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December 8, 2022 57 mins

“Our culture’s skewed idea of normality,” says the well known physician and author, Dr. Gabor Maté, “is the single biggest impediment to fostering a healthier world, even keeping us from acting on what we already know.” Some years ago, his book, In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts, touched and helped a tremendous number of people looking for insight into their addictive behaviors with his focus on traumas suffered at a young age. Addiction, he stressed, is one result of inadequate and counter-productive efforts to treat one’s pain. In his new book, The Myth of Normal, Gabor makes the case for viewing trauma as the common template underlying most physical and mental maladies. We discussed Gabor’s perspectives and personal evolution, including his growing appreciation for the value of psychedelics in identifying and healing trauma.

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Speaker 1 (00:00):
Hi, I'm Ethan Nadelman, and this is Psychoactive, a production
of I Heart Radio and Protozoa Pictures. Psychoactive is the
show where we talk about all things drugs. But any
views expressed here do not represent those of I Heart Media,
Protozoa Pictures, or their executives and employees. Indeed, heed, as

an inveterate contrarian, I can tell you they may not
even represent my own and nothing contained in this show
should be used his medical advice or encouragement to use
any type of drugs. Hello, Psychoactive listeners, Well, my guest

today is somebody I'm sure many of you have heard
about because of his best selling books and his insightful
views about dealing with addiction and is being really traveling
all around the world talking about this. His name is
gobb Or Matele'tha Hungarian Canadian physician and therapist. He was

born in Nazi occupied Budapest in nineteen forty four, emigrated
to Canada in nineteen fifty six and grew up and
it's been much of his life in Vancouver and he's
been a practicing physician. He worked for like a dozen
years with Really Down and Our Drug Users in the
downtown East side of Vancouver. But Gabbar and I first

crossed pass about fourteen years or so ago when his
book came out called In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts,
Close Encounters with Addiction, and that book really put gabb
Or on the map in my world, not just drug policy,
but the broader world of how we deal with psychoactive

drugs and addiction. And out of that grew he's really
becoming a kind of globe trotting speaker and therapist. Uh
and then at some point getting involved also in ayahuasca.
I mean, it's just had his fascinating life and most cerently,
a few months ago he came out with a new
book called The Myth of Normal Trauma, Illness and Healing

in a Toxic Culture. So Gabar, you know, it's good
to see you again. Thanks so much for joining me
and my listeners on Psychoactive. It's great to re connect
with you with anything. That's been a lot of years.
I know. I mean, I was thinking back to Uh,
I guess it was you must have come to New
York in two thousand eight or nine, called me up
when we had lunch together, and I have to tell you,

over the years, I've heard so many people who have
been so shaped and influenced and even you know, in
some respects saved by by your teaching. So I really
want to get into that, and I want to give
you a chance to talk about the new book. But
of course for me and the listeners, you know, the
focus is very much on drugs and addictions. So part
of what we'll be talking about is really the overlap

in the connection between those two. So let me just
start off by asking you. I mean, you had that
book Hungry Ghosts, and now you have the myth of Normal,
which is not just about a action, but really about
a whole range of physiological you know, maladies and such.
And the common link appears to be your focus on trauma.

So just explain that link and also the evolution from
the Hungry Ghost book to the current one. Sure, So,
what I'm actually arguing is, and and it's not just
a matter of my personal insight, but really a lot
of science that demonstrates this is that the common denominator

in most chronic conditions of mind and body is actually trauma.
And this is what through whether or not we're talking
about addictions. The so named mental illnesses from a d
H data depression to psychosystem bipolar conditions, borderline personality. All
these diagnoses they have a common threat of trauma, as

do rumatotritis, multiple scrossism, automan diseases, in general, many malignancies
as well as do addictions. Of course, I've always argued
that addictions are rooted in trauma, and so that's the
common thread is trauma. And the reason the book is
subtitled Traumulence and Healing in the Toxic Culture is because

I argue that the very conditions of life in modern
day globalized, corporate capitalist society actually traumatized people, They hurt people,
they wound people, and that diseases of mind and body
in this environment are not abnormal their normal responses to
what is an abnormal culture. M hm m hm. So

you know, at one point, there's a quote that you
have starting with the chapters by Eric Framm. I mean
you say, the fact that millions of people share the
same vices does not make these vices virtues. The fact
that they share so many errors does not make the
errors to be truth. And the fact that millions of
people share the same forms of mental pathology does not

make these people saying so expand on that. Sure, So
we have this idea that normal equates too healthy and
natural and within a narrow range of of understanding that
is correct. So in medical parlance, we're talking about the

range of circumstances or parameters within machuman life thrives and
is sustainable. So there's a normal range of temperature. If
you fall below or go above that, your life is
at risk. There's a normal range of blood picture that
equates to what is healthy and natural. Below that or
above that, life is threatened. So normal there means healthy

and natural. We make any assumption that that would be
used to in society in general is also healthy and natural.
And what froms citation from a book he wrote in
the nineteen forties called the Same Society and I have
to say it in common, is that what is considered
the norm in this culture is actually pathological. So that

for example, the idea, sort of the motivating idea, the
assumption about human nature that we are aggressive, competitive, individualistic creatures,
that's the norm, that's what sold to us as reality.
In fact, it's a pathology. It creates a whole lot
of illness. Very specifically, it is normal in this culture

