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“Addiction is the search for oblivion, for forgetting, for the contortions we go through to not be ourselves for a few hours.” ~ Keith Richards
During his TED Talk on Addiction in 2012, Dr. Gabor Maté uses this quote from Keith Richards’s biography to illustrate the essence of addictive behavior—the desire for temporary relief from our pain and suffering, and the fleeting sense of calmness and control that comes with it.
As an Adult Child of an Alcoholic (ACA), I’ve spent the last few years recovering from the neglect and trauma of my own childhood, unaware of how far addiction can reach beyond the bottle. I’d been unfamiliar with Dr. Maté’s work until a friend suggested I check him out.
Dr. Maté, a distinguished figure in the addiction world, is a Canadian physician and author of the best seller In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts. Specializing in the relationship between childhood trauma and addiction, he’s worked with what he calls middle-class addictions, as well as hard-core drug addicts of inner-city Vancouver. A charismatic speaker, Dr. Maté also gained popularity by speaking openly about his own addictive tendencies.
He believes what happens in the first four years of life has a profound effect on how we’re going to be for the rest of our lives. Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) and unmet emotional needs are highly correlated with addiction and dysfunction. But he also points out that while those early experiences are highly influential, “They’re not written in stone—they can be reversed.”
Dr. Maté’s direct, insightful work distills addiction down to its root causes and can help anyone in recovery for addiction, ACA issues, or dysfunctional childhoods.
Here are 13 of the best quotes I’ve ever read that perfectly explain the relationship between childhood trauma and addiction:
“It is impossible to understand addiction without asking what relief the addict finds, or hopes to find, in the drug or the addictive behaviour.”
“The attempt to escape from pain is what creates more pain.”
“Being cut off from our own natural self-compassion is one of the greatest impairments we can suffer. Along with our ability to feel our own pain go our best hopes for healing, dignity, and love.”
“The difference between passion and addiction is that between a divine spark and a flame that incinerates.”
“Not why the addiction, but why the pain.”
“At the core of every addiction is an emptiness based in abject fear. The addict dreads and abhors the present moment; she bends feverishly only toward the next time, the moment when her brain, infused with her drug of choice, will briefly experience itself as liberated from the burden of the past and the fear of the future—the two elements that make the present intolerable.”
“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 centre of all addictive behaviours. It is present in the gambler, the Internet addict, the compulsive shopper, and the workaholic. The wound may not be as deep and the ache not as excruciating, and it may even be entirely hidden—but it’s there.”
“What seems like a reaction to some present circumstance is, in fact, a reliving of past emotional experience.”
“The greatest damage done by neglect, trauma or emotional loss is not the immediate pain they inflict but the long-term distortions they induce in the way a developing child will continue to interpret the world and her situation in it. All too often these ill-conditioned implicit beliefs become self-fulfilling prophecies in our lives.”
“Unwittingly, we write the story of our future from narratives based on the past. Mindful awareness can bring into consciousness those hidden, past-based perspectives so that they no longer frame our worldview.”
“Vulnerability is our susceptibility to be wounded. This fragility is part of our nature and cannot be escaped. The best the brain can do is to shut down conscious awareness of it when pain becomes so vast or unbearable that it threatens to overwhelm our capacity to function.”
“The automatic repression of painful emotion is a helpless child’s prime defence mechanism and can enable the child to endure trauma that would otherwise be catastrophic. The unfortunate consequence is a wholesale dulling of emotional awareness.”
“What seems nonadaptive and self-harming in the present was, at some point in our lives, an adaptation to help us endure what we then had to go through. If people are addicted to self-soothing behaviours, it’s only because in their formative years they did not receive the soothing they needed.”