MATE, Gabor

Author Tags: Downtown Eastside, Health, Medicine, Physician Author

Vancouver-based physician Gabor Matť received the Hubert Evans Non-Fiction Prize in 2009 for In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction (Knopf 2008)

While contributing to the Globe and Mail and working in psychotherapy, Gabor Matť first wrote the non-fiction bestsellers, When the Body Says No and Scattered Minds: A New Look at the Origins and Healing of Attention Deficit Disorder. Both consider how emotions can contribute to chronic illness. Scattered Minds was transformed into an unabridged audiobook (West Voice Audioworks 2010) by Colin Pickell of Ladysmith.

Quitting his private practice in order to work with people who are dealing with addictions, AIDS and serious social problems, Matť became a staff physician at the Portland Clinic in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, home to North America's first supervised injection site.

For his third book, Matť co-authored Hold On To Your Kids: Parents Do Matter (Knopf 2003) with clinical psychologist Gordon Neufeld. It warns against the phenomenon whereby peers can replace parents in the lives of children, often undermining family cohesion.

In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts (Knopf 2008) looks at the addictions of his patients while casting a critical eye on his own addictive passion for buying classical music. He reveals how addictions invariably arise from, or compensate for, emotional traumas, whether the addict drives a BMW or resorts to criminal behaviour to survive on the street.

In the world of drug abuse in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, he notes, "there is no chimera of redemption nor any expectation of socially acceptable outcomes, only an unsentimental recognition of the real needs of human beings in the dingy present, based on a uniformly tragic past."


Scattered Minds: A New Look at the Origins and Healing of Attention Deficit Disorder (Knopf 1999)
When the Body Says No (Knopf 2003)
Hold On To Your Kids: Parents Do Matter (Knopf 2004). Co-authored with Gordon Neufeld.
In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction (Knopf 2008)


Contributed the foreword to Hidden Lives: Coming Out on Mental Illness (Brindle & Glass, 2012) with Lenore Rowntree and Andrew Boden. $24.95 978-1-926972-96-1


[BCBW 2012] "Health" "Downtown Eastside"

In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts, Hubert Evans Pirize
Speech BC Book Prizes 2009

Iím honoured to have been awarded this prize for literary non-fiction. Itís a validation of a deep part of me. Since childhood books have played essential part in my development. Books show us what life is, what it truly is beneath the surface dross of the mundane and the day-to-day superficialities of our culture. Beyond that, they show us what life could be like if we honoured who we really are, and what existence is at its human and divine core.

As a writer, I work on two levels. First, the level of facts and ideas, and in this realm I donít have too many self-doubts. Iím arrogant enough to believe that by the time my thoughts find their expression in print, they are grounded in science and logic and intuition, no matter how they are received and who agrees or disagrees with me. But on the level of literary expression Iím vulnerable. This is where I have insecurities and for that very reason this prize is such a welcome validation, an affirmation that I belong to the great community of writers.

Having said that, there is a living fact I cannot neglect to mention. Ten blocks to the east of us is the epicenter of the world I depict in my book, Vancouverís Downtown Eastside. Here are fellow human beings who are ill and impoverished and hunted and ostracized because they were abused early in their lives and, as a result, came to the conclusion that only through certain substances will they find relief from their pain, only through drugs a source of pleasure, only through addiction any escape from torments most of us would find unbearable.

In the Downtown Eastside thirty per cent of my patients are of First Nations origin, whereas our aboriginal people make up only a small percentage of the Canadian population. There is a prevailing myth that they are genetically prone to addictions to drugs and alcohol. Nothing is further from the truth. There were potentially addictive substances in North America before the European invasions: peyote, tobacco and even alcohol. As elsewhere in the world, aboriginal peoples used psychoactive substances as spiritual teachers and never in an addictive way.

That the DES is so heavily populated by people of First Nations background has nothing to do with genetics, and everything to do with they way our society has displaced and oppressed them, drove them from the lands and natural habitat, destroyed their ways of life, invalidated their spiritual universe and, finally, abused their children for several generations in the residential school system. That dislocation and that abuse is the template for addictions.

So amidst this celebration of our culture, of our writers and poets and publishers and books, we must not forget the reality of those who, no fault of their own, lead lives of suffering and not-so-quiet desperation only a short distance away, whose entire lives are a struggle against despair.