um for parents to be told not to pick up
their kids when they're crying. That's the norm. But it's
completely healthy and unnatural and totally foreign to human evolution,
to indigenous cultures, or for that matter, to any of
the mammalian relatives. You know, you tell a mother gorilla
not to pick up their baby when they're distressed. You know.
So a lot of the things that are actually pathological,

and they're shared across the culture, are actually unhealthy and
and and and and unnatural, and they create the disease. Yeah,
I mean, you know, there's one part of me that
listens to this and say, well, I mean, yes, you
look around what's going on, you know, especially with technology now,
and you know, the screen dominating more and more people's lives,

especially young people. Beyond that, and and a whole range
of other things that does in faccine pathological consumerism, materialism,
you know, the crasser elements of dynamic capitalism around the world,
you know, And the other part of me goes, doesn't
that in a way sort of romanticize a past. I mean,
we think about the fact that people's average lifespan has

gotten so much longer. We think about the frequency with
whish people oftentype die all times people died violently, you know,
as oftentimes a much larger numbers in you know, centuries
past and decades past. We think about the pervasive racism
and sexism and and stuff that happened in the past.
So is I mean, didn't those prior societies also have

their own traumatic traumas, even if mothers were better at
nurturing their apies, are not deluded by these directives about
what's the proper way to bring up a kid? Well,
even that's a good question, but it's a question of
what what baseline are we looking at if we're looking
at our revolutionary origins, what you're saying is not the case,

so that human beings have lived in what we cause
civilization only for about twelve thousand years, twelve to fifteen
years at the most. Now our own species, Homo sapiens
we've been on earth for about hundred fifty two hundred
thousand years, and other hominin species, you know, pre modern humans,
but fellow human beings have lived on the earth for

at least half a million year or longer, and evolutionarily speaking,
hominids have been here for millions of years and so
all that time until twelve thousand and fifteen thoud years ago,
we lived in small band hunter gatherer roots. That's how
we evolved. That is what a wonderful researcher, our CNRS
from Not to Day University calls our revolution there in niche. Now,

in that evolutionary's niche, it's not true that we had
more disease. Um, it's not true that we are more violence.
So in those small groups, people basically lived collaboratively, coaterly.
They had to. It's not a question of moral superiority,
it's a question of that sort of took to survive.
And so in those environments, children were picked up, they

weren't put down. Um. Children spent their whole their on
the adults. And this has been studied in terms of
those indigenous cultures that have not been totally destroyed by colonialism.
They tend to be much healthier than we are. Actually, well,
I don't. I mean, I also think about you know,
even pre colonialism, right, I mean, you have a hundred

graduate groups. But they had to fear about animals coming
in and eating their parents in the middle of the
ninth they had to worry about marauding groups. And that's
that I have to say that that's a modern assumption,
that's not what the research shows. Well, but it does
vary from I mean, even if one looks, for example,
some of the history of Native Americans, you know, before
even colonization, or you look at you know what I mean,

you had you know, warring tribes, and you had that
were some others that were sedentary and landed. That the
same was true elsewhere. Well, what you're saying is true.
So it depends on what level of civilization we're at. See,
what I'm saying is that once you get larger groupings
and more civilized quote unquote societies, you're going to get

more and more what you're talking about. It's not a
matter of romanticizing anything, and it's soon not a matter
of returning to ways of life that are no longer
accessible to us. But it is a matter of learning
what we've lost in the process. So that when the
Christians came to North America, they were appalled by the
parenting practices of the natives. You know why, because the

natives didn't beat their kids into the into the Christians,
this was a sin. And yet we know that we
know that beating kids is actually traumatic for kids. And
these people did not hit their children. And so again
it's not a matter of romanticizing a way of life
or or saying that they were perfect. They were not.
But we've lost a lot so in in terms of

our civilization, for all our achievements, we've lost certainty, the
attachment relationships that the Indigenous people would have with their
children and with each other. We've lost a sense of
common communality. Um in. In for this book, I spoke
with an American psychiatrist and physician called Lewis mel Madrona.

And Lewis has written books on book called Coyote Medicine,
and he's a book called Narrative Medicine and the part
of storytelling and healing, And he's from Lakota background partly.
And he says that in a a court edition and somebody
gets ill, they say to the person, in effect, thank you,
your illness is manifesting some dysfunction in our whole culture,

in the whole society, in the whole community. So you're
he is our healing. Now, scientifically that is actually the case,
but Western medicine forgets that we separate the mind from
the body. And we separate individual from the environment, and
yet that localtota edition scientifically is much more accurate. So so,
for example, UM, an American black woman, the more experiences

of racism they experience, the higher their risk for asthma.
So there's something about social stress and racist stress that
actually inflames the lungs the airways of the individual. Which
means is that asthma a disease of an isolated organ
in a body, or is it representing a social malaise not?
The only scientific way of understanding is that the two

can't be separated. So so I'm saying that there's things
of an indigenous wisdom that for a long time, UM,
we're dismissed, but which modern science has actually proven we
have a lot to learn by not being certainly by
not being arrogant about our achievements while ignoring all that

we have lost in terms of human connection. Yeah, I'll
tell you, in reading the Myth of Normal these last
few days, was struck by the amount of evidence that
you marshaled in terms of the impact of what happens
to us while we're in our mother's wombs and in
early childhood, in terms of affecting you know everything from
various forms of mental and emotional health to even physical health.

