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Time and Help to Heal

By Cally Jetta

Part of life is having people come in and out of it like the revolving door of a building. Now and then though someone makes an entrance that leaves a lasting impact, touches you deeply and allows you to see a different perspective.

Quite recently I met a young Yamatji lady down here on Noongar country and after spending some time with her and observing her wide range of emotions, challenges and coping strategies, I was able to better understand her reality. Sadly, her reality is shared by many Aboriginal women, as is the legacy of intergenerational trauma and family breakdown.

She is 20 years old and mother to an adorable baby boy. They ended up away from country and down here just 5 months ago after leaving her hometown grief stricken following the suicide of her brother. Her partner and son’s father has long term friends down this way so they came down to stay for what they thought would be a temporary visit.

The tenants are meth addicts as are the many ‘friends’ that frequent the house. Her partner also plagued by tragedy and grief had already picked up the habit and his escalating crime spree to support it led to all kinds of crazy happenings not excluding hostage situations and violent robberies.

Knowing how fragile and alone her man was and how likely he would be to follow in her brother’s footsteps should she leave him, she stayed. Her father’s extreme mental illness and mother’s long term drug abuse also made him the closest and most stable support person she had (other than her other brother in jail) and offered her protection from other potential risks.

Eventually, one out of control incident with police involvement and a positive strip search result led to her being charged and child protection services removing her son from her care.

Desolate and beside herself with grief, shame, worry and anger the main thing keeping her torment at bay is her drug use. The same drug that is helping her to avoid her problems and block the pain has become an even bigger problem and now stands as the main obstacle in the way of her getting her son back. She knows this and despises herself for not being a strong and good enough mum to just stop and get on with it. She knows that her own upbringing has affected her confidence and skills as a mother and her mum’s ongoing neglect and refusal to take any of the responsibility infuriates her to the point she can not contain it. Other times she shares photos of happier times and comments fondly about her mum. Such intense and contrasting emotions make her head spin and judgement cloudy.

Add those feelings of guilt, abandonment and self-loathing to the huge amount of anxiety and pain already there and life, and how she feels about it and herself become too much to cope with. With a few pipes or one shot she instantly feels better. Her feelings of hopelessness and self-hate diminish. Things don’t seem so bad or urgent suddenly. Tomorrow she will make a start, because today it’s just too hard, too much and she will ‘rats out’ unless she gets some meth soon. The days have turned into weeks and the weeks into months. She doesn’t want to return home, as there is too much sorrow and not enough support for her. She doesn’t want to be where she is, nor her man, but they have nowhere else to stay and she is required to remain close by because of the local police and DCP involvement. Her man doesn’t have the same desire to change and start a new life free of drugs and crime and his lack of care and mention of his son is creating tension and disconnect in their relationship. Together, equally committed, they could probably support each other through. But trying to get clean alone while surrounded by a household of people content on staying users and unable to provide any support, advice and motivation, is no easy task.

She is beautiful, kind, articulate and obviously loves her child to bits. I have told her so and that I believe she has the strength and love to overcome and be a happy, fantastic mum. That she could one day be the perfect person to help other young women through similar struggles. That she and her son were still so young and had the opportunity to start anew. She desperately wants that, but she is damaged, lost, alone and vulnerable. She doesn’t know how or where to start. She is without the money, environment and support that provides options.

Any rehab treatment would require she cut contact with the few people she knows down here, including her partner and enter an unfamiliar institution alone. She would then have to cope with withdrawal and an enormity of overwhelming emotions that have been suppressed, again in an unfamiliar place and without family support. Most centres also require that patients be drug free and clean for at least 6 weeks prior to entering the rehab facility to show genuine desire to quit. Without intense help to stop, this young lady is unlikely to ever have the calm, clarity and support she needs to go it alone for 6 weeks. In that time she could have changed her mind about quitting several times, survived a drug overdose and seriously self-harmed during a bad comedown. All have happened previously.

Just the other day as we were talking and crying about her situation she said ‘maybe everyone is right, maybe my son is better off without me and living with someone else.’

I was firm in my reply this time. ‘No, no one can take the place of his mother and don’t take the easy way out by giving up instead of putting in the effort your boy deserves. Otherwise he will grow to feel the same as you do. That drugs meant more to his mum than him and that he wasn’t enough to give her the strength and determination needed to change. You can be the one to break this cycle and make a permanent change that your children will continue. I believe sister that you are strong, smart and caring enough to do it and I will help you anyway I can.’

I know what inter-generational trauma is in theory and recognize the multitude of symptoms and struggles that presents with it. Learning this young woman’s story and observing her daily struggle though, gave me a whole new insight into the reality and trappings of actually living it. Her story, like countless others, made it blindingly apparent to me that far more focus needs to go into healing and supporting our young people and parents/families through proactive strategies that bring about positive change and growth; rather than reactive initiatives that cause further trauma, shame and family breakdown. We also need more culturally and family inclusive rehab facilities that are accessible to everyone and available as soon as the help is requested. Most of all though, we as an Australian society need more empathy, patience and kindness in our dealings with others and their grief.

The outcomes could only be positive and beneficial for all.

8 comments

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  1. Joseph Carli

    Cally..it is no accident that addiction is , if not promoted among many indigenous populations by colonising interests, it is certainly not regretted by those conservative governments that act in the interests of the colonising corporate powers…not now , not ever…See this..: From Wikepedia..

    First Opium War
    Main article: First Opium War

    The First Opium War, during 1839–1842, was concluded by the Treaty of Nanking in 1842. The treaty ceded the Hong Kong island to the United Kingdom in perpetuity, and it established five treaty ports at Shanghai, