Adverse Childhood Experiences

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

  1. Drugs are self-treatment for adverse childhood experiences

The question is never why the addiction? The question is why the pain?

BOOK REVIEW: In the Realm of the Hungry Ghosts, Close Encounters with Addiction, by Gabor Mate, MD. The hungry ghost of Buddhist lore has a huge mouth and belly but his tiny throat prevents the ghost from ever being satiated. The hungry ghost is an apt metaphor for the drug addict who can never get enough. The question is never why the addiction, but, why the pain? Why the trauma?

Childhood Trauma

Usually drug addicts have been neglected and oppressed in childhood. People who have suffered multiple adverse childhood experiences are the most likely to succumb to substance addiction later in life. The question is not what is wrong with you, the question is what happened to you. Why the pain? What is the root cause of your posttraumatic stress disorder?

Adverse Childhood Experiences

The answer is to teach the addict new ways to sooth her hungry soul inflamed by the intense torment imposed by adverse childhood experiences. These negative experiences are unconsciously repeated throughout the life of the damaged alcoholic. All their lives they've been ignored, abandoned, and, in turn, self-abandoned ad infinitum. If you want to understand what makes a sweet and innocent little child into an addict, read this book:

Drugs are the self-medication for adverse childhood experiences

Drugs and alcohol offer an emotional anesthetic; as an antidote to a frightful feeling of emptiness; as a tonic against fatigue, boredom, alienation, and a sense of personal inadequacy; as a stress reliever and social lubricant. For some adventurous souls drugs may even open a temporary portal to spiritual transcendence.

Addiction is a flight from distress. The addict is seeking safety. It is impossible to understand addiction without asking what relief the addict finds, or hopes to find, in the drug or the addictive behavior. Addicts are self-medicating conditions like depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress and other types of mental illness. Most hard-core substance abusers came from abusive homes. Some abuse was physical and other abuse was emotional or psychological. Even though a negligent parent may be physically present, she may not be in attunement with her child.

We are all hungry ghosts

A sense of deficient emptiness pervades our entire culture. The skid row heroin addict is more painfully conscious of this void than most people and has limited means of escaping it. The rest of us find other ways of suppressing our fear of emptiness or of distracting ourselves from it. Television, internet, career, family, gambling, sexual acting out, etc. Most of us have the privilege of keeping our perversions private. Mentally ill crack heads living on the streets are forced to publicly showcase the terrible unrest of their hungry souls. At the core of all addictions there lies a spiritual void. Street people muttering to themselves are attempting to escape an agonizing discomfort within their own selves.

2. Addiction has no separate existence

BOOK REVIEW: In the Realm of the Hungry Ghosts, Close Encounters with Addiction, by Gabor Mate, M.D. No external remedy improves our condition without, at the same time, making it worse.

When the brain is diseased, the functions that become pathological are the person's emotional life, thought processes, and behavior. And this creates addictions central dilemma: if recovery is to occur, the brain, the impaired organ of decision making, needs to initiate its own healing process. An altered and dysfunctional brain must decide that it wants to overcome its own dysfunction: to revert to normal for the very first time.

Drugs influence and alter how we act and feel because they resemble the brain's own natural chemicals known as dopamine, serotonin and endorphins (interior morphine).

Addiction has no separate existence

The constellation of behaviors we call addiction is provoked by a complex set of neurological and emotional mechanisms that develop inside a person. These mechanisms have no separate existence and no conscious will of their own. Even if the addict may often experience himself as governed by a powerful controlling force or as suffering from a disease she has no strength to resist. The addiction is caused by the failure to obtain proper emotional nurturing during childhood.

Endorphins regulate our emotional life

Endorphins do exactly what organic plant-based morphine does. They both provide blissful euphoria. Beyond their narcotic properties, endorphins serve other functions essential to the human body. They are important regulators of the autonomic nervous system, the part that is not under our conscious control. They influence mood changes, physical activity, sleep, blood pressure and body temperature. They even help modulate our immune system.

Endorphins are the "molecules of emotion"

Endorphins are the chemical catalysts for our experience of key emotions that make human life possible. Most crucially, they enable the emotional bonding between mother and infant. Given the many thankless tasks required in infant and child care, Nature took care to give us something to enjoy about parenting. Endorphins have been well described as "molecules of emotion."

Endorphins are the opiates of love

Opiates, in other words, are the chemical lynchpins of the emotional apparatus in the brain that is responsible for protecting and nurturing infant life. Thus addiction to opiates like morphine and heroin arises in a brain system that governs the most powerful emotional dynamic in human existence: the attachment instinct: Love.

3. Inadequate parents create inadequate children

BOOK REVIEW: In the Realm of the Hungry Ghosts, Close Encounters with Addiction, by Gabor Mate, M.D. If parents are emotionally unavailable, endorphins won’t be released, and the child will be left to his own inadequate coping mechanisms. For example, rocking or thumb-sucking as ways of self-soothing or tuning out to escape emotional distress. Children who have not received the attentive presence of the parent are at greater risk for seeking chemical satisfaction from external opiate sources later in life.

How will your child receive her endorphins?

When endorphins lock onto opiate receptors, they trigger the chemistry of love and connection, helping us to be the social creatures we are. The opioid attachment/reward system plays a key role in all substance addictions and also in behavioral addictions. How will your child receive her endorphins? Will they be produced naturally by her brain as a direct result of parental love and attunement? Or will she be forced to seek the plant-based opioid of heroin or a synthetic opioid of meth or fentanyl? Her need for endorphins is as insatiable as is her need for the dopamine she gets from cocaine. Drug addicts are created by improper mothering that has inhibited a child’s natural dopamine development. If a child’s brain cannot internally manufacture dopamine then that kid will go looking for dope on the street.

All abuseable substances raise dopamine in the brain

The life-foundational opioid love/pleasure/pain relief apparatus provides the entry point for narcotic substances into our brains. The less effective our own internal chemical happiness system is, the more driven we are to seek joy or relief through drug-taking or through other compulsions we perceive as rewarding. All abuseable substances raise dopamine in the brain. Stimulants like cocaine most dramatically.

Will your child score her dopamine naturally or pharmaceutically?

Where will the clean and sober recovering drug addict receive his endorphin rush? The best way is internally through meditation and contemplation. Being in nature is also a very effective serotonin holiday. Attending 12 Step meetings has also been known to provide a nice dopamine fix.


When our emotional brain is properly developed it is an unerring and reliable guide to life. A healthy brain and limbic system facilitates self-protection and makes love and compassion possible. Addiction is one of the chief dysfunctions of a damaged emotional life.

4. Adverse Childhood Experiences Will Create Adversarial Children.

BOOK REVIEW NUMBER TWO: In the Realm of the Hungry Ghosts, Close Encounters with Addiction, by Gabor Mate, M.D. Adverse Childhood Experiences greatly increase the risk of the early initiation into drinking beer and smoking marijuana.

Our caretakers create our adult stress regulation apparatus

“A child’s capacity to handle psychological and physiological stress as an adult, is dependent on the relationship with his parents. Infants have no ability to regulate their own stress apparatus, and that’s why they will stress themselves to death if they are never picked up. We acquire that capacity gradually as we mature–or we don’t, depending on our childhood relationships with our caregivers. A responsive, predictable nurturing adult plays a key role in the development of our healthy stress-response neurobiology.

Maternal contact alters the neurobiology of the infant. Children who suffer disruptions in their attachment relationships will not have the same biochemical milieu in their brains as will their well-attached and well-nurtured peers.

Extreme circumstances breed extremist brains

One characteristic of personality disorder, a condition with which substance abusers are very commonly diagnosed, is a kind of flip-flopping between idealization of another person and intense dislike, even hatred. There is no middle ground, where both the positive and the negative qualities of the other are acknowledged and accepted. The afflicted individual fluctuates between idealized and degraded perceptions of himself, other people and the world. The faulty brain dynamics are the result of a miserable childhood. Extreme circumstances breed extremist brains.

At a conference in 1992 at the U.S. National Institutes of Health, researchers defined stress “as a state of disharmony or threatened homeostasis.” According to such a definition, a stressor “is a threat, real or perceived, that tends to disturb homeostasis.” What do all stressors have in common? Ultimately they represent the absence of something that the organism perceives as necessary for survival–or its threatened loss. The threat can be real or perceived. The threatened loss of a food supply is a major stressor. So is the threatened loss of love–for human beings. “It may be said without hesitation that for man the most important stressors are emotional.