I mean you, but you mentioned, for example at one
point a sort of semi famous study called the ACE study,
the Adverse Childhood Experienced the study, and then you dropped
references to hundreds of others, including the one you were
mentioning about the impact of racism. But just tell our
listeners something about that a study and why it was significant,
and what sort of research out there. It's emblematic of well,
let me tell you about these studies, and then I

also let me tell you a bit of our horror story.
So they studies. They studies stands for adverse Childhood Experiences,
and these studies have been done originally done in California
and the Kaiser Permanent They Health system. They looked at about,
I think but seventeen thousand adults and they did a
question on their childhoods and they identified what they called

address childhood experiences or a C s. Anybody listening, they
can go to the web and just download their a
C questionnaire. And an a C or an adage childhood
experience is say physical sexual promotional abuse. That's three the
depth of a parent, the parent being addicted, apparently mentally
all a parent being jailed, a rancors divorce valnce in

a family, one parent hitting another. So for each of
these adverage Charldter experiences, the risk of addiction goes up.
And used to work with addictions very much, and so
the risk of addiction goes up exponentially. They don't add up,
they multiply. By the time a male child has had
six of these, his risk of being him an injection
using substance dependent adult is forty greater forty six fold

increase than that of a child. But no such experiences.
So there's a clear link between these traumatic incidents in
childhood and adult addiction, but not just addiction, also mental
health issues, autommune disease and so on. So those are
the a C studies, and they have been published all
over the world. They've been repeated always with the same

results internationally, and they've been published in major medical journals,
psychological journals. That's the a C studies, crucial studies in
showing the relationship between early trauma adversity and adult illness
of mind and body. That's the nutshell version of it. Now,

the horror story is this five years ago, so by
the way, not just the A C studies, but you
mentioned all those studies that I collated literally for writing
this book I've over ten years, are brought together twenty
five different articles, many of them many of them research papers,
scientific publications, medical journal articles about all this stuff. So

there's all this research now that a woman's stresses during pregnancy,
which is transmitted to the fetus through the umbilical cord
and the stress hormones of the mother and the nervous
system reactions to the mother, they have an impact on
the infant, but is measurable even in utero by various techniques,

and which show up in higher propensity to disease and
mental health problems in the child. Later on, and giving
this talk to an Indigenous group here in Canada some
years ago, I had a young man come up to
me and says, hey, Doc, you know what you just said.
In our community, when a woman was pregnant and then

if you were stressed or angry, you were not permitted
to go near them because we didn't want you passing
on your stress or anger to the infant. So they
knew this intuitively, nobody have the signs to show it.
The horror story you know I'm putting in quotation marks
is that was in Norway five years ago you speaking
at an addiction conference. There were two very famous American

speakers there. I will not embarrass them by giving their names,
but one of them is very high up in the
world of CBT cognitive behavioral therapy, as high up as
you can get. The other is a very well known
American psychiatrist. He edited one of the versions of the
d s M and is published extensively um and quoted

extensive in the national media. Very well known people. Both
of them. We had dinner before the conference and I
said to the one of them, where do you live?
And they mentioned a certain city. I said, oh, you
must know Dr Vincent Felippi. He said, who's that? I said, well,
I said, Feliti happens to be the lead investigator for

the famous adverse Childer Experiences studies. This leading American psychologist
and this leading American psychiatrists both said, what are those
They've never heard of them, despite the fact that they're
being published all of the world in all manner of
leading scientific and medical publications. That's the horror story, is
that on the one hand, we have all this research

all this evidence. On the other hand, the leading institutions
and the leading representatives of the so called healing institutions
and our culture don't even have acquaintance with all that information.
It's incredible. Okay, well, let me ask you this because
you know, it seems to me in sort of psychotherapy
and trying to heal, right, that that one of the

kind of overlapping elements, even with the cognitive behavioral therapy folks, right,
is that part of what's so crucial is changing one's story,
one's narrative. And I noticed in reading your stuff it's
also about changing the story. If you change the narrative,
now you're changing the narrative is much more dear, you know,
grounded in trying to process and get out underlying elements

of the trauma, the prenatal trauma, the the childhood trauma. Um.
But the is it and it is what I'm saying,
right that this change in changing one's story one's narrative
about one's life is a common element in much of
what proves to be effective in in psychotherapy and in healing. Imprinciple,
that's true. In practice, it depends on precisely I did

that goes and with what kind of insights. So yeah,
so I talked about myself and my own particular infancy
where you mentioned I was born, or at least I
spent most of my first year under Nazi occupation and
Hungary and under threat of annihilation. My mother and I
and for five weeks were separated. I couldn't wouldn't even

see her as a as a one year eleven month old.
Now what I made that mean? What I mean it
means is that I wasn't lovable, and I wasn't loved,
and I was being abandoned. I couldn't interpret that no
other way. No. In fact, of course it really happened.
Was that her giving me to the stranger in the
streets of Budapest, a place that where I stood right

on the spot just a few weeks ago, actually was
an act of incredible love and courage and self sacrifice.
You know, imagine the twenty four old woman giving a
baby to a stranger in the street to save his life,
but as an infant, had no other way of understanding
it but that this is an abandonment, and who gets
abandoned somebody who deserves to be abandoned. So I grew

up with that kind of self concept. Healing does involved,
in the end, come to terms with the stories that
the trauma imprinted in your brain and in your body.
I just don't think it's as simple as some people
make it out to be. So I've read by and
Cage's book with great appreciation and her our questions doing
the work. The four questions that she asked are really

helpful very often in relationships because what they do is
they they actually invite the person to take responsibility for
their beliefs and their reactions, not to make the other
person wrong for them. That's really good, But they don't
really deal with the trauma element very much, which is

how people develop these beliefs in the first place and
and the traumatic imprints that keep them going. So as
useful as that work is, I find I do find
it lacking in that area. And and so that's and
that's the problem with most of these therapies like CBT
will change your stories, but mostly the conscious stories that
you already know or that can be listited through conscious questioning.

