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Dr Gabor Mate in Conversation with Vivian McKinnon - Part Six


The last in our special series of blogs focusing on the shame associated with addiction. Mental health floatation expert, international speaker and owner of Hydro-ease Vivian McKinnon is in conversation with Dr Gabor Mate. He is the acclaimed best-selling author of the In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts exploring the connection between childhood trauma and addiction.

Vivian: I have lived experience of the effects of early life trauma and adverse childhood, teenage and early adult life experiences that led to an addiction related near death experience. I thought what I felt was guilt about the things that I had done. Now I realise it was shame I was carrying all along. Guilt is, I have done something wrong; shame is a feeling I am bad. I almost did things as a self-fulfilling prophecy.

I am a bad person, so I do bad things. When I sat down with the emotion and understood it, that allowed me to heal and I think one of the things for me was learning gratitude. I am who I am because of the things that I’ve been through and I started to own that.

As a 15-year-old, I remember walking down the street and hiding myself from my mum when she was drunk or lying in the road but now, I am in a place where I know she taught me so much. You are a super sponge at such a young age. I spent a lot of time with sensitivities around emotions and always running away from it.

I’ve learned to sit with it now and I like to think my mum was training me, preparing me for the job I am doing now and do it well because it gave me understanding.

Gabor: I can’t feel gratitude about Auschwitz where I was nearly sent as an infant. No. I’m not glad about that and am I glad I passed my trauma onto my kids, no I’m not glad about that. I can have gratitude for life and all I have learned.

I can have gratitude for all the children I have, for the inspiring warm-hearted people I meet around the world like yourself, for the floatation experience I had in your wonderful little kingdom one day. I can have gratitude for all that.

But can I have gratitude for the events themselves? I have gratitude for life itself and that was part of it. I don’t want to romanticise it in any way.
Trauma, PTSD, these conditions are stored up in the central nervous system. When I talk about trauma, I’m not talking about what happened to you. I’m talking about what happened inside of you when it happened.

The word itself is from the Greek word ‘wound’ or ‘wounded’ and how our body reacted to the wounding. It’s not the actual event. That’s a different concept. The trauma is what happens to you and inside the body.

In terms of any other illnesses, in my medical work and based on research, not just my own work, it’s not just mental health conditions that are trauma based but most physical health conditions are trauma based as well.

I’m talking about chronic physical conditions like autoimmune diseases, multiple sclerosis, malignancy. That’s covered in my book, When the Body Says No. The research is overwhelming. You can’t separate the emotion from the physiology.

The emotional system is part of the same system that also modulates our nervous system and our hormonal apparatus so when things happen emotionally, they have an impact physiologically. Emotions themselves are physical things.

Next time you are angry check with your body. Does it feel like you do when you are happy? Autoimmune diseases happen when people take to much stress in their lives or when they suppress themselves for the sake of being acceptable or of service to other people.

Which is a reason why 80% of people with autoimmune diseases are women because that’s the role women are thrust into in a patriarchal culture.

The question is, not only is so called mental illness and addiction a trauma response, so is physical illness. It’s not just my personal opinion; it’s also what the studies show. The question is why is this not obvious knowledge? Why do we not all know this?

If you treat children well, they are going to be OK. If you don’t treat children well, they are not going to be OK. That’s the whole science. That’s all there is to it. Nobody needs to know anything else.