5. Dope is the solution to dopamine deprived childhoods

If we receive proper maternal nurturing as infants, our brains develop normal dopamine receptors. When we are unconditionally loved & engage in eye contact and intimacy with our caretakers, we get high from our own endorphins. (Internal morphine). We learn to experience social engagement and personal intimacy as pleasurable and endorphin rich. If our parents are not attuned to us we can wither away from emotional neglect and are sometimes left with a shortage of dopamine receptors for the remainder of our lives. We learn to experience social engagement as painful and are incapable of emotional intimacy. We are traumatized by our adverse childhood experiences.

Internal or External Dope?

Some of us find a solution by using external dope to flood our limited supply of dopamine receptors and allow us to feel pleasure. We smoke, shoot, or snort it so that we can relieve our childhood trauma. When I was young I found a cure for my emotionally deprived childhood by self-administering the plant-based medicine known as alcohol. Sugar is a good example of a quick fix for endorphins and also temporarily raises levels of the mood chemical serotonin. However, there are healthier ways of flooding the brain with dope. How will you get your fix today?

How will you self-regulate your emotional state today?

Because self-regulation and self-mastery are developmental achievements, we reach them only if the conditions for development are right. Some people never attain it. Even at the advanced age of sixty-five years I often find myself dependent on some external support to sooth my anxiety. If I experience too much undirected internal energy I look to coffee to lift my mood. I am an old man perpetually rushing towards that next accomplishment or trophy. Now I am on a mission to bring trauma consciousness to the world of recovery. I could be engaging my rather advanced yoga practice but I just have to write this blog before breakfast and my Al-Anon meeting.

Emotional Maturity

The drug addict is a person who has not emotionally matured. As I re-enter the post-Covid world my intention is to promote maturity in myself and others whose early environment sabotaged healthy emotional growth. Psychological maturation is the development of a sense of self as separate from inner experience. Young children do not make this differentiation and we perceive this as immaturity.


“Differentiation is defined as the ability to be in emotional contact with others yet still autonomous in one’s emotional functioning. It’s the capacity to hold on to ourselves while interacting with others. The poorly differentiated person is easily overwhelmed by his emotions; he absorbs anxiety from others and generates considerable anxiety within himself (which he then radiates out to others.)” – In the Realm of the Hungry Ghosts, Close Encounters with Addiction, by Gabor Mate, M.D.

6. Properly nurtured children do not need to self-sooth themselves

Drug Addicts, Behavior Addicts, Bloggers

BOOK REVIEW: In the Realm of the Hungry Ghosts, Close Encounters with Addiction, by Gabor Mate, M.D. Drug addicts have a limited stock of substances to choose from. A limited repertoire. Drug addicts have fewer escape routes than those available to behavioral addicts. How is the choice made? Why am I addicted to self-healing and blogging while other people are addicted to sex or sports?

Emotional Connection Addiction

Maybe in infancy you were not cuddled but you were spoken to and taught to read at an early age. Your communication system became an important conduit of emotional connection with the world. There is an emptiness that lies at the heart of addiction and some people can fill the hole with words.

Properly nurtured children do not need to sooth themselves

People who cannot find or receive love need to find substitutes. That’s where addiction comes in. Addiction is the lazy pilgrim’s path to transcendence. Children whose emotionally nurturing relationships with adults give them a strong sense of themselves do not need to soothe themselves by passively taking in food, entertainment or drugs. The drug and obesity epidemics demonstrate a psychological and spiritual emptiness at the core of consumer society.

All addiction is dopamine addiction

The so-called nymphomaniac or female sex addict, is not addicted to sex at all. She is addicted to the dopamine rewards that flow from the feeling of being desired and desirable. The addict is always seeking the dopamine hit of new experiences.

Compulsive sexual promiscuity, like all addictions, serves to help the addict avoid experiencing unpleasant emotions. It takes a lot of discipline and courage to work through a negative thought and negative emotions. Replacing a negative emotion with a positive one is the core of addictive behavior


Addictions can never truly replace the life needs they temporarily displace. The false needs they serve, no matter how often they are gratified, cannot leave us fulfilled. The brain can never feel that it has had enough, that it can relax and get on with other essential business. It’s as if after a full meal you were left starving and had to immediately turn your efforts to procuring food again. In a person with addictive behaviors, the orbitofrontal cortex and its associated neurological systems have been tricked from childhood onward into valuing false wants above real needs. Hence, the desperation of the behavioral addict. The false urgency is to have that want answered immediately, as if it really were an essential requirement. The hungry ghost is never satisfied.

