Adverse Childhood Experiences 3: Attachment Disorder

I ought to have an attachment disorder, which now is called “separation anxiety disorder” in the DSM IV, now redefined in the DSM IV-TR and then the DSM V. That is, they keep changing the definition of psychiatric disorders. It’s a bit unnerving, isn’t it? Not only the brain is “plastic” and can be rewired throughout our lives, but the psychiatric diagnosis manual is being updated.

When I went into allopathic medicine, I was under the impression that I needed to learn everything I could and apply it. Spectacularly wrong. I needed to learn everything and then track everything because at least one fourth of what I learned was wrong or was going to change. I just didn’t know WHICH 25% was wrong.

This is why older doctors have a healthy skepticism towards new medicines, new equipment, new ideas. Older doctors are more likely to use old cheap medicines and eschew the new-fangled samples. It’s not just that the pharmaceutical companies only give us samples of the new expensive stuff. It’s also that some of the new expensive stuff is not as good as advertised and has a chance of hurting people. I still would advise my patients to use coumadin (warfarin) if they have a clotting disorder. Yes, you can take the new drugs without doing a monthly blood test — BUT if you bleed, I can’t reverse the new medicines. So I wouldn’t take them: if I need a medicine to keep me from clotting, I want coumadin. I will decide about the new medicines in 5-10 years. Old and cynical, that’s me….

As previously written, I had five “experiences” under age three that left me not trusting adults. However, the adults seemed to love me, even though they kept abandoning me to other adults. At under three, this did not make sense. I could have decided never to trust anyone and presumably would have really gone off into some sociopathic bad place, but I didn’t do that.

The clue to what I did is in my mother’s stories. My sister was born five days before my 3rd birthday. She came home right by my birthday, at Easter.

My mother said, “You asked if you could dress Chris. She was two days old. She was nearly ten pounds and had a triple chin. You wanted to put a lacy dress on her. I decided that you could try and told you to be very gentle.

You put Chris into the newborn baby dress. She was so big that it barely fit and in fact, that was the only time she ever wore it. You had to stuff her arms through the sleeves. She cracked her eyes and looked at you, but she did not object at all. You were gentle.”

That doesn’t seem like much. Next story:

My mother said, “You would meet visitors who came to see Chris at the door. You would say “Come see my baby.” I let you open presents for Chris because she didn’t care. You would show the visitors your sister.”

My baby. That is the key.

I think what happened is this:
1. The adults who took care of me did seem to love me.
2. Even though they loved me, they kept abandoning me, or giving me to other adults. I really really disliked this.
3. I thought that adults were misguided and wrong to give me away. I thought there must be some explanation. I would try to figure it out. Meanwhile, I was going to take care of my sister: she was MY BABY. I was going to show those stupid, loving, confused adults how to take care of a baby and NO ONE was going to give HER away. I could love adults but no way was I going to trust them.

That was my crisis brain wiring by age 3. Adults are loving and untrustworthy. You can love them back but they may abandon you to someone else at any moment. You can’t predict what they will do. They may be even LESS trustworthy if they are loving and you know them, than if it is a stranger.

My mother again, “When I got you back at nine months, you didn’t know me. You wanted to be as independent as possible. You missed your (maternal) grandmother. In the grocery store, you would cry if you saw a white haired woman. We couldn’t comfort you.

I thought that you didn’t like us at all until you ate a cigarette butt and got really sick. You let us take care of you. Then we left you with friends for a night. You were absolutely furious when we got back and I thought that you really did like us….”

Poor young mom, 23 and recovering from tuberculosis and still not strong, with an angry and grieving nine month old who really didn’t want much to do with her and didn’t trust her at all…..

Changes from the DSM IV-TR to the DSM V: http://www.dsm5.org/Documents/changes%20from%20dsm-iv-tr%20to%20dsm-5.pdf

The DSM IV criteria for separation anxiety: http://behavenet.com/node/21498

Theme song: The Devil Makes Three “All Hail”