There is a wealth of literature out there – most of which is written much more articulately than I can write. One such book, In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts, Close Encounters with Addiction by Gabor Maté, I found particularly well written. Dr. Maté sheds a humanizing and personable light on addiction, while remaining frank about his own frustrations towards people with addictions – himself included.
He conceptualizes addiction and its’ precursors succinctly, stating “addiction is neither a choice nor primarily a disease. It originates in a human begin’s desperate attempt to solve a problem: the problem of emotional pain, of overwhelming stress, of lost connection, of loss of control, of a deep discomfort with the self”. As he understands it (and I tend to agree), only those who are rife with trauma, and experience chronic and severe social dislocation are vulnerable to the condition of addiction. He quotes a famed trauma researcher, Dr. Bessel van der Kolk, writing “People who feel good about themselves don’t do things that endanger their bodies…traumatized people feel agitated, restless, tight in the chest. You hate the way you feel, you take drugs in order to stabilize your body. That is the desperation – the need to regulate ones’ body and mind”.
Maté shares case stories and narratives of his patients on the downtown eastside, where he works as a doctor for the Portland Housing Society. He consistently draws parallels between his patients and himself, and reminds the reader that often our frustrations with the homeless and drug-involved community are actually reflective of our discomforts with ourselves.
He finishes by sharing his experiences with recovery and what has proven useful to him – the advice he provides helped me curb my addictive tendencies with fast food and social media.
The book is a fantastic and enlightening read – I highly recommend it to anyone who has a spare 20$, or a library card. My copy is dog eared, coffee stained, and marked up with pens, pencils, and sticky notes. I’ve read it probably three times or more.