7. Attunement is the conduit by which a preverbal child can realize that she is loved.

BOOK REVIEW: In the Realm of the Hungry Ghosts, Close Encounters with Addiction, by Gabor Mate, M.D.: According to Dr. Mate, “Attunement is a subtle process. It is deeply instinctive and is easily subverted when the parent is stressed, depressed, or distracted. A parent can be fully attached to the infant, and in love, but not attuned. The infant of distressed parents experience severe psychological stress not because they are not loved, but because their parents are not attuned with them. Attunement is likely to be lacking if parents missed out on it in their own childhoods.”

My parents were never in tune with themselves. As a result, they were not really able to attune to each other or their children. From early infancy, it appears that our ability to regulate emotional states depends upon the experience of feeling that a significant person in our life is simultaneously experiencing a similar state of mind. If we are not attuned to our parents then it is difficult for us to attune to others as adults. I was a problem child who became a troubled teen. Then I became an immature adult and angry middle-aged man. Finally when I became a messed-up senior citizen, I found my way out.


My own parents were very inconsistent in their ability to be present for their children. They did not model mature emotional self-regulation. An individual with good self-regulation will not experience rapidly shifting extremes of emotional ups and down. Rather, she will be stable in the face of life’s challenges, difficulties, disappointments, and satisfactions. He does not depend on other people’s responses or external activities or substances in order to feel okay. An individual with poor self-regulation is more likely to look outside herself for emotional soothing, which is why the lack of attunement in infancy increases addiction risk.

My mother exhibited inconsistent and erratic, sometimes dismissive child rearing behavior. As a result my siblings and I grew up to be anxious, less social, and highly reactive as adults. These traits are known to increase the risk of addiction. My siblings and I are all addicts mostly due to negligent child rearing by my parents.

I was so out of tune, I didn’t realize how out of tune I was

Parents who did not have attuned caring as small children may not notice their difficulty attuning to their own infants. People stressed from an early age may not realize just how stressed they often are. This is exactly what happened in my life. My whole life well meaning recovery professionals would try to tell me how sick I was. Once an addiction medicine technician at Kaiser said to me over the phone: “Dean, you’re so sick, you don’t even know how sick you are.” But I just couldn’t see it until very recently.. It took eye movement desensitizing and reprogramming to finally snap me out of it.

The overt hostility between my mom and dad damaged me enough. Then they also taught me lessons in repressed anger, passive aggressiveness and self-created unhappiness. According to Step Eight of the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous: “Children sometimes receive violent emotional twists below the level of consciousness” and become alcoholics like me. Children swim in their parents’ unconscious like fish swim in the sea.

The greater the void within, the more urgent the drive to be noticed and to be “important”

The bigger the hole, the more compulsive the need for status. In contrast, genuine self-esteem needs nothing from the outside. It does not say, “I’m worthwhile because I’ve done this, that, or the other.” It says. “I’m worthwhile whether or not I’ve done this that, or that or the other. I don’t need to be right or to wield power, to amass wealth or achievements. I am enough. I AM.


Self-esteem is not what the individual consciously things about himself. It is the quality of self-respect manifested in his emotional life and behaviors.

8. 12 Step meetings create a new cultural paradigm to update old ones

Drug addictions are related to natural reward process

BOOK REVIEW: In the Realm of the Hungry Ghosts, Close Encounters with Addiction, by Gabor Mate, M.D.: Dr. Mate conducted a personal interview with the seminal researcher Dr. Jaak Panksepp, who is quoted at length: “Drug addictions wouldn’t occur unless they were related to natural reward process of some kind.

Nontraditional Rewards

Habits and the brain circuits that maintain them form around substances and behaviors that promise instant if only temporary satisfaction. Those habit structures are so incredibly robust, and once they form in the nervous system, they will guide behavior without free choice. Addicts become addicts because they develop these habit structures which become totally focused on nontraditional rewards, drug rewards. They get hooked and they can’t break out of that psychological imprisonment.”

