I live and breathe Psychology: I have taught it at University. I am a front liner for First Nations Australians in Cape York communities. I have a lived experience of Psychosis. We absolutely can recover. So it breaks my heart to see someone who can’t call Australia home.
We all belong.
Addiction illustrates this beautifully: Renowned addiction expert Dr Gabor Mate says: “The first question you must ask is not why the addiction, but why the pain?”
If we wanted to created a system that makes addiction worse, that further disconnects someone, then you would design exactly the system we have: punishment, shame, stigma, isolation, disconnection. Ingredients for trauma. This is Australia’s home.
So what’s the solution?
Five world views explain how addiction is handled. Please consider trauma is like addiction to the extent that we are unable to break the cycle: thoughts, feeling, behaviours that keep us traumatised. This will shed light on our success and failure to handle addiction and trauma in its many forms.
Five World Views:
- The Law
- Disease Model
Freewill is addiction is 100% a choice. You are ‘weak willed’. I will shame (i.e. fear of disconnection; being kicked out of the group) and punish you (i.e. homelessness is a choice. I work hard. You don’t. I will not share what I have with you).
Religion traditionally is addiction is a sin. You are a ‘sinner’. I will shame and punish you. Join my group. If not, you will go to hell (of course not every Faith says that; many with a Faith are very compassionate).
The Law is you have committed a crime. You are a ‘criminal’. I will shame and punish you. For your own good! But after prison your chance to find job is slim. I gave you a criminal record and a large SPER Debt. People are also afraid of you. I taught them that you are dangerous.
The Disease Model is addiction is a disease. You are ‘powerless’. The only solution is abstinence. This will torture you. I made a trillion dollar industry to make money off your addiction: alcohol, gambling, pornography. You will have to ignore all this and your friendships too. I will not punish or shame you. No doubt you will punish and shame yourself in a system designed to make you fail.
What a tragedy…
Then the Western world woke up. Neuroplasticity was born. Trauma Informed Care followed. Then the Power Threat Meaning Framework (i.e. the negative operation of power; a call for social and political change). These modern frameworks see addiction is a learnt behaviour you found along the way and now your primary coping strategy for survival.
Addiction is your “best skill” until you learn a better skill. That’s all it is. Addiction is adaptive (i.e. a strength): The packet of cigarettes stopped your suicide. Drinks helped you talk when you were shy. Cannabis helped you sleep at night. Ecstasy was the only time you felt alive. Playing pokies stopped you from bashing your wife. The substance or object helped you in some way to survive.
However, addiction has a rebound effect: desirable effects decrease and undesirable effects increase over time. This is such a gradual process so you hardly would have noticed it arise. I will not judge you. Shame you. Punish you. I congratulate you for staying alive!
If addiction (and trauma) is your best skill until you learn a better one how about we find you some more helpful skills? They are much less harmful to you and those around you. I will use my education and power to help empower you. Then soon we can both thrive!
Neuroplasticity shows our brains constantly change. We can actively participate too: learn and unlearn addiction (and trauma). Learn or relearn skills that protect life: body, mind, social connection, culture, country and spirituality.
This approach includes the principles of Trauma Informed Care: safety, choice, trustworthiness, collaboration and empowerment. It is not punitive. It is nonjudgmental. There is no shame. It does not stigmatise. Five Pillars of recovery are: connection, hope, identity, meaning and empowerment.
See how ‘weak willed’, ‘sinner’, ‘criminal’, and ‘powerless’ with a disease instantly crush Five Pillars of Recovery: connection, hope, identity, meaning and empowerment. This is the very real danger of judgment, blame, punishment, shame, stigmatisation: further-disempowerment, more trauma and risk of suicide.
Research shows the war on drugs caused more harm than addiction itself. Lives are lost, families are torn apart, children are denied a future because they chose addiction to survive; to take away their pain inside.
The zero tolerance approach is unhelpful because many people are unable to quit their addiction. On top of the harm that comes with addiction they also become a ‘failure’ shunned from society seen as weak willed, a sinner, a criminal or a lost cause.
Alternatively, we could choose to see them just the way they are: A human being. No one puts their hand up as a young child and says “when I grow up I want to become a drug addict!” At the heart of every person with an addiction is a delicate flower simply trying to survive.
So what world view do you have? Freewill? Religion? Law? Disease? Neuroplasticity? Whatever it is know this: people with an addiction are very intelligent. They know and feel exactly where you stand. I argue the same applies with trauma. They are very close friends.
For any excuses out there: Australia is a wealthy enough country. Australians can easily afford to address this crisis. The benefits overwhelmingly out way the cost.
As someone privileged with an education that demonstrates recovery from addiction and trauma is absolutely a possibility, failing to prevent further addiction, trauma and suicide is the greatest tragedy.
As someone who has recovered from trauma, who knows intimately what it’s like, I will fight until this is realised. It is time for a Trauma Informed Australia. We do not need to wait for leaders to be trauma informed. We can begin ourselves.
All it takes is Australians turning frameworks into mindsets. Enough trauma informed mindsets will lead to personal, social and political change. You might need help first, to get safe or to become ‘unstuck’ from trauma. Reach out for trauma informed care. #YouBelong
It is time for a Trauma Informed World.
With love always,
Dr Louise Hansen
PhD in Psychology
Human Rights Activist
#HealingTrauma #Justice4Australia #WeAllBelong
Trauma Informed World was inspired by Kopika and Tharnicaa; two faces that remind us everyday of Australia’s cruel refugee system. One of many systems in Australia that remind us of the negative operation of power. #HomeToBilo
Australia’s National Helplines and Websites:
To provide the best information possible, Beyond Blue has listed national helplines and external services. All services linked to Beyond Blue are reviewed before they are posted.