But a lot of the stories that people carry about themselves,
for example, that I'm not worthy, that I have to
prove the value of my existence by being a work
call it doctor. Those are not conscious. I'm not aware
of them. They're automatic because they're imprinted in my unconscious
and so so do A deep therapy has to go
to what are you carrying that you're not aware of? Which, nevertheless,

um controls your life in certain In a certain sense,
these dynamics are like uh strings in the hands of
a puppet. Here you know, and and report like puppets
by these unconscious strings until you'll come aware. We'll be
talking more after we hear this. Add is there an

element to what you're saying it's also Freudian because I
know it's like in the myth of normal Freud barely
gets to mention um. But is there a commonality with
Freudian psychoanalysis in terms of wanting to go back to
those early stages? And if so, yes, and to what
extent no? Yeah? So so. Freud was a very flawed
genius and both genius and very flawed. And the reason

I don't talk about him much is because fundamentally he
betrayed himself. So his original understanding of mental illness or
what he called neurosis in those days, and this isn't
a paper that he printed in did say that a
lot of the patients have come to him were sexually abused.
And this, however, didn't fly very well in polite Viennese

middle class society. And if you wanted to be a
successful doctor and celebrated, he'd had to walk that one back. Furthermore,
he hadn't dealt with his own trauma, so it comes
up with all these co com ami theories like the
Oedipus complex and electroc complex, and basically that these these
young women who had reported sexual abuse were in fact

fantasizing about sleeping with their fathers. So he fundamentally made
a good step, and then he raised his own footprints
and developed all these co com ami theories. But what
was significant contribution on his part were, I would say,
to number of basic concepts, but the two fundamental ones

was that so much of what makes us act resides
in the unconscious, and that that unconscious is shaped early
childhood experiences. That's absolutely true what he made of that
because he couldn't deal with the trauma, he just couldn't. Really,
he couldn't face the trauma. He basically got scared of
his own shadow. And so the psychoanalysis was thrown away off,

of course, and hence you have this phenomenon of people
being therapy and analysis for years and years and years,
you know, and they're like kind of a Woody Allen
character of one of his movies who is in the
therapy forever and doesn't change at all, which, by the way,
it probably reflects on the author of those movies as well.

So I don't talk about Freud very much because he
didn't understand trauma. In fact, he he ignored it. And
and and no understanding of human development or mental illness
can possibly strike home unless people understand the traumatic source
as it affects the development of the personality, but also
as it defects the physiological development of the nervous system itself.

You quote at one point Bethel Vandercock write another kind
of colleague who's written about trauma his book The Body
Knows the Score, and you quote him is saying all
trauma is preverble, and trauma is not what happens to you,
but what happens inside you. I guess that is how
you say you put it. And then you quote Besselvenorcock
again the saying trauma is when we are not seen
and knowing exactly. So that can show up in vite

dire ways, because when somebody sexually abuses a child, they're
not seeing the child. They're seeing an object that they
want to use for their own purposes. But that dynamic
of not being seen can happen without any abuse whatsoever,
just in the home where the parents are too stress depressed, distracted,
caught up in our own relationship issues, their own addiction perhaps,

or just the stresses of modern life, the lack of time,
the child will not be seen, and being seen I
mean as a as a full human being is an
essential developmental need of the child, just as much as
food is. So people can be wounded in in the
in the dramatic ways that the a C studies indicate,
but children can also be wounded just because their needs

in this stress culture are not being met. Hence the
epidemic of childhood health problems. M H. Now, you're pretty
damning about both the whole notion of the disease theory.
Calling addiction a disease, I mean saying that on the
one hand, there are sort of commonalities there, but that
thinking about his disease is fundamentally a problem and you're
also damning about all the genetic determinism, you know, in

all the way people reference say that the twins who
are separated at birth grow up in different environments. But
then unless have higher incidences a certain types of you know,
behaviors or whether they're negative behaviors, positive behaviors. But I mean,
and the genetic thing. I think you at one point
you quote Robert Zapolski saying we're freer from genetics than
any other species on Earth, and then you quote two
friend scientists saying, when all is said and done, the

individual is genetically determined, not to be genetically determined. So
just explain to our listeners more about why this genetic
you know, emphasis on genetic terminism is so fundamentally flawed.
And then we'll get into disease theory a bit. So
here's the deal. Nobody has ever found a single gene
that if you have it, you're gonna have a certain

mental health condition. No, but well, with the exception of um,
there are some rare cases where somebody has a genetic
disposition to Alzheimer's. Okay, that's true. Most case of Alzheimer's
has nothing to do with genes. There is Huntington's Korea
that would have got three you know, suffered with UM.

That's genetic. If you have the gene, you're gonna have
the disease, or taste X disease among the cues, or
maybe sickle cell adine. You're exactly like these exists. There's
there's a disease called muscular dystrophy that runs in my family.
My mother had it, my aunt had it. If you
have the gene, you're gonna have the disease. Those diseases
are very rare, like one in ten thousands something like that,

and most conditions, lest speak of mental health conditions just
for the moment, there's no single gene that if you
have it you're can have depression and or anxiety or addiction.
There's no group of genes that if you have it,
you're can have depression, anxiety, or addiction or a d
h D. And there's no google genes that if you
don't have them, you can't have these diseases, so that

it's not genetic. Now, there is something genetic going on here.
It's true that there's a large amorphous group of genes
that the more of them you have, the more you're
likely to have almost any mental health condition, but nothing specific.
So nothing is generally determined, and you can be born
with the same genes and not have any disease whatsoever.