Made Not Born

Thus addicts are not born but made. In the words of Nietzsche, the addict lies his way out of reality. There is no powerful “free won’t” operating in the brains of those suffering from drug addictions. The addicts life expresses the history of the multigenerational family system.

Dislocation Causes Drug Addiction

According to Bruce Alexander, professor emeritus of psychology at Simon Fraser University, “The precursor to addiction is dislocation. Dislocation means the loss of psychological, social, and economic integration into family and culture–a sense of exclusion, isolation, and powerlessness. Only chronically and severely dislocated people are vulnerable to addiction.”

Drug addiction was not an epidemic until after 1800

The historical correlation between severe dislocation and addiction is strong. Although alcohol consumption and drunkenness on festive occasions was widespread in Europe during the Middle Ages, and although a few people became “inebriates” or “drunkards,” mass alcoholism was not a problem. However, alcoholism gradually spread with the beginnings of free markets after 1500, and eventually became a raging epidemic with the dominance of the free market society after 1800. -Bruce Alexanderrr, “The Roots of Addiction in Free Market Society,” Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, Toronto, April 2001, 12;


With the rise of industrial societies came dislocation caused by the destruction of traditional relationships, extended family, clan, tribe and village.

New Tradition

One of the reasons for the success rate of 12 Step programs and Alcoholics Anonymous is that a new tribe is created. Alano clubhouses create a new village square. The Alcoholic is no longer lonely and isolated. A.A. creates a new tradition of life.

9. Pure Grace bestowed recovery from alcoholism upon my maternal grandfather

Pure grace allows some people to escape alcoholism

BOOK REVIEW: In the Realm of the Hungry Ghosts, Close Encounters with Addiction, by Gabor Mate, M.D.: At page 307, Dr. Mate says that: “It is useful to study and consider what combination of self-knowledge, strength, supportive environment, good fortune, and pure grace allows some people to escape the death grip of hard-core addiction.

In addition to the visible factors, there are also many subtle, invisible ones that may positively influence our psychic strength and our capacity for choice. Integral components may be,a kind word spoken long ago, a fortuitous circumstance, a new relationship. Perhaps we were enlightened by a flash of sunlight. Maybe our hearts were healed by a memory of love. What is often required is a sudden opening to [spiritual experience] rather than faith. Sometimes there is nothing to believe, only God’s love to experience.

Celebrate Recovery

People who have overcome severe addictions deserve to be celebrated, and they have much to teach, but their example cannot be used to condemn others who have not been able to follow in their footsteps.


It is equally unjust to hold a traumatized and neurologically impaired adult to the same standard as one not so afflicted, says brain researcher Martin Teicher.

What hidden life-enhancing experiences has one person enjoyed that another has been denied?

Freedom of choice, understood from the perspective of brain development, is not a universal or fixed attribute but a statistical probability. In other words, a given set of life experiences, a human being will have either a lessor or a greater probability of having freedom in the realm of the psyche. A warmly nurtured child is much ore likely to develop emotional freedom than is an abused and neglected child. “The brain forces us to become reflections of our personal histories,” write two U.S. research psychiatrists. “Simply stated, children reflect the world in which they are raised.” As we have seen, the in utero and early childhood experiences of hard-core addicts will likely diminish the possibly of freedom. The probability of these children attaining even a basic level of psychic freedom from automatic mechanisms and drives is correspondingly less–not completely absent but less.

Better late than never

The solution is to promote healthy brain development later in life when the conditions for it have been lacking from earliest childhood onward.


How much time elapses between impulse and action? In that sliver of time we see ourselves about to perform the act, and, if necessary, we can stand between ourselves and the behavior in question. This is called preattentive analysis. Preattentive analysis give us the ability to develop our “free won’t.””

10. Is redemption complete abstinence from all drugs?

BOOK REVIEW: In the Realm of the Hungry Ghosts, Close Encounters with Addiction, by Gabor Mate, M.D.: At page 313, Dr. Mate opines that he comes from the assumption that: “redemption can be something other than an addict’s complete abstinence from addictive chemicals, a goal that’s not always realistic.” In other words, if the addict successfully reaches emotional enlightenment, can he still use drugs successfully? Maybe addictive drugs like caffeine can be used successfully by the addict. However, I would say that in the case of alcohol, definitely not. This alcoholic can never drink again, even after my miraculous emotional healing through EMDR therapy.

