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Renowned Doctor Gabor Mate on Psychedelics and Unlocking the Unconscious, From Cancer to Addiction

Drug addiction expert speaks on the mind-body connection and the medical and emotional potentials of psychedelics.

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Now, what this man believed, what he actually believed—and notice that there are core beliefs underneath all of this. The first one believes that she’s responsible for her husband’s feelings more than she is for herself. The second guy believes that he is nothing other than his responsibilities and duties and role in the world. There’s no true self there he can actually be with and be touched with. Naomi, the woman, believes, "If I am angry, I am a bad person.” And this man believes that he’s responsible for how other people feel and that he must never disappoint anybody.

Now, these beliefs don’t come out of nowhere. They’re actually coping mechanisms in a certain parenting environment. If the parents can’t handle your anger, if they can’t handle your emotions, if they’re too needy to trouble themselves then the child starts taking responsibility for the parent as a way of maintaining the relationship. In other words, the psychological coping mechanisms of the child then become part of his or her personality, and these same patterns that helped to cope with the original stress now become the major contributors to his or her illness and possibly death. What we’re talking about here are core beliefs that reflect the child’s early experience, that become ingrained into the brain and body as automatic and compulsive responses to the world. That’s my take on chronic illness.

And you begin to see now how some experiences could enlighten you that you are not those patterns, and if it can give you a sense that these patterns are simply adaptations, and that there’s a true self underneath that, and if they can put you in touch with the experiences that led you to adopt these patterns, then perhaps you can be liberated; then, perhaps you can let go; then, perhaps you can find the true self that doesn’t have to behave in those ways anymore. That’s where the liberation is. So, that’s with chronic illness.

Addiction

Now addiction. For 12 years I worked in what’s known as North America’s most concentrated area of drug use, the downtown eastside of Vancouver, where in a few square block radius thousands of people are ingesting, inhaling, or injecting all manner of substances.

And the question again is why do people do that? Why do people do such terrible thing to themselves to the point of risking their health? They lose everything, they lose their wealth, their relationships, their families, their homes, their teeth, their dignity—and they still continue with it.

The North American answer to that question is twofold. The legal answer, the socially sanctioned answer, is that these people are making a choice, they’re making a bad choice, destructive to themselves and harmful to others and the way to deter that choice is to deter them by means of draconian punishments. 

The so-called war on drugs.  But there is no war on drugs because you can’t war on inanimate objects. A war on drug addicts is what there is. And as a result of such retrograde social beliefs and governmental practices, the United States which contains 5 percent of the world’s population contains 25 percent of the world’s jail population, which is to say that every fourth person in the world that is in jail is a citizen of the land of the free. And all because of the belief that we’re talking about a choice here.

The other dominant belief, which is not identical—and you’d think would at least obliterate the first belief but it doesn't—and it’s the one held by most medical doctors, is that addictions represent illness of the brain and particularly on a genetic basis.