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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Factors Facilitating Recovery: Understanding

Here is the next section from my chapter Factors Facilitating Recovery in  my eBook Our Recovery Stories: Journeys from Drug and Alcohol Addiction.

Understanding is essential for recovery. People with substance use problems and those on a recovery journey need information and education about a variety of matters, including: the nature of addiction and their own substance use problems; the range of interventions they can use to help them overcome or manage these problems; opportunities that allow them to exercise their strengths and assets; supports they can use to facilitate their recovery journey, and self-management skills that help them cope with situations that might lead to relapse. 

Recovering people are a major source of information that can facilitate another person’s recovery journey.

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Healing Section of Recovery Stories

HealingThe aim of the Healing section of Recovery Stories is to take you on a journey into the fascinating field relating to the healing of intergenerational trauma, sometimes called transgenerational or historical trauma. The section ‘operates’ differently to other parts of the website. If you are new to this field and are keen to learn, I suggest you start reading my first post, entitled Indigenous Trauma and Healing. You can then access the second post by clicking the link at the bottom of the page…. and so on.

At present, there are sixteen posts, mostly relating to intergenerational trauma (rather than healing) at this stage. I will gradually add more and more posts over time. Here is the current list:

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‘What Happened to You?: Conversations on Trauma, Resilience, and Healing’

Recently, I read one of the best books I have read relevant to my work. The book, What Happened to You?: Conversations on Trauma, Resilience, and Healing, is written by Bruce D. Perry M.D., Ph.D. and Oprah Winfrey. The book is essential reading for anyone interested in trauma and the healing of trauma. Many people who become addicted to drugs have experienced childhood trauma.

The book was informative, inspirational and deeply-moving. Bruce has put together so well what he has learnt throughout his career (including a great deal from the young people he has worked alongside), and has described his theories of how we function as human beings, and how trauma can have such a devastating impact on us. He describes the many ways we can facilitate the healing of trauma. The use of storytelling—Bruce’s clinical experiences and Oprah’s personal experiences—is very powerful.

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Shocking History Impacts on the Health and Wellbeing of Indigenous Peoples

Professor Marion Kickett relates how she and the other Noongar children in York, Western Australia, were not allowed to swim in a particular area of the river. When she was fifteen, her father described how he and his friends were similarly told by their parents not to swim in that location. He also related the shocking story of The Sandy.

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Journeys – Making Recovery from Addiction Visible

Huseyin Djemil from the UK has this week launched a new podcast focused on recovery from addiction, which he describes as such:

‘A new series from Towards Recovery CIC – making recovery from addiction visible.

Huseyin Djemil speaks to people who have lived experience of recovery from addiction, people who have been affected by addiction and those working in the addiction and recovery field – in its many contexts. There is a lot of information about addiction, but people get better and their stories need to be visible to give others hope.

Recovery is not a linear path from A to B, it’s more of a winding road and we want to explore those journeys and get those stories heard, because our stories have power.’

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Addiction Recovery

Here is a section about the nature of addiction recovery from my new eBook, Our Recovery Stories: Journeys from Drug and Alcohol Addiction.

“There have been various definitions of recovery proposed over the years. For the purpose of this chapter, I am going to use a definition proposed by leading addiction recovery advocate William (Bill) L White [1]:

‘Recovery is the experience (a process and a sustained status) through which individuals, families, and communities impacted by severe alcohol and other drug (AOD) problems utilize internal and external resources to voluntarily resolve these problems, heal the wounds inflicted by AOD-related problems, actively manage their continued vulnerability to such problems, and develop a healthy, productive, and meaningful life.’

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Healing Section of Recovery Stories

In more recent years, my work has in large part been focused around the healing of trauma. I set up the educational initiative Sharing Culture in 2014, which focused on the healing of intergenerational trauma amongst Indigenous peoples. [The website is still live, but I have not updated my blog for some time.]

Late in 2018, I launched a storytelling, education and healing online resource, The Carrolup Story, with Social Anthropologist John Stanton and our webmaster Ash Whitney (he built the Recovery Stories website as well). I published the eBook Connection: Aboriginal Child Artists Captivate Europe in June 2020.

This book, along with the website, plunges us into a world where traumatised Aboriginal children of Western Australia show resilience in the face of great adversity. Their achievements challenge the very foundation of a government’s racist and dehumanising policies. Their beautiful landscape art inspires four generations of artists… and takes a 50-year journey, encircling the world before returning home.

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It’s Not Just About the Drug, Part 3

I continue my series of blog posts focused on drug, set (the person) and setting (the social context) [Part 1 is here]. Drug, set and setting is not only of relevance to addiction, but also to overcoming addiction.

The path into and out of addiction
The ‘person’ and ‘social context’ factors influence early substance use and the likelihood that a person will develop problematic use and addiction. In general, individuals are less likely to develop substance use problems if they have fewer complicating life problems, more resources (social, personal, educational, economic), and opportunities for alternative sources of reward.

One explanation is that these individuals develop a weaker attachment to the substance in that for them substance use does not serve as many emotional, psychological or social needs.

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Welcome Home, Adam

As I write this, my good friend Adam Brookes, he of Adam’s Story, is just two hours away from arriving back in Australia. I will post this blog after I hear that he has landed in Darwin, en route for a two-week stay in Howard Springs Quarantine Facility. Then he’s heading back home to Dapto in New South Wales.

For those of us who know Adam, his arrival will be the most wonderful news. In fact, I was absolutely over-the-moon with joy when I heard he had passed through into the departure lounge at Heathrow Airport yesterday afternoon my time here in Perth. Why, you might ask?

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Box Set of Healing Cards: Indigenous Healing as Mindfulness Practice

As some of you know, I was inspired to start working in the healing of intergenerational trauma field after reading Judy Atkinson’s book Trauma Trails: Recreating Song Lines – The Transgenerational Effects of Trauma in Indigenous Australia. A section of this website is devoted to the healing of trauma and intergenerational (sometimes known as transgenerational or historical) trauma. I believe strongly that Indigenous peoples have a lot to teach non-indigenous peoples about the healing of trauma and its consequences (e.g. addiction, mental health problems).

Emeritus Professor Judy Atkinson is Patron / Elder Advisor of the wonderful Aboriginal healing initiative We Al-li Programs. Her daughter Dr Caroline Atkinson is the Chief Executive Officer.

We Al-li have recently started selling a box set of Healing Cards based on their healing approach. These Healing Cards and their accompanying booklet are very special. Here is the information that Carlie provided me about the box set.

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