Healing comes from thinking about your emotions

Dr. Mate’s theory presented through out his brilliant book is that there can be no successful treatment of the addict without looking at the emotional states, brain functioning and other “inner causes” of drug addiction.

His associate Dr. Panksepp states in an interview that, “We need to consider what support addicts would need to overcome the powerful drives imprinted by their painful experiences. The only way they can escape their addictions is if their pain is alleviated. Addicts need their emotions to be brought back toward healthy balance. Traumatized individuals need to have a chance to think about their extreme emotional reactions. Free choice only comes from thinking; it doesn’t come from emotions. It emerges from the capacity to think about your emotions“.

Free Won’t Comes From Awareness

Likewise, free won’t does not come from an emotional state either. My own personal journey of redemption has been greatly enhanced by developing this ability to think rationally about my extreme emotions. Prior to this moment in my life, I was emotionally unaware. Now I have faced my personal demons. I have developed emotional intelligence.

Now I am able to observe myself having thoughts about observing myself. It is possible for me to see myself objectively. I can truly see myself as others see me and it is startling. The reason that I as an alcoholic need God in my life is to that when I finally let God show me what I am like, I will be able to work with it. I need God so that when I finally see what I am really like, I will be able to handle it. I have seen the enemy and it is me. Now I no longer need to feed my hungry ghosts.

Stress is a disability

Thanks to professionals like Dr. Mate, I know why I feel the way that I do. I feel the stress. My whole life I have been in a constant state of stress, insecurity and anxiety. One of the major theories Dr. Mate develops is that treatment must take stress into account. “We must cease to impose debilitating stress on the addicts already burdened existence. The Journal of the American Medical Association showed that a history of childhood abuse increases physiological stress reactivity for a lifetime. This reactivity is further enhanced when additional trauma is experienced in adulthood. The addict is retraumatized over and over again by ostracism, harassment, poverty and the spread of emotional disease.”


Dr. Bruce Perry has stated that, “If we create environments that are safe and predictable and relationally enriched, then all of the other factors involved in substance abuse and dependence will be so much easier to dissolve away. Our challenge is to figure out how to create these environments.” I would offer that those environments are already here in the form of A.A. meetings. These healing A.A. environments even exist as 12 Step Zoom meetings in the age of COVID-19.

The alternative community of Alcoholics Anonymous is integral to my own redemption. One of the main reasons I choose to reside in West Los Angeles is because of the quality of 12 Step meetings here. L.A. A.A. is so good that the Primetime Zoom meetings are packed with people from outside the greater Los Angeles area. I am really excited just thinking about what it will be like in another year or so when the pandemic is finally over and the alternative community of live and in-person meetings open back up again.

11. In our culture the suppression of emotion is a major source of stress

Most stressors are emotional

BOOK REVIEW: In the Realm of the Hungry Ghosts, Close Encounters with Addiction, by Gabor Mate, M.D.: At pages 398 and 399, Dr. Mate writes that "For human beings most stressors are emotional ones. Anyone wanting to gain mastery over their addiction process must be ready for self-examination. Through counseling or some other means, sick people must look honestly and clearly at the emotional stressors that trigger their addictive behaviors. Whether these stressors arise at work, in their marriage, or in some other aspect of their lives.

In our culture, the suppression of emotion is a major source of stress

Because suppression of emotion is a major source of stress, suppression of emotion is also a major source of addictions. Science tells us that not even in rodents can the link between emotions and mental organization be ignored. In her Berkley laboratory Dr. Marian Diamond found improvements in the problem-solving abilities of rats. When treated with tender, loving care, this corresponded with the growth of richer connections in their cortex. Dr. Diamond has written that, "Thus, it is important to stimulate the portion of the brain that initiates emotional expression. Satisfying [one's] emotional needs is essential at any age."

Photo credit: Jayson Hinrichsen/Unsplash

Where do we keep ourselves hobbled and stressed?

The release of addiction's hold requires awareness. Awareness of where we keep ourselves hobbled and stressed. Where we ignore our emotions, restrict our expression of who we are, frustrate our innate human drive for creative and meaningful activity causes emotional stress. Where do we deny our needs for connection and intimacy?

