A baby boy named Gabor lay crying in his crib. No matter what his mother did, he would not stop crying. So his mother called the doctor. The doctor told her that all of the Jewish babies he knew were crying. This was in Hungary during World War II. The Nazis had taken over the country. They were doing terrible things to Jews. Gabor’s family was Jewish. The Nazis had just killed Gabor’s grandparents. Gabor’s dad was forced to do hard work every day for the Nazis. Gabor’s aunt was missing. Gabor was only a baby, so he could not have known these things. But he could probably feel his mother’s deep sadness and stress. So he cried and cried. The doctor could not really help.
Today, Gabor Maté lives in Vancouver. He still struggles to feel at peace. He goes shopping to feel better. He spends lots of money on music records. His wife gets mad at him. They cannot afford for Gabor to keep buying new records. There is no space in their house for more records. But he can’t stop. Gabor has developed an addiction to shopping. An addiction is a strong and harmful need to do something.
Gabor is now a doctor and he works with people who have drug addictions. People with drug addictions face a lot of judgment. They often get blamed for their addiction. Gabor thinks that this is wrong. He says addiction is usually the result of a stressful childhood. People with addictions have lived through trauma, such as violence or loss. Yet, the government treats them like criminals. They are put in jail because drug use is illegal. This does nothing to help them get better.
Is there a better way? Gabor calls on everyone to treat people with addictions with compassion. He writes books, gives speeches, and goes on talk shows to spread this message. He says we must stop judging people for the ways they cope with their difficult lives. We must make a world where people can get their needs met and everyone is treated with respect. If we lived in this kind of world, more children would grow up healthy. Fewer people would need to do drugs to cope.
We have not built this kind of world yet. Until we have, Gabor works to reduce the harm done by addiction. He keeps people with addictions alive — and as healthy as possible. British Columbia is a worldwide leader in this approach. For example, BC is home to a place called Insite. Drug users can get clean needles from Insite. They can also do drugs at Insite. If they overdose, a nurse will make sure they do not die. There is no other place like it in North America. When the government tried to close Insite, Gabor was one of many people who spoke out. Today, Insite’s doors are still open and it continues to save hundreds of lives.
But as a doctor, Gabor Maté is not just saving lives. He is helping to build a world where every life is worth living.