I live and breathe Psychology: I have taught it to children at school and to adults at university. I am a front liner for First Nations Australians in Cape York communities. I have a lived experience of recovering from Psychosis twice. We absolutely can recover. So it breaks my heart to see someone who cannot call Australia home.
We all belong.
Addiction illustrates this tragically. Renowned trauma and addiction expert Dr Gabor Mate says: “The first question you must ask is not why the addiction, but why the pain?”
According to Dr Gabor Maté, if we wanted to create a system that makes addiction worse – that further disconnects someone – then you would design the system we have: silence or judgment, blame, punishment, shame and stigma which results in more isolation and 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 of thoughts, feelings, behaviours that keep us traumatised. This will shed light on our success and failure to handle trauma and addiction in its many forms.
Five World Views:
- The Law
- Disease Model
Freewill is addiction is 100% a choice. From this world view, you are ‘weak willed’. So I will judge, shame (i.e. fear of disconnection; being kicked out of the group) and punish you (i.e. addiction and even homelessness is a “choice”. I work hard. You don’t. So I will not help or share what I have with you).
Religion traditionally is addiction is a sin. From this perspective, you are a ‘sinner’. So I will judge, 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. From this world view, you are a ‘criminal’. So I will judge, 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. From this perspective, you are ‘powerless’ with a disease. So here the only solution is abstinence. This will torture you. I have made a trillion dollar industry to make money off your addiction: alcohol, gambling, pornography, etc. You will have to ignore all this and your friendships too. I will not judge, shame or punish you. No doubt you will judge, shame and punish yourself in a system designed to make you fail.
What a tragedy…
Thankfully, the Western world caught up. Neuroplasticity was born (i.e. we are human beings in becoming). Trauma Informed Care followed (i.e. safety, trustworthiness, choice, collaboration and empowerment) and then the Power Threat Meaning Framework (i.e. while each injustice differs, all stories share the same trauma: the negative operation of power; a call for social and political change). These modern frameworks see addiction is a learnt behaviour that you found along the way and now your primary coping strategy for survival.
From this perspective, addiction is your “best skill” until you learn a better skill. So here 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 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. Learn or relearn skills that protect life: body, mind, social connection, culture, country and spirituality. However, this approach fundamentally depends on human rights.
This approach includes the principles of Trauma Informed Care: safety, trustworthiness, choice, collaboration and empowerment. It is nonjudgmental. It is not punitive. There is no shame. It does not stigmatise. Five Pillars of recovery include 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 and stigma: more isolation, disconnection, further-disempowerment, further trauma and risk of suicide.
Research has demonstrated that the war on drugs caused more harm than addiction itself. Lives are lost, families are torn apart, children and adults are denied a future because they learnt 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 experience feeling like 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? The Law? The Disease Model? Neuroplasticity? Whatever it is know this: people with an addiction are very smart. They know and feel where you stand. I would argue that the same applies with trauma: they are very close friends.
For any excuses out there: Australia is a wealthy enough country and can easily afford to address this crisis. Importantly, the benefits for all of us overwhelmingly out way the cost.
As someone privileged with an education that demonstrates recovery from trauma and addiction is absolutely a possibility, failing to prevent further trauma, addiction and suicide is the greatest tragedy. As someone with a lived experience of trauma and addiction – who knows intimately what it is 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 become trauma informed. It requires basic knowledge only. Enough trauma informed mindsets will naturally lead to trauma informed change.
Now you know the power of Trauma Informed Care. Let’s turn this framework into a mindset for personal, social and political change. If you are unable to, you might need help first, to get safe or become ‘unstuck’ from trauma. Reach out for trauma informed care. #YouBelong
It is time for a trauma informed world.
Dr Louise Hansen
PhD in Psychology
Human Rights Activist
#HealingTrauma #Justice4Australia #YouBelong
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
You can listen my talk with Dr Cathy Kezelman AM, the President of Blue Knot Foundation on my own healing journey, training and study and how it has informed my work and advocacy for a trauma informed world here:
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