“Unconditional acceptance of each other is one of the greatest challenges we humans face. Few of us have experienced it consistently; the addict has never experienced it—least of all from himself. “ -from In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts by Dr Gabor Maté
While knowing that generosity is not true generosity if there are expectations attached to it, it’s impossible not to attach hope. What I mean here is not so much that I expect something in return for anything I give. I just find my heart filling with an aimless and misguided hope that by offering virtually everything I have, it will somehow finally be the thing that makes everything click into place for someone else. Knowing fully that the problem is in them – it’s their fight, their fire. There is absolutely nothing I can do, or give, that can offer anything but – possibly – a slightly softer place to land when they inevitably come crashing down over and over again – I nevertheless find myself wishing otherwise.
I just finished reading two books that deal in some detail with addiction. Dr Gabor Maté’s In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts and Dr Carl Hart’s High Price were engrossing and relatively quick to read, even if they touch on some of the chemistry, neuroscience and psychology related to addiction. And it happens that my readings of these books coincide with yet another case of someone close to me relapsing – again – along with wrapping up phase one of a project I am working on in this very field.
Despite all the wisdom in the words and the science explaining addiction, it’s still very hard to grasp. Maté writes:
“the bare truth: people jeopardize their lives for the sake of making the moment livable.”
“Addictions always originate in pain, whether felt openly or hidden in the unconscious. They are emotional anesthetics.”
“Not all addictions are rooted in abuse or trauma, but I do believe they can all be traced to painful experience. A hurt is at the center of all addictive behaviors.”
“Boredom, rooted in a fundamental discomfort with the self, is one of the least tolerable mental states.”
“No human being is empty or deficient at the core, but many live as if they were and experience themselves primarily that way. Attempting to obliterate the sense of deficiency and emptiness that is a core state of any addict is like laboring to fill in a canyon with shovelfuls of dust.”
“Addiction, in this sense, is the lazy pilgrim’s path to transcendence.”
“Addiction is primarily about the self, about the unconscious, insecure self that at every moment considers only its own immediate desires—and believes that it must behave that way.”
“In Canada my book has been praised as “humanizing” the hard-core addicted people I work with. I find that a revealing overstatement—how can human beings be “humanized,” and who says that addicts aren’t human to begin with? At best I show the humanity of drug addicts. In our materialist society, with our attachment to ego gratification, few of us escape the lure of addictive behaviors. Only our blindness and self-flattery stand in the way of seeing that the severely addicted are people who have suffered more than the rest of us but who share a profound commonality with the majority of “respectable” citizens.”
Reading all of this, and all the stories and evidence in between, I try to return to this compassion I’m always harping on and sometimes struggling with. And to remember truths, such as:
“To live with an addict of any kind is frustrating, emotionally painful, and often infuriating. Family, friends, and spouse may feel they are dealing with a double personality: one sane and loveable, the other devious and uncaring. They believe the first is real and hope the second will go away. In truth, the second is the shadow side of the first and will no sooner leave than will a shadow abandon the object whose shape it traces on the ground—not unless the light comes from a different angle.”
“Unconditional acceptance of another person doesn’t mean staying with them under all circumstances, no matter what the cost to oneself.”
No, I really do not have to be the glue – or even try to be. Maybe I can only create softer landing places and shine a light from another angle.