All depends on the environment. So what is genes do
confer is degrease of sensitivity. And the more sensitive you
are temperamentally, the more you're going to be affected by
whatever happens in the environment. That means if the amownment
is harmful or doesn't meant you need, you're gonna be
more acted than somebody else. It also means that a
term moment is supportive and nurturing, you can be that

much better off than somebody else. But the ges themselves
don't determine. Okay. Now this is contrary to most but
most doctors believe in the face of all the science.
Why is that. First of all, genetics offer three benefits
quote unquote. One is they're simple. Oh it's genetic, okay,

and now we understand it, and the mind like simple explanations.
Number one. Number two, if it's genetic in a family,
For example, if a parent comes to me with the
childhood h D and if I tell them, well, it's
a genetic condition, the parent feels off the hook, because

what can they do about the genes that they passed on.
As opposed if I say to them, you know, this
is a temperamentally genetic, very sensitive child, and he's responding
to family stress. For me in euro onwards, that's more
difficult for parents to deal with because now they feel
a lot of inappropriate but almost natural guilt for having

screwed up their kids. So the genetics takes them off
the hook. On a social level, genetics says, you know,
when I quote Louis Menon writing a New Yorker about
this one day, he says, you know, why should somebody
be upset or use drugs or you know, in the
in the healthiest and the most free society in the world,
it can't be the environment. It must be the genes.

So society is taken up to hook of looking at
hobby traumatize large numbers of people. So in Canada, an
Indigenous woman as six times the rate of rumor to
the advitis than that of anybody else. In the United States,
people of color have much more on us high blood pressure,
autoimmune disease, and so on and so forth. If it's

all genetic, we don't have to look at racism as
a social construct and all. But you are saying that
genetics can lead to a greater probability of somebody being
afflicted with a particular condition. It's just it's obviously not
deterministic because the environmental factors, they're both interpersonal and broader.
Are we play the much more important role? Is that right? Well,

the genets only play the role in the sense of
creating a high degree of sensitivity, so people are more
more reactive to the environment. Um to go back to
the twin study question. You know they separate twins at birth,
has sometimes happened. Then it turns out that it doesn't
matter if they brought up in different homes. They have
a great propensity to have some of the similar conditions,

so that if one has a d h D, the
other was also, it's got a seventy chance of having
a d h D. This proves that is genetic. It
proves the opposite its genetic. Why isn't it a d
that's the first point. The second point is it's not
true that twins didn't have the same environment. They spend

nine months in the same uterus. Not any woman that's
going to give up a baby for adoption is by
definition of stress woman, she's a single mom and addicted mom,
poor mom, an abused mom, and unsupported teenage mom and others.
For nine months. The homers of stress are going through
to the baby, to the placenta. We've already talked about that.

And then there is the separation from a birth mother,
which is an incredible trauma to an infant, to any
infant of any mammal. And the human being is really
meant to be with the mother for a long time. No,
that doesn't happen in his separation. Twin studies, any wonder
that if one to and there's a condition the other

one as an ingredient also increased change of evgant. It's
got nothing a little genetics, except for the fact that
if they're genetically similar, they're bound to have the same sensitivities.
M hm. Now, much the same can be said about
the whole emphasis on calling addiction is a disease, because
when you do that, you obviously take the responsibility to
some level off the individual or off the people who

have been you know, pivot in their life like their parents. Um,
you know, but you also you're interested you take issue
at one point you know, you're the great you know,
critic of the late twentieth century in America, Susan Sontag,
whose famous essay was called Illness as Metaphor, And you say, God,
I really admire her, but I wish she hadn't been
so wrong, and the way she laid this out, well,

Susan Santagg, as you know, died of cancer um and
she wrote this illness is a metaphor, as a stern
and almost contemptuous dismissal of the idea that emotions that
anything to do with physical illness. And mostly because she

didn't want to be coupitalized, as she said, culpitalized. I
didn't want to make to feel guilty for my own illness.
But what's her actual story? You know, actual story was
she was a severely traumatized child who his mother left
her when she was a couple of months old, came
back into her life when she was three or four
years old, left again. Susan actually writes in her diary
that she was very angry with her mother, and she

turned that anger against herself. She repressed her own emotions
in know to be accepted by other people. Precisely the
dynamics that lead to illness. So on the one hand,
she had this incredible insight into her own mind. On
the other hand, she denied the connection between those dynamics
and illness, which scientifically is completely incorrect. So it's very

sad to read her because on the one that she
even knew that she disconnected from her true self in
order to adapt her childhood environment, she turned her anger
at her mother against herself in terms of self loathing.
I'm I'm recording her own words, and at the same
time denied that I had anything to do with the illnesses.

