Gabor Maté

“Why do we despise, ostracize and punish the drug addict when as a social collective we share the same blindness and engage in the same rationalizations? To pose that question is to answer it. We despise, ostracize and punish the addict because we don’t wish to see how much we resemble him. In his dark mirror our own features are unmistakable. We shudder at the recognition. This mirror is not for us, we say to the addict. You are different, and you don’t belong with us.

Like the hardcore addict’s pursuit of drugs, much of our economic and cultural life caters to people’s craving to escape mental and emotional distress. In an apt phrase, Lewis Lapham, long-time publisher of Harper’s Magazine, derides “consumer markets selling promises of instant relief from the pain of thought, loneliness, doubt, experience, envy, and old age.”

According to a Statistics Canada study, 31 per cent of working adults aged nineteen to sixty-four consider themselves workaholics, who attach excessive importance to their work and are “overdedicated and perhaps overwhelmed by their jobs.” “They have trouble sleeping, are more likely to be stressed out and unhealthy, and feel they don’t spend enough time with their families,” reports the Globe and Mail. Work doesn’t necessarily give them greater satisfaction, suggested Vishwanath Baba, a professor of Human Resources and Management at McMaster University. “These people turn to work to occupy their time and energy” — as compensation for what is lacking in their lives, much as the drug addict employs substances. At the core of every addiction is an emptiness based in abject fear.

The addict dreads and abhors the present moment; she bends feverishly only towards the next time, the moment when her brain, infused with her drug of choice, will briefly experience itself as liberated from the burden of the past and the fear of the future — the two elements that make the present intolerable. Many of us resemble the drug addict in our ineffectual efforts to fill in the spiritual black hole, the void at the centre, where we have lost touch with our souls, our spirit, with those sources of meaning and value that are not contingent or fleeting.

Our consumerist, acquisition-, action- and image-mad culture only serves to deepen the hole, leaving us emptier than before. The constant, intrusive and meaningless mind-whirl that characterizes the way so many of us experience our silent moments is, itself, a form of addiction— and it serves the same purpose.

“One of the main tasks of the mind is to fight or remove the emotional pain, which is one of the reasons for its incessant activity, but all it can ever achieve is to cover it up temporarily. In fact, the harder the mind struggles to get rid of the pain, the greater the pain.” So writes Eckhart Tolle. Even our 24/7 self-exposure to noise, emails, cell phones, TV, Internet chats, media outlets, music downloads, videogames and non-stop internal and external chatter cannot succeed in drowning out the fearful voices within.”


Gabor Maté, In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction
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In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction by Gabor Maté
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