The mind assigns the meaning

As the famed stress researcher Dr. Bruce McEwen has pointed out, a key determining factor triggering the stress response is the way a person perceives a situation. We ourselves give events their meaning. Our mind assigns the meaning depending on our personal histories, temperament, physical condition, and state of mind at the moment we experience them. Thus, the degree to which we're stressed may depend less on external circumstances than on how well we are able to take care of ourselves physically and emotionally."


Reading, studying and applying Dr. Mate's book to my life has greatly assisted in the healing of my trauma. Thanks to a recent article in the New York Times, I now know that I also have the intergenerational trauma inherited from my family. The past can never be healed but our awareness of the past can be healed. Only our minds can be healed by trauma awareness. Trauma consciousness is now sometimes discussed in A.A. meetings. Now I know why I walk around babbling like a psycho. I have been acting out my unconscious emotions. Dr. Mate stresses through out his book that awareness is key. It all comes down to mindfulness. Mindfulness matters.

12. Self-mastery is self-induced.

BOOK REVIEW: In the Realm of the Hungry Ghosts, Close Encounters with Addiction, by Gabor Mate, M.D.: Beginning at page 400, Dr. Mate writes that “Until a person is willing to take on the task of self-mastery, no one else will induce him to do so. “There are no techniques that will motivate people or make them autonomous,” psychologist Edward Deci has written. “Motivation must come from within, not from techniques. It comes from their deciding they are to take responsibility for managing themselves.””

A yogi must initiate himself

When I took Kundalini yoga teacher training I learned that a yogi must initiate himself. So I initiated myself as a yogi and dropped out of Kundalini yoga teacher training because it was too expensive and too steeped in the Sikh religion. I felt foolish paying thousands of dollars to learn a religion that I had no interest in. I need another religion like I need another hole in my head. From now on, if I need religion or yoga, I will practice it on my own for free. No more expensive classes for me. When I need a fresh infusion of God’s perfection I will humbly open my heart and soul to pure grace.

Purity and impurity belong to oneself. No one else can purify another. -Buddha

Unto the pure all things are pure: but unto them that are defiled and unbelieving is nothing pure; but even their mind and conscience is defiled. –Titus 1:15 KJV

Resentment is soul suicide

I want to awaken you to your genuine possibilities, but am I really on the path to fulfilling my own? I am an old man learning to integrate and accept the hurt that my parents could not love me unselfishly. My infantile ego complains about the way I needed to be loved. As a result, I have never really learned to accept myself. It is now time for me to love, forgive, and rise above all of that. Resentment is soul suicide. Often my childish behaviors and immature emotional patterns visually invites people around me to take on the role of stern parent.


Dr. Mate points out that I lack differentiation. I do not have the capacity to maintain emotional separateness from others. I absorb and take personally the emotional states of other people. My diminished capacity for self-regulation leaves me easily overwhelmed by my automatic emotional mechanisms. I blurt out whatever comes to my mind when I could be making friends. I am too prone to experience myself as demeaned and abandoned by authority figures and caregivers. I react instinctively to the least tension or condescension from caregivers. After reading his book, I feel like I have been a patient of Dr. Mate. The good doctor has put me back on the track to self-mastery and redemption.

13. The higher power concept need not be concerned with a deity.

BOOK REVIEW: In the Realm of the Hungry Ghosts, Close Encounters with Addiction, by Gabor Mate, M.D.: This post is a verbatim condensation of Chapter 34 – Addiction and the Spiritual Quest. Dr. Mate believes that “For many people, the higher power concept need not be concerned with a deity or anything expressly spiritual. It simply means rising above their self-regarding ego and committing to serve something greater than their own immediate desires.

Higher Empathy

As you practice the spiritual principles of the 12 Steps and you serve people and help the community, your heart softens. That’s the greatest gift, a soft heart. According to a recent study, a key contributor to humane behavior is the posterior superior temporal cortex, a region at the back of the brain whose function includes an awareness of other peoples emotional states. It seems that we are wired to be in tune with one another’s needs, which is one of the roots of empathy. [Empathy has always been difficult for me and therefore the practice of empathy is one of my connections to higher power]

