A Book Recommendation From Yushin
March 02, 2016 by Jokai
I recently encountered (through the world of books) a person and writer whom I respect. I find it fascinating to read the words of someone who is authentically exploring what it means to be a decent human being, who traces a problem to its source and gives voice to reality, even when it’s messy and makes people uneasy. Dr. Gabor Maté’s book In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts is an honest offering to anyone who struggles with addiction and more broadly to anyone who wonders what it could mean to attend to the traumatized, dark, in-pain parts of ourselves.
After reading the whole book and letting it settle, I find that my daily life is touched and altered by the questions Maté poses—the looking glass has been turned—a new way in, another strong call to be unyielding in uncovering truth.
We are all in the position of having our particular human conditionings, shaped and formed in relationship with what we have seen, where we have been, and what we have known. Dr. Maté’s perspective and daily work is based on his experience developing and implementing a considered, compassionate response to the plight of the drug addicted and homeless community of Vancouver B.C.’s Downtown Eastside. The book is about addiction; addiction as a process and addiction as an experience. Maté writes, “This is the domain of addiction, where we constantly seek something outside ourselves to curb an insatiable yearning for relief or fulfillment. The aching emptiness is perpetual because the substances, objects, or pursuits we hope will soothe it are not what we really need.”
Maté’s writing speaks to the why of drug addiction. He says of the patients he sees, “It’s their attempt, I believe, to escape the hell realm of overwhelming fear, rage, and despair. The painful longing in their hearts reflects something of the emptiness that may also be experienced by people with apparently happier lives. Those whom we dismiss as “junkies” are not creatures from a different world, only men and women mired at the extreme end of a continuum on which, here or there, all of us might well locate ourselves.”
Where might we locate ourselves? Consider this excerpt:
“No society can understand itself without looking at its shadow side. I believe there is one addiction process, whether it is manifested in the lethal substance dependencies of my Downtown Eastside patients; the frantic self soothing of overeaters or shopaholics; the obsession of gamblers, sexaholics, and compulsive Internet users; or the socially acceptable and even admired behaviors of the workaholic. Drug addicts are often dismissed and discounted as unworthy of empathy and respect. In telling their stories my intent is twofold: to help their voices to be heard and to shed light on the origins and nature of their ill-fated struggle to overcome suffering through substance abuse. They have much in common with the society that ostracizes them. If they seem to have chosen a path to nowhere, they still have much to teach the rest of us. In the dark mirror of their lives, we can trace outlines of our own.”
I share these words of Maté’s and recommend this book to anyone who is compelled to see things as they are and to respond. With plenty of misinformation and distortions of truth which foster separation and judgement, it’s a blessing to encounter a courageous engagement of shadow.
Maté engages on many levels: he documents the histories of trauma and abuse that precede drug addiction for the vast majority of his patients, he explores the science of the addiction process and the development of the addicted brain, he goes beyond the war on drugs, offering solutions in a powerful chapter called, “Toward an Enlightened Social Policy on Drugs,” and finally, he considers how we can each participate in what he calls "An Ecology of Healing,” approaching our deepest fears with compassionate curiosity.
A commitment to waking up involves all the parts—uncovering the essential peace of being includes learning, listening and being willing to experience ourselves as the whole. Maté has nurtured my appreciation of the whole from the standpoint of facts and heart. If you are curious, check out Maté’s approach.