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In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts

Kunvuth MonyKanchna / Khmer Times No Comments Share:

Childhood is an essential stage of life. It’s not just the beginning of life, but it forms life itself. It determines the kind of person one grows up to be. No, it doesn’t fully and complete dictate the kind of future one will have. But it will, in so many big ways, affect who you will become. Therefore, a negative childhood can cause severe trauma that may scar a person for the rest of his life.

In order to cope with sufferings, people sometimes find themselves involved in destructive lifestyles, developing addictive tendency to illegal substances. And while others may find other ways to channel their frustrations and emotional stress, there are people who are more prone to addiction. It is stated in “In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts” that childhood trauma plays a big role in addictive behaviours of humans.

Having treated several drug addicts, Dr Gabor Maté, author of the book, has grown to be remarkably compassionate towards his patients. He doesn’t judge. He understands that addictive tendencies do not cultivate for no apparent reasons. And he strongly believes that treating addicts as misfits of society only creates more mayhem for the society itself.

Dr Maté, through the book, encourages people to be more compassionate and treat drug addicts as normal human beings who need more attention and affection. These people need to be understood – their anger, their longing, their rebellion. But the author-doctor warns that treating addiction requires rather special precautions or else the tendencies may not only persevere, but also grow even more advanced.

We all understand what addiction is. But let me paint a clearer picture: It’s like for the first time in your life, you found something that makes life worth living. But then people tell you to stop because it’s bad. You have no other ways to live the life you want except for drugs, so you cling into it like a life raft. It’s not really like you want to stick to it. If life presents you with another better, healthier option, you would gladly take the other. But life is tricky, you know that too well. You don’t always get to have what you so desire. That’s the truth.

The book illustrates the voice of the “hungry ghosts” – the addicts. Sources mentioned in the story are not fictitious. Some of them even agreed to disclose their identities to share their stories.

Dr Maté also shares that drug addiction may also root from circumstances and environment. In the case of Vietnam War and an experiment on “Rat Park”, veterans, witnesses and the isolated rates have remarkably higher chances to be addicted because of their traumatic experiences. Once the effects of drugs and alcohol enter their system, they get ‘programmed’ to cling into it, as if happiness and relief depend solely on these addictive things.

Personally, this self-help book opened my eyes to the world of addiction, and made me realise that I can share my understanding and compassion to these people, instead of giving them unfair judgments.

Author: Gabor Maté, MD

Publication: 2008

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