The Power of Addiction and The Addiction of Power: Gabor Maté at TEDxRio+20

Canadian physician Gabor Maté’s theme at TEDxRio+20 was addiction – from drugs to power. From the lack of love to the desire to escape oneself, from susceptibility of the being to interior power – nothing escapes. And he risks a generic and generous prescription: “Find your nature and be nice to yourself.” TEDx Talks. [18’46”]

Ruby’s Healing Story

Marion Kickett, Director of the Centre for Aboriginal Studies at Curtin University in Perth, shares the harrowing story of Ruby and describes how her early experiences impacted on her life. By forgiving people involved in these terrible events, Ruby started a healing process which led to her realising a dream. Sharing Culture. [9’42”]

Adam’s Recovery Story: ‘A Moment of Clarity’

After spending years in Australia locked into an addiction to amphetamine, cannabis and alcohol, Adam’s recovery leads him to the UK where he marries. His life spirals out of control after traumatic experiences, before he continues on his recovery journey and moves back to the other side of the world. (11,648 words)

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Natalie’s Trauma Story: My Childhood Experiences

In my last blog post, I described my 2022 reunion with Natalie, a recovering heroin addict who first inspired me to start writing recovery stories back in the early 2000s. You can read the version of Natalie’s Recovery Story, I Didn’t Plan To Be An Addict, I initially wrote for this website back in 2013 here.

Natalie is now an inspiring senior practitioner in a treatment service and is over 20 years in recovery. In my last blog post, I said that I would describe Natalie’s childhood experiences that led to her becoming traumatised. This section is taken from my eBook Our Recovery Stories: Journeys from Drug and Alcohol Addiction, which contains the latest version of Natalie’s Story.

‘I lived in a rural area with my Mum and Dad and brother and sister. I remember that my Dad would disappear to London for a week or two from time to time. When I was 11 years old, we moved to a city, although my Dad wasn’t there for the actual move. Within five days of the move, he was arrested for drug smuggling.

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Visiting UK Recovery Friends: Part 8 (Natalie)

It was wonderful for me to catch up with ‘Natalie’ whilst I was in Wales in September 2022. She was the first treatment service user I spent in-depth time with, and from whom I learnt a good deal about the nature of heroin addiction and recovery.  She told me that when she was using heroin, she did not know how to stop. She could find no information about how to stop using. She knew no one who had stopped using. The solution to these problems was to keep using, letting heroin kill her pain, shame and the hatred of herself for what she had become.

Through listening to Natalie, I first started to realise the importance of key factors facilitating recovery: gaining hope, understanding, and a sense of belonging. As Wired In, we emphasised the key importance of Empowerment and Connection for facilitating recovery. We pointed out that hope, understanding (of the nature of the problem and the solution), and belonging were key factors underlying Empowerment.

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Relationships, Connection and Healing from Trauma: Bruce Perry & Maia Szalavitz

For anyone interested in the healing of childhood trauma, I strongly recommend you read, The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog: And other Stories From a Child Psychiatrists Notebook by Bruce Perry and Maia Szalavitz. Here is a description of the book from the back cover:

‘What happens when a child is traumatized? How does terror affect a child’s mind—and how can that mind recover? Child psychiatrist Bruce Perry has treated children faced with unimaginable horror: genocide survivors, witnesses to their own parents’ murders, children raised in closets and cages, the Branch Davidian children, and victims of family violence.

In The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog, he tells their stories of trauma and transformation. Dr. Perry clearly explains what happens to the brain when children are exposed to extreme stress. He reveals his innovative methods for helping ease their pain, allowing them to become healthy adults. This deeply informed and moving book dramatically demonstrates that only when we understand the science of the mind can we hope to heal the spirit of even the most wounded child.’

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Learn the Signs and Symptoms of PTSD: Dr. Bessel van der Kolk

Bessel van der Kolk is one of the world’s leading experts on trauma and the healing of trauma. His book The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma, is a classic in the field, one of the best non-fiction books I have ever read.

Bessel starts this seven-minute film clip by describing how the diagnosis for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) was created to remind the Department of Veterans Administration in the USA to take care of war veterans. It was quite clear that a large of number of Vietnam veterans were traumatised by their war-time experiences.

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‘The Myth of Normal’ by Gabor Maté

Whilst in the UK, I bought a hardback copy of Gabor Maté’s thought-provoking new book The Myth of Normal: Trauma, Illness & Healing in a Toxic Culture. Yes, today’s Western society capitalist culture is toxic, according to one of the world’s leading trauma experts.