And I'm telling you they do for physiological reasons, because
when you suppress your emotions, you're actually messing with your physiology. Why,
because you can't separate the mind from the body. Now
you say, I only want to suggest that quote disease
is more therapeutically useful as a metaphor rather than as
a literal fact. Yeah. Well, so here's the thing. So

let's say that I say to you, Ethan, I have
an addiction, I have rheumatildritis, or I have depression. There's
an assumption in that statement. What is the assumption? The
assumption is is that there are two entities. There's this disease,
this thing. Then there's an eye, and I have this thing.
Now you aren't aren't on video, but I love to

take my word for it. I have a teacup in
my hand. It's a thing. It's not a part of me.
It's not a manifestation of me. I can put it on,
I can pick it up, I can drink from it,
I can smash it if I want to, But it's
got nothing to do with me. To say that I
have a disease is to assume that there's this entity

called multiple scrosses or addiction or rumatilithritis that are separate
from me and I. The entity that's I has that thing,
and that thing has got a nature of its own.
I'm saying that all illnesses, whatever mind, own body, they're
not things with their own self determined trajectory. There are

processes that happen in a person, and there are personses
that happen both on the physiological psychological level and her
processes that reflect a person's life experience from conception onwards.
So to look on disease is the process in which
I can take some active agency. It's very different from
saying I got this disease, and here's the prognosis. That

prognosis has got nothing to do with you as a person.
That's based on statistics, based on statistics collated by physicians
who understand nothing about the mind body unity. Right, But
it goes to the whole way, whether as a culture
or as an individual or a relationship with doctor, we
talk about conquering this pain, conquering the disease, beating the addiction,

war on cancer, and which you're basically saying, what we
really needed the dialogue with any one of those things. Um,
you spent so much of your useful working life trying
to under undo the myths perpetrated by the so called
war on drugs. And we know how successful the war
on drugs have been. It's been so successful that last

year over Americans died over overdoses. You know that's a
successful it's been. Now it's the same with the war
on cancer. We're not a minute closer to solving the
problem of cancer then we were fifty years ago. Except
in some conditions there's been some progress, but overall no,
the war on illness, aut immune diseases are rising rather

than subsiding, and so this whole battling and warring against
some enemy misses the point that illnesses of mind and body,
addictions and so on, our processes got a normal responses,
to have normal circumstances, and that we can actually deal
with them by understanding their true nature, not by seeing

them as some kind of a mysterious enemy, you know, Gabra.
I'll tell you I had my own experience decades ago
when I was It began in my twenties and really
culminated in my early thirties of just absolutely intense sciatica
and lower back pain. And I went to a doctor
and I got diagnosed, and I had to herniated discs,

you know L four, L five and L five S one,
and the pain, I mean the third time it was just,
you know, just incredible. And I was being prescribed, you know,
benzos and being prescribed I think oxy code owns, and
none of it was really helping it all. On the
occasion if I got drunk, you know, that that would
actually take away the paint briefly. And then I was

talking with Andrew Wild who was a good friend at
the time, and he said, read this book by John
sarnol St Heeling back Pain, right. But I read this
book and Sardo's basic view was there's nothing physically wrong
with your body. I mean, less you've been in by
a truck or something like that, and all the stuff
about herniated disk it's basically bullshit. And if you randomly

take a hundred or two hundred X rays, it turns
out tons of people with hernadd disk and no pain
and vice versa. And what his argument was was that
I was basically that there was an underlying angst anger
anxiety that I was not processing, and my brain was
playing a trick, you know whereby it basically transformed an
emotional pain into a physical pain. And then what he

said is it's simply accepting his diagnosis, not just in
my conscious mind, but in my subconscious mind, accepting that
there was zero wrong with my back and these hernya
disrrelevant that that itself would be the cure. I didn't
even have to figure out why I had to pain,
He goes, But if you want to reduce the likelihood
of recurrence, it's probably a good idea to try to

do some work with a therapist or here to try
to figure out what was that underlying pain about. Anyway,
and I have to tell you from me, it was
basically a miracle cure. I mean, I've came out of that,
and I've become a sort of proselytizer for that, and
I say, I've know many people who's helped. I know
of huge numbers. Now, from my case, it didn't have
to do with processing a kind of infantile you know,

trauma things that happened then. It had to deal with
processing things that were happening in my current life, some
of which might have been mats shaped by what happened
to me when I was much younger. But it was
about dealing with that piece in my own life. But
so the notion of your focus on don't ask about
the addiction or the substance, focus on the pain underlying
it resonates with resonates in me totally. Well, first of all,

I very much know about Sarno's work, and and Sarno
pointed out they actually called the t MS tension site
the syndrome eventually, which means that the emotional the anger
and and and the stress that you're carrying would cause
your muscles to go into spasm, and that that would
um create a toxic environment in which pain would arise
and so on, and by understanding all that, you could

let go of it. And it's certainly true. I mean,
I've had back surgery and I was grateful for it.
But out of a hundred people with back surgery, maybe
three or four should have it. The other night of
four should do what you did, you know, and and
I make the same case. So when people started reading
my book when the body says no, which makes the
same case about the illness in general Sarno makes about

back pain, they keep asking me if I knew about
Sarno's work. And I hadn't known about it because of
course Sarno, like me, was a medical doctor, but his
work was never publicized in the medical realm, so like you,
I had to find out about it through other sources.
But his work is very much related to my work,

except he was a back specialist. I was a general physician.
So I applied the same principles in a much broader
realm as I do in this book. The myth of
a normal as well. What I would say about your
adult stresses is that they very much had to do
with childhood dynamics. And the issue is not to go
back and keep delving on what happened in childhood. That's

not what the problem is. The problem is the imprints
that we're caring today of what happened in childhood. So
when you quoted me as saying that trauma is not
what happened to you, but what happened inside you as
a result of what happened to you. What happened inside
you is the wounding that then creates certain behaviors. The
issue is not to go back and keep analyzing what

happened you know, in your case six decades ago, in
my case over seven decades ago, but to understand how
is that showing up today in my life? How is
that pulling my strings to go back to my puppet analogy,
and how can I cut the strings? And how can
I be free in the present moment? How can I
be aware of what's happening within me right now and
not be under the tyranny of the past. To quote

