attachment disorder which is the cause of addiction. Alcoholics Guide, Is Addiction an Attachment Disorder?, 2014, Inside the Alcoholic Brain, December 12 2018. This is interesting, but it too narrowly focuses on only one unmet need. We have more than just a need to attach.
13 ##Alcoholics Guide, Is Addiction an Attachment Disorder?
14 ##Szalavitz, Unbroken Brain: A Revolutionary New Way of Understanding Adddiction. 273.
15 ##Trevor W. Robbins and Barry J. Everitt, “Drug Addiction: Bad Habits Add Up,” Nature 398 (1999). Note the title of this article. Despite talking about genetics and the neuropathology of addiction, the authors (or the editors) insert a statement that blames the addict.
16 ##David J. Ley, No, Dopamine Is Not Addictive, 2017, Psychology Today, Available: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/women-who-stray/201701/no-dopamine-is-not-addictive, January 6 2017.
17 Interestingly, this is the source of the problems with “self-regulation” noted by Szalavitz. It’s not that children have a “self-regulation” problem or a “learning <p align=”justify”>disorder,” its that dopamine released in toxic environments causes and attachment that is so powerful, children simply cannot stop the behaviour. Problems with self-regulation are caused by toxic environments combined with dopamine attachment. ##Szalavitz, Unbroken Brain: A Revolutionary New Way of Understanding Adddiction.
19 Note, using the word “clean” to describe someone free of an addiction implies that the when addicted the person is “dirty” and contaminated. This terminology characterizes a person struggling with toxic attachment in a judgmental and extremely moralistic fashion. We should never use the words “clean” and “dirty” since these terms ignore the environmental and neurological contexts, implies personal failure, and encourages and contributes to shame and guilt, which further exacerbates the “need” for escape Our advice is to use the terms “active” and “inactive.” Someone who is using has an active addiction. Somebody who is “clean” has inactivated their addiction.
20Ellen Hendriksen, “Self-Injury: 4 Reasons People Cut and What to Do,” Psychology Today, 2016, https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/how-be-yourself/201610/self-injury-4-reasons-people-cut-and-what-do.
21 Certainly cutting is not the most effective way of to effectuate change since an individual who cuts is often pathologized and dismissed. However, one cannot expect a twelve year old child to be able to conceptualize the reality of their toxic environment, or be able to lucidly communicate the need for change to parents and authorities who a) think within the primitive confines of old energy archetypes and old energy psychology or are b) in a state of denial regarding their own mental health issues, and their own contribution to the toxicity of the situation. As a child, telling my mother she was hurting me, and asking her to stop, only made the whipping, the emotional assaults, and the denials more violent.
22 ##B. A. West, “Understanding Endorphins: Our Natural Pain Relief System… Part 6,” Nursing 11.2 (1981). A highlighted version is available
23##Hilary Andersson, Social Media Apps Are ‘Deliberately’ Addictive to Users, 2018, BBC News, Available: https://www.bbc.com/news/technology-44640959, November 24 2018.
24 ##Chamath Palihapitiya, “‘Tremendous Guilt’: Ex-Facebook Exec’s Regrets on Ripping Apart the Social Fabric,” 2017.
26 As Maslow would have said ##A. H. Maslow, Motivation and Personality (2nd Ed.) (New York: Harper & Row, 1970)..
27 That an emotional need to fit in is more powerful than a physical need to feel well should be no great insight. The people who get paid to manipulate you, i.e., marketers trying to sell you products, know this well. It is why commercials aimed at the young often show a bunch of young friends “fitting in” and belonging with each other. The subliminal message sent is “consume this product if you want to fit in.”
28 Gina’s account is quite interesting because it highlights the function of PUSHERS. Pushers are people who push you towards the development of toxic attachment. They do this for various reasons. If they are dealers, they do it for money. If they are family and friends, they do it as a way to justify their own addictions and to avoid the shame and guilt of drinking/smoking to excess around people who do not. Whether they are doing it for money or because getting others addicted makes them feel better about themselves does not matter. The point is, people push addictions and they are often effective at getting others hooked, especially when the pushing is combined with other “risk factors,” like the toxic environments of a toxic socialization process.
29 As strange as it may seem, it is possible to harm others even when you are engaged in “healthier” addictions like running. We remember years ago driving through Banff in Canada and seeing a young women running through the streets in a fashionable jogger outfit, with her five year old child panting and struggling to keep up behind her. This women appeared to be so addicted to running that she would torture a young child just so she could get her fix.
30 Addiction to shopping, which judging by the ridiculous displays that occur in North America during the Black Friday to Christmas season, and by the constant need to have the “newest, latest, and greatest” thingamabobby just so you can be cool, stand out, fit it, and be “happy,” is a problem for the addict, their families, the environment, and the children who are exploited just so you can have the latest and greatest “iThingy.” Addiction to shopping, which is something encouraged by the manipulations of the marketing industry, is destroying the planet. Shopping is therefore a problematic addiction no matter if you have the money to spend to infinity or not.
31See for example ##Andrew Holmes, Paul J. Fitzgerald, Kathryn P. MacPherson, Lauren DeBrouse, Giovanni Colacicco, Shaun M. Flynn, Sophie Masneuf, Kristen E. Pleil, Chia Li, Catherine A. Marcinkiewcz, Thomas L. Kash, Ozge Gunduz-Cinar and Marguerite Camp, “Chronic Alcohol Remodels Prefrontal Neurons and Disrupts Nmdar-Mediated Fear Extinction Encoding,” Nature Neuroscience 15 (2012).
33 ##Brianna Sharpe, “‘Chosen Families’ Give Lgbtq Parents and Kids the Support They May Lack,” Huffpost 2018.