Here is what the book’s introduction says:

‘”It all starts with waking up… to what our bodies are expressing and our minds are suppressing.”

Western countries invest billions in healthcare, yet mental illness and chronic diseases are on a seemingly unstoppable rise. Nearly 70% [!] of Americans are now on prescription drugs. So what is ‘normal’ when it comes to health?

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The Politics of Personal Distress

A couple of months ago I came across an excellent article in the Guardian newspaper by UK clinical psychologist Sanah Ahsan entitled ‘I’m a psychologist – and I believe we’ve been told devastating lies about mental health’. The article is well worth reading:

‘Society’s understanding of mental health issues locates the problem inside the person – and ignores the politics of their distress’

We are living, we’re told, through a “mental health crisis”. Mental health services cannot cope with the explosion of demand over the past two years: 1.6 million people are on waiting lists, while another 8 million need help but can’t even get on these lists. Even children are showing up at A&E in despair, wanting to die.

But there is another way to see this crisis – one that doesn’t place it firmly in the realm of the medical system. Doesn’t it make sense that so many of us are suffering? Of course it does: we are living in a traumatising and uncertain world. The climate is breaking down, we’re trying to stay on top of rising living costs, still weighted with grief, contagion and isolation, while revelations about the police murdering women and strip-searching children shatter our faith in those who are supposed to protect us.

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Transforming Trauma Self-Care Resources: James Gordon M.D.

I wanted to introduce you to an amazing healing resource which appears on a page of The Center for Mind-Body Medicine (CMBM). ‘The CMBM was founded in 1991 by James S. Gordon, M.D., a Harvard-educated professor of psychiatry and family medicine at Georgetown University Medical School and former chairman of the White House Commission on Complementary and Alternative Medicine Policy, under Presidents Clinton and G.W. Bush. ‘

Here is how the resources are introduced:

‘Trauma – injury to the mind, body, spirit – comes to us all.

Our initial responses to trauma are healthy and designed to preserve us. First, we seek out connection and comfort; we call and look for help. When safety and reassurance are unavailable, we experience the fight- or- flight response. When fight or flight and the stress response can’t deal with an overwhelming and inescapable threat, a last- ditch survival mechanism, the “freeze” response, takes over.

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Dr Bruce Perry on How To Transform Pain Into Power

A clip from the film of Oprah Winfrey and Dr. Bruce Perry discussing their new book What Happened to You?: Conversations on Trauma, Resilience, and Healing. Here, Dr. Perry explains how to transform post-traumatic stress into wisdom on the path toward healing. Super Soul, Oprah Winfrey Network. [2’16”]

‘I think of the most transformative people I have ever known, every single one of them had personal pain and traumatic experience that was a core element of who they became. And it didn’t crush them… Those people tend to have tremendous empathy for others who are struggling and they tend to have wisdom.’ Bruce Perry M.D., Ph.D.

Marion’s Film Story, Part 2

I continue the series of films made by Mike Liu and I when we spent a day with Professor Marion Kickett, Director of the Centre for Aboriginal Studies at Curtin University, in York in September 2103. Marion is a Noongar from the Balardong language group. On this day, I learnt a good deal about Aboriginal culture, the experiences of an Aboriginal person in a white dominated society, and about the healing of trauma.

Marion talked about her strong sense of belonging she feels for her country, the Western Australian town of York and its surroundings, and the strong connection she has for the Native Reserve where she was brought up. She describes the racism she experienced as she grew up, and how she overcame her various adversities and challenges. She talks about the shocking events experienced by Aboriginal people which have impacted on health and wellbeing. Over time, Marion came to realise that she had to forgive non-Aboriginal people for the terrible things they had done in the past. Forgiveness is a key element of healing. You can find the first six films of this series here.

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100 Blog Posts and an Upcoming Break

Yes, this is my 100th blog post since I restarted blogging again on Recovery Stories on the 8th of March 2021. I’ve also added various other forms of content on other parts of the website, and released my eBook Our Recovery Stories: Journeys from Drug and Alcohol Addiction on the 9th of April.

As some of you know, I first launched Recovery Stories in May 2013, with the aim of helping individuals and families recover from addiction and mental health problems. A core element of the website was a series of 14 Recovery Stories (one is in two parts) ‘told’ by people who had been affected by a serious substance use problem, either directly or indirectly.

