Wake Up, America: why attachment matters

When I think about the state of our country and society, I think about attachment disorders. Yours, mine, and ours. Look at your Facebook feed. There is little empathy, kindness, or compassion in evidence.

Studies say half of us are walking dead to our emotions, and have little capacity for healthy relationships. We live our lives on the surface, ignoring those thoughts that are too scary, too deep for tears.

San Quentin changed me. What I learned there about the development of criminal minds showed me that this disorder’s by no means limited to criminals. It’s in me and it’s either in you or it’s in the person standing next to you.

My story is sad, but isn’t so terribly awful. Or unusual. I’ve heard of much worse. But while what happened to me was sufficient to cripple my emotions, there are all kinds and degrees of trauma to get the job done.

And that’s the point. An attachment story doesn’t have to involve blood to be genuine. Verbal abuse, mental cruelty, and neglect qualify too. We don’t need to rate traumas to determine who is entitled to legitimately lay claim to being screwed up and who doesn’t quite reach the bar.

I’ve heard from friends who say they wept when they read my stories. They wept because of the stories, but also because some were unaware of their own thoughts and sorrow. Others’ stories help us make sense of our own… if we let them.

I hope we heal at a big scale, but even one person’s healing is an accomplishment. We can be restored if we push past our fears.

If we are not to implode as a nation though, we’ve got to stop putting Bandaids on this thing. It’s not as much about the size of prisons and sentencing reform as it is about fixing people: adults who are already damaged, and preventing children from going down the same road. Accountability, intervention, and prevention are equally important.

To the degree we solve this thing, our nation will endure. Look at the impacts of the opioid crisis, homelessness, anger. If we continue to do nothing it only gets worse.

In my work on one of Idaho’s six Citizen Review Panels advising the Legislature on the Foster Care system, it’s clear that society and the system is prioritizing the wrong things: family reunification, Maslow’s basic needs, parental rights… While they are important parts of the problem, none are the root. Attachment or lack thereof is.

We worry about the child in the moment, and ignore the long term damage that will eventually become evident absent an intervention. And we wonder why we have Ted Bundy and Scott Peterson. We wonder why our neighbor or husband or wife can’t stay married. Why our kids are walking away without a word.

We try to save children by reforming parents – addicts, abusers, and the mentally ill – by requiring them to show up at supervised visits consistently, drug and alcohol free. If parents accept responsibility and own up to their part in abuse, sexual or otherwise, the hopeful and overburdened system says that’s a start. Good enough to get your kid back. Without addressing the root, we send these kids right back into the hell from which they came.

I tell you my stories to exorcise my own attachment demons, yes, but don’t miss the bigger picture. Attachment matters. Matters to all of us.

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