Peter Libin. So I'm totally with sorry, no, except I
think I understand trauma more broadly than he ever did,
because that, you know, he was focusing very much on
the back. He helped thousands of people avoid surgery and
lead paying free lives so I mean, he's a very
remarkable and important figure. Let's take a break here and

go to an ad. What is happening at least in
some universities now, and you're seeing it manifest. This is
the psychedelic renaissance writing. You talk about this in the

latest book, and you've talked about it obviously more broadly,
you see major universities from Harvard, Yale and Columbia, and
you know University California, University College London, and Baylor, etcetera, etcetera,
all setting up research institutes. So clearly there's something about
psychedelics that both you in your own interaction with people,
as well as the broader scientific evidence is showing that

there's really something special here that, and not least to
the extent that you place this emphasis on very early
trauma in people's lives, the psychedelics appear to have some
unique properties at accessing that. So I have to say
I was surprised that when you wrote Hungry Ghosts you
didn't know about any of the early evidence about using

psycholics for this, But once you become aware of it,
you really seem to embrace it wholeheartedly. Well, how would
I know about it? Not nobody in my medical training
ever mentioned that, you know, like many other things, so
you might recall on this book. I give a case
of a woman I know very well. She was given
a terminal diagnosis of an autimmune disease eight or nine

years ago in her early late twenties. Um Nothing that
Western medicine, whether it's steroid hormones or anti immune or
immune suppressants or paint colors, she do anything for her.
She was paralyzed in the sense that she couldn't get
out of bed by herself. She couldn't barely move her
arms and legs anymore. Her face was a rigid mask

of pain. She just wanted to die. And now she's
walking around writing autobiography, writing poetry, hiking mobile living, active
and thriving. And this came to Ayahuasca. And from the
point of view of western medicine, that makes no sense.

From the point of view of narrow western medicine, that
makes no sense. But if you understand the mind body unity,
and what nobody asked this person is what was your
life like? Well, she was a traumatized child, adopted from
a foreign country, sexually abused in childhood, all kinds of
stuff she developed certain rigid personality patterns which then stressed her,

which then made her sick. And with the psychedelic plant,
she was able to see all that, not not overnight,
but it was dramatic nevertheless, and she was able to
deal with these traumas. See how she developed these emotional
dynamics that we're not serving her anymore, and she has

fundamentally turned it right around. And that story is not unique,
nor is it scientifically any kind of a miracle. It's
simply what you expect when people are able to, as
you said earlier, not just consciously, for on the unconscious level,
deal with their beliefs about themselves. M Now, you know,
you have this charming little story in your book where

you talk about your experience going down to Peru to
work with some Shamans, and you developed this thing where
you would work with the Shamans and you would help
prepare people to you know, but what were the questions
they wanted to be considering before they took you know,
did the ceremony and then help them process the next
day and do all this sort of thing. And you've
done it many times, and you tell the story of
showing up there after the first time. At the very beginning,

Polison and shawmust take you aside and saying we're sorry,
we need you to withdraw entirely from this and just
stay by yourself in the next ten days because your
energy is dark. And you say that you're thinking, my god,
I've had such success helping people through this, and all
these people have come because they want to be at
a at a shamanic ceremony where I'm playing a role.

But at the same time, you know, you're also acknowledging
that you yourself have never had a kind of deep
spiritual experience with iohuasca. So just say a little more
about what you learned from that whole experience in his outcomes. Well,
so these this happened just before I started writing them,
at a normal in June of two dozen and nineteen.
And yes, I did go to Peru where a couple

of dozen health workers, you know, doctor psychiatrists, contors, psychologists
came to work with me and at this retreat, and
they I had come from a very long, stressful of
speaking trip. I was completely backed out, and of course
I was just gonna go do my usual thing and
do my work, you know, regardless of my own state
typical work called behavior, and these shamans took me aside.

After one ceremony they said, buddy, you're fired. So they
fired me from my own retreat, and they said, you're
carrying too much darkness and you have to understand. Even
they knew nothing about me as a person. I mean,
they were not impressed but my credentials because they didn't
know my credentials, you know, and all these books and
work that I've done. They just said, we think, number one,

you've worked with a lot of traumatized people and you've
absorbed their traumas and you don't know how to clear
it out of yourself. Number one. And number two, we
think you're a bit very big scare when you were
very small early in your life and you haven't got
over it yet. And they were pointing right to my
infancy without knowing my history. And so they assigned one
of them to work with me alone in five ceremonies

over ten days, during which I was in isolation basically,
and the other five shamans worked with the participants, came
to work with me, and I did a profound spiritual
experience not easily took the guy five ceremonies. At the
very end of the fifth when I thought it was
all over all of a sudden, the spirit hit me.

