[EDIT: Hi. Welcome to my blog -- but why this post? Why is this the one that generates more traffic than any other post around here? Leave a comment, as I'd love to make sure the traffic isn't mostly automated! And frankly, some of my own favourites would be this one, or maybe this one.]
My name is Richard, and I'm an -- no, wait, that's not how to start this. First impressions and all that. Besides, I'm no alcoholic, since I sometimes go for weeks between drinks, rarely get more than a little tipsy, and only read it for the articles.
I spent more than 250 pages being increasingly and searingly annoyed with Gabor Mate, author of this month's book club selection, In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction. There are at least three books smooshed together in the one volume, and while two of them are fascinating and well done, the third one -- at least through the first 250 or so pages -- drove me beyond batty with its pretentiousness, egotism, and arrogance. I want to hear about how addiction works, emotionally as well as neurologically, both in its development and in its persistence. I need to hear about the lives of addicts in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver, which is Canada's most drug-centred neighborhood, poorest neighborhood, most policed neighborhood, and so on; the lives of these people need to be honoured and recognized, rather than rejected. I do NOT want to hear a fairly well-off doctor equate his drive to purchase CD's of classical music with heroin, and his life with the life of a heroin addict suffering from spinal abscesses, multiple infections and HIV, whose children have died of overdoses and whose partner beats her.
If I hadn't finished the book, and I wasn't going to, that's roughly where this review was going to end up. I was appalled, utterly appalled, by Mate's including himself in this book as an addict. Even after finishing the book, I'm left wondering how he'd distinguish between addiction, obsessive-compulsive disorder, obsessions, habits, and passions, so part of his message didn't get through to this fairly careful reader. There's some incredible material here, and two of the threads are well worth your time, but the other one.... Shameful, is how it seemed to me. Flat out shameful.
And yet. And yet.
There came a point where I started seeing myself in this book, in these behaviours he's describing, even in Gabor Mate himself. I mean, I know that some of my habits aren't the healthiest, and even though I'd like to stop them, sometimes I can't, but addicted? Come on. Save the word for those who need it; let it keep its power. But people who know me well have a sense for how wildly I throw myself into activities. If you read this blog, you may have noticed that the great majority of posts go up when a sensible person has gone to bed. The recent conference, well, let's just say I should have empowered my colleagues to act cooperatively in the planning and execution, but that's not something I'm equipped to do. More personally, well, there've been some habits, some mostly harmless and others much less so.
By the end of the book, I could see why Mate was including himself in this book. His addiction process is the same as that of his patients, and we all need to achieve greater humility in how we face the world, and the people we'd like to think of as lesser individuals. There's room for him in In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts, and I wouldn't have seen myself there if he hadn't managed to find room. I still think it comes across somewhat amateurishly in the first two-thirds of the book, and I wouldn't blame a single person for quitting the book in protest at his including himself this way, but I'm glad to have finished the book. It's an open question, though, if I'd recommend it to other readers.
My name is Richard, and I'm....