Understanding that the 12-steps is Working Within an Attachment Framework
Attachment and attachment styles are popular topics in today’s mental health culture. At Triple Divide Lodge, we are looking at working from an attachment framework rather than simply helping clients to identify their attachment styles.
Attachment For Survival
People are hard-wired to need other people for their survival. Each person innately needs and yearns for acceptance, belonging, and care from others for secure attachment. These are part of humans’ attachment needs. As a person enters the world (birth) and experiences distress, he yearns for that distress to be soothed. This continues during our entire life cycle—from infancy through older adulthood. Ideally, these needs are met effectively through relationships with healthy people. This can be depicted through the attachment cycle.
For example, when a baby experiences discomfort, he cries out to be comforted. A caregiver matches, mirrors, and soothes the baby, and then trust is developed that the caregiver will meet the baby’s needs. As this is repeated over and again, the baby develops a stronger, more secure attachment and trust that the caregiver will meet his needs.
On the other hand, if a baby’s needs are not met consistently and he is not soothed in his distress, he seeks other ways to meet his needs and soothe himself. Babies may rock, bang their heads, or suck their thumbs. For adolescents and adults, soothing may come from other means such as alcohol or drugs and then they begin to trust that alcohol or drugs will meet their needs.
Addiction is the result of escaping discomfort and meeting an unmet need. From a neurophysiological perspective, addiction is an internal process outside of the person’s control and it can become a substitute attachment. For addicted people, they are escaping difficult social or family dynamics, grief, loss, or some other sort of shame or pain by using their “drug of choice” and getting a predictable result—likely the most predictable response of all their relationships.
When an addicted person can instead connect with a 12-step community, that person experiences a new and healthy attachment. A 12-step community offers support from a group of people that have experienced a common peril and a common solution.
We want to support a healthy attachment cycle at Triple Divide Lodge. We do this by giving our clients experiences with openness and emotional vulnerability in therapy groups, on-campus 12-step meetings, and in the local 12-step community. To those in their fold, 12-step communities offer the acceptance, belonging, and care members are seeking.
Members help the newcomer identify their powerlessness over their “drug of choice,” and experience connection to overcome the isolation he was previously experiencing in the throes of his addiction. Step One—powerlessness over alcohol or drugs and unmanageability in their lives—begins to resonate with our clients. TDL clients find connection in their peer milieu and in the 12-step community. In Step Four, the client takes a “searching and fearless moral inventory” of himself and through the therapeutic process at TDL, he addresses the pain and shame at the heart of his addiction.
Just as TDL provides a safe environment for co-regulating and vulnerably addressing pain, the 12-step process and communities can likewise provide such a container. Recognizing and repairing relational ruptures is a critical part of healthy attachment. Through clinical work and a Step Four inventory, our clients begin to see the relational ruptures they have created in their lives.
They begin to identify and process their pain in the container TDL provides. A sponsor provides a similar space in Step Five. As clients process and recognize the relational ruptures they created through inventory, in Steps Eight and Nine, they learn how to repair these ruptures. Through healthy attachment in sponsorship and the fellowship, TDL clients find connection and healing through their vulnerability.
About Our Program
Triple Divide Lodge is a 90-day residential treatment program for adolescent males ages 14-19 struggling with a history of substance abuse disorder and possible co-occurring disorders. This program’s trauma-focused, family-centered, and transitional approach helps young men learn their strengths as they work toward recovery.
This content was written by Triple Divide Lodge’s Clinical Director AJ Frithiof, LCSW. AJ leads the road to recovery with relationally focused clinical work on Attachment and Emotional Activation.
AJ Frithiof (pronounced Fritch-off) is a licensed clinical social worker and is the clinical director of Triple Divide Lodge. She began working with adolescents and young adults in 2006 and has held a variety of clinical and programming positions in residential and wilderness treatment settings. During her career, she has focused on working with clients with dual diagnoses.
AJ has extensive training and experience with clients with high-acuity mental health disorders, trauma, attachment injuries, and dual diagnosis. She believes in looking at addiction through an attachment-based lens. She supports clients in uncovering the root of their difficulties, detaching from their addictive substance, and finding healing through healthy relationships.