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Oprah Winfrey & Dr. Bruce Perry in Conversation | SXSW EDU 2021

Oprah Winfrey and leading child psychiatrist and neuroscientist Bruce Perry, MD, PhD explore the impact of childhood trauma on who we become, the decisions we make, and how healing must start with one question ‘what happened to you?’ in anticipation of a new co-authored book of the same name. Winfrey and Dr. Perry focus on understanding how shifting the approach to trauma and allowing understanding of the past allows for an opening of the door to resilience and healing in a proven, powerful way.

‘Women: Drinking and Recovery’ by Dr David McCartney

My good friend Michael Scott, of Michael’s Recovery Story, and I attended a Public Awareness Meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) in a Perth suburb today. I was asked to talk for five minutes about my recovery work over the years. I also described some of the factors that facilitate recovery.

We listened to a number of AA members share their stories and I have to say that I was blown away by the high quality of the shares. They were moving, inspirational and insightful. More women than men spoke. It was such a good meeting and I really enjoyed talking to people after the actual meeting ended.

Imagine my surprise when I got home to find that my good friend Dr David McCartney had just uploaded a blog post about women, drinking and recovery.

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How Trauma Flows Through the Generations

‘Our first generations were killed and imprisoned, and females sexually misused. Our second generations turned to alcohol or drugs as their cultural and spiritual identity was damaged; in our third generations we had spousal assault and societal trauma.

In our fourth generations the abuse moves from spousal abuse to child abuse or both. In the fifth generations, the cycle repeats as trauma begats violence, begats trauma. And in our sixth generations the grown children of the conquerors begin to live in fear of the grown children of the conquered.’ Judy Atkinson

The title of Judy Atkinson’s book is particularly well-chosen—trauma leaves trails across the generations. In the quote above, Judy briefly summarises the violence that has been experienced by Aboriginal people, violence that has produced trauma which has become cumulative and more complex across generations. This trauma has impacted upon individuals, families and communities.

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Judith Herman: Trauma and Recovery

511+Nl1uNdL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA300_SH20_OU01_1. Principles of recovery (healing)
‘The core experiences of psychological trauma are disempowerment and disconnection from others. Recovery, therefore, is based upon the empowerment of the survivor and the creation of new connections.

Recovery can take place only within the context of relationships; it cannot occur in isolation. In her renewed connection with other people, the survivor re-creates the psychological facilities that were damaged or deformed by the traumatic experience. These faculties include the basic operations of trust, autonomy, initiative, competence, identity, and intimacy.

Just as these capabilities are formed in relationships with other people, they must be reformed in such relationships.

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Addiction and Psychological Pain

During the many years I spent working in the addiction and mental health field, first as a neuroscientist and later helping empower people to facilitate their recovery (healing), I rarely heard the word ‘trauma’ being used.

Few practitioners I met mentioned that the person with the substance use problem might be self-medicating to ameliorate psychological pain. And yet in society, there were plenty of people visiting their doctor and obtaining a prescription of benzodiazepines such as librium, which are highly addictive substances, or antidepressants, which also produce problems, to help them deal with unpleasant psychological states of anxiety or depression.

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Ruby’s Healing Story

It’s hard to believe that it is over seven years ago since I launched Sharing Culture, an educational initiative to facilitate the healing of intergenerational trauma. [I don’t upload new content on the website now, but the content is still there for viewing.]

It is also over seven years since Michael Liu and I went out with Professor Marion Kickett to her home country in York to film her describing her life, country, culture, spirituality, family, education and resilience. Marion is a Noongar Elder from the Balardong language group, who is Director of the Centre for Aboriginal Studies at Curtin University in Perth.

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12 Principles of Indigenous Healing

When I first became interested in Indigenous healing a number of years ago, I did a great deal of reading about the healing of trauma and intergenerational trauma. I summarised what I considered to be 12 principles of healing, which are relevant to Aboriginal people here in Australia and other Indigenous peoples around the world. I first posted about these principles on Sharing Culture in 2014 and then on The Carrolup Story in 2018.

1. The Human Rights of Indigenous Peoples must be recognised and respected
Recognition of, and respect for, the Human Rights of Indigenous peoples is fundamental to improving their health and wellbeing. Society must ensure that Indigenous peoples have full and effective participation in decisions that directly or indirectly affect their lives.

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