If you want entered me, if you're or I opened
to it, if you want to put it that way.
It was very deep, very powerful and life changing. And
they took these native Shamans to be able to read
me energetically and to see inside me with the help
of the plant two to do the work and to
have the presence to say this Western doctor, listen, buddy,

you need to help. You're not here to help others.
You're gonna have to accept help yourself for a change.
That was life changing mm hm. And how was it
life changing? I mean it was Was it your first
sense of a feeling of the divine? Was it? Had
it changed the way you're interacting when you were doing
your sessions with patients. I wish I could tell you

that I came back enlightened and transformed person, but my
wife would tell you that ain't that ain't necessarily so um.
But it did further and in significant way, initiate a
process in which number one, I dropped this belief that
I've always had, which I consciously I knew couldn't have
been right, but it was on the emotional level an

absolute fixation of mine that I could help other people here,
but I can't be healed myself. You know. That experience
knocked that one out of the water and the other
so that the possibly of healing became not just to believe,
but an actual experience on my part. That's the first.
The second was that I realized that my childhood will

never not have happened. So the fact that I spent
my first year the way I did, separate from my
mother for a while, the fact that my grandparents would
died in our shirts when I was five months of
age and my mother spend the rest of the year
grieving for them. All that stuff could never be changed.

But that doesn't have to define my future. It doesn't
have to define my presence, so that my happiness and
connection to life I didn't have to be painted or
controlled by what happened early in life. That does actually
feed him in the present moment, Gab, I hope to

tell you. I mean, your book is inspiring in terms
of writing insights about ways to deal with not just
emotional but physical maladies through a more holistic healing. Approach
in which people understand the process. You know that it's
not just about treating disease. On the other hand, there's
another takeaway feeling, which is, my god, we're all fucked.

I mean, because capitalism isn't getting anywhere, if anything, that's
going to get more extreme materialism, you know, is pervasive consumptionism,
not just in America, but in most societies are on
the world. The medical system being short on funds and
doctors being pressed for time, pharmaceutical companies being empowered to
promote the certain things that they do, you know, the

sort of rapid evolution in the digital sophistication, you know
what's called constant connectivity, or what you talk about in
the book as a new way of persuasive design, where
you design things to appeal specifically to people's addictive behaviors.
I mean, I come away going, my god, You've identified
all all everything that's wrong going on in the medical system,
the pharmaceutical system, the broader capitalist cultural political system. But

how the hell you dig ourselves out of this? Yeah? Well, um,
you know, so this is where I go back to
two things here that I talked about in the last chapter.
One is the importance of becoming disillusioned. So we live
with a lot of illusions, you know. And and there's
e called James Baldwin who says that in this country

words are used to cover the sleeper, whether than to
wake them up, And so much of the culture designed
to put people to sleep and to keep them asleep.
Now we have to become disillusion not in the sense
of becoming discouraged, but in a sense of losing our
illusions about And then part of the intended the book
is to wake people up about folks, this is the
nature of the society, and these are the impacts. So

that's the first point, the need to become disillusion Then
I say to people, would you rather be illusioned or disillusioned?
Would you rather be? The second response goes back to
my discussion with no Chomsky, you know, who said that
he's a strategic optimist and a tactical pessimist, which means

that yes, in the short term things are getting worse.
You'd have to be blind to deny that. So that
doesn't mean we're fucked. It means that we're getting fucked,
you know. And but but, but, but the long term
optimism is in my faith, you might say, or my
conviction that people have it in them to turn this around.

If you only be engaged in our conversations, if you
only realize what our reality is, if you only get
in touch with their own healing capacities, which is an
intrinsic quality of all life. If we can become more
collaborative and coordinated and cooperative in our responses, if you
don't see each other as isolated optimized individuals, if you

don't buy into the vice of this culture, change is
actually possible. I'm not gonna happen eight times soon, but
I do think it's entirely possible. And you know, I
wrote the book now with the desire to spread the
bad news, but to say to people, Look, if you
want to change, we have to see what's in the
way of that change. You have to deal with it,
both on the personal and on the social level. Yeah. Well,

I mean, Gabbor, I mean, that's a lot of ifs
in there. But since you are ending on a positive note,
I think that's a nice place to this conversation. All
I can say is, look, more power to you. I
hope that you're able to keep getting the word out
in your message out for many years to come because
I think you're obviously playing incredibly important and valuable and
healing role in our society. So thank you, thank you

for joining me and my listeners on Psychoactive. Thank you
so much for having me. If you're enjoying Psychoactive, please
tell your friends about it, or you can write us
a review at Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts.
We love to hear from our listeners. If you'd like
to share your own stories, comments and ideas, then leave

us a message at one eight three three seven seven
nine sixty that's eight three three psycho zero, or you
can email us at Psychoactive at protozoa dot com, or
find me on Twitter at Ethan natal Man. You can
also find contact information in our show notes. Psychoactive is

a production of I Heart Radio and Protozoa Pictures. It's
hosted by me Ethan Naedelman. It's produced by no h'm
osband and Josh Stain. The executive producers are Dylan Golden,
Ari Handel, Elizabeth Geesus and d In Aronofsky from Protozolla Pictures,
Alex Williams and Matt Frederick from my Heart Radio and
me Ethan Nadelman. Our music is by Ari Blusien and

a special thanks to a bio s F. Bianca Grimshaw
and Robert BB. Next week I'll be talking about the
significance of alcohol prohibition in American history with Professor Lisa mcgurr,

professor at Harvard, an author of The War on Alcohol.
It just struck me that historians had not taken a
serious enough look at the repercussions of prohibition. What happened
once the Eighteenth Amendment, which was of course the amendment
to the Constitution enacting national prohibition, what happened once it

had passed. Historians kind of had felt that, you know,
this was a huge policy failure, and there wasn't much
to say it was a great disaster, but there were
huge implications that historians had not done enough to tease out.
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