All humans are seeking a higher power

All of us human beings, whether we know it or not, are seeking our own divine nature. Divine in this context does not mean anything supernatural or necessarily religious, only the truth of our oneness with all that is, an ineffable sense of connectedness to other people and other beings and to each and every shard of matter or spark of energy in the entire universe. When we cease to remember that loving connection and lose touch with our deep yearning for it, we suffer. This is what Jesus meant by poverty. It’s also what the contemporary spiritual teacher Eckart Tolle sees as the fundamental source of human anxiety:

Brief Guide to Enlightenment:

Basically, all emotions are modifications of one primordial, undifferentiated emotion that has its origin in the loss of awareness of who you are beyond name and form. Because of its undifferentiated nature, it is hard to find a name that precisely describes this emotion. “Fear” comes close, but apart from a continuous sense of threat, it also includes a deep sense of abandonment and incompleteness. It may be best to use a term that is as undifferentiated as that basic emotion and simply call it “pain.”The Power of Now, A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment, Eckhart Tolle, 1997.


Misplaced attachment to what cannot satiate the soul is not an error exclusive to addicts but is the common condition of mankind. It is this ubiquitous mind-state that leads to suffering and calls prophets, spiritual masters, and great teachers into our midst. Our designated “addicts” march at the head of a long procession from which few of us ever step out of line.”

14. Super-ego fears its own annihilation in bowing to higher power.

BOOK REVIEW: In the Realm of the Hungry Ghosts, Close Encounters with Addiction, by Gabor Mate, M.D.: When people refer to the ego, oftentimes they really mean the super-ego. Even Dr. Mate uses ego the same way Freud used super-ego. Dr. Mate writes that, “Resistance to the higher power concept is really the ego’s resistance to conscience and to spiritual awareness, to the part of us that recognizes truth and wants to honor it. The grasping ego fears its own annihilation in bowing to something greater, whether to “God” or to the needs of others or even to one’s own higher needs.”

Higher Needs

Thanks to Dr. Mate and my EMDR therapist I have recognized that I carry shame that prevents me from attaining me from fully accepting myself. For two years now my therapist and I have been working on reprograming my life of adversity and trauma. My healing from posttraumatic stress disorder has been interpreted by my emotions as spiritual in it’s releasing me from my pain.

Loss of Essence Can be Regained

Dr. Mate goes on to write that, “Trauma in the strict sense is not required for a young human being to suffer the loss of essence, the sense of oneness with all that is. Infants come into the world fully present and alive to every possibility, but they soon begin to shut down parts of themselves that their environment is unable to recognize or accept with love. As a consequence of that defensive shutdown, says the psychologist and spiritual teacher A.H. Almaas, one or more essential qualities such as love, joy, strength, courage, or confidence may be suppressed. In its place, we experience a hole, a sense of empty deficiency. “People don’t know the sense of deficiency, is a symptom of a loss of something deeper, the loss of essence, which can be regained. They think the hole, the deficiency, is how they really are at the deepest level and that there is nothing beyond it. They think something is wrong with them, something is basically wrong.” Such thoughts are not necessarily conscious but may take the form of unconscious beliefs.

Personality and Talking are Defense Mechanisms

In either case, we develop behavior patterns and emotional coping mechanisms to cover up the emptiness, mistakenly believing that the resulting traits represent our true “personality.” Indeed, what we call the personality is often a jumble of genuine traits and adopted coping styles that do not reflect our true self at all but the loss of it.” –In the Realm of the Hungry Ghosts, Close Encounters with Addiction, by Gabor Mate, M.D.. pp. 416-419.


In Primetime Alcoholics Anonymous it is sometimes said that everything is a Second Step problem. In other words, have I really come to believe that a power greater than myself can restore me to sanity? It feels like for me that this is a gradual process. To update the brilliant diagram by Chuck C. in his memoir, A New Pair of Glasses, “The only thing separating God from man is man’s [super] ego.” Here I am on the cusp of 18 years of sobriety praying and meditating for acceptance of my authentic divine self vs. my negative super-ego.

Dr. Mate says at page 421, “We may not be responsible for the world that created our minds, but we can take responsibility for the mind with which we create our world. Our most painful emotions point to our greatest possibilities, to where our authentic nature is hidden. People whom we judge are mirrors. People who judge us call forth our courage to respect our own truth. Compassion for ourselves supports our compassion for others. Healing occurs in a sacred space located within us all: ‘When you know yourselves, then you will be known.'”