Therapist and author Rob Weiss, who does some cutting-edge thinking about the intersection of technology and (mostly sex) addiction, tweeted an article from the NY Times today called The Brain on Love An interesting piece. It depressed the hell out of me.
Now, author Diane Ackerman didn’t mean for the article to be depressing. In fact, as someone who recently helped her husband recover from the effects of a stroke, she meant for her story about the plasticity of the brain — its ability to make new connections, to rewire itself as we have new life experiences — to be a positive thing. Her premise is that good relationships change our brains for the better.
And as someone with a broken brain (that’s not self-deprecating, by the way. All addicts have short circuits in our brain wiring), I am always happy to know that my neural network can repair itself.
In fact, there’s no better news for a love addict than that, even if on a purely biomedical level, some knight in shining armor really can fix me. Isn’t that what we’ve all been holding out for, whether we admit it or not?
Here’s the problem. “Thanks to advances in neuroimaging,” writes Ackerman, “we now have evidence that a baby’s first attachments imprint its brain.… The body remembers how that oneness with Mother felt, and longs for its adult equivalent.”
Brain scans of long-married couples show that “in the opiate rich sites linked to pleasure and pain relief, and those associated with maternal love, the home fires glowed brightly. A happy marriage relieves stress and makes one feel as safe as an adored baby.”
Aww. That’s sweet. But what if you weren’t an adored baby? What if your body had no oneness with Mother in the first place? What are you going to recreate then? You might have been unwanted, adopted, or abused. Premature, underweight, or incubated… the no-heartbeat beat goes on. We’re longing for something we have never felt. How pathetic is that?
Me, I was born in an auditorium before an audience of medical school students. Apparently, I was an usual breech presentation. Apparently, too, I have been seeking a fresh audience ever since. Mother had rheumatic fever, then post-partum depression, then bipolar disorder, then a colorful series of suicide attempts. Adoration was not part of the picture, and it was rarely what you’d call safe.
This is where the now-popular “biopsychosocial” model of addiction becomes important. Love addiction, nictotine addiction, alcohol addiction — I’m not picky. Yes, addiction starts out as a brain disease, whereby the nerve endings don’t pump the joy juice properly and the white matter isn’t firing on all cylinders. But, as the NY Times points out, the brain (biological) can rewire itself… if it has a supportive emotional framework (psychological) to build on. Like, for instance, healthy family and friends (social).
It’s complicated. I hate complicated. I would prefer that PrinceCharming.com wave a magic algorithm and make us all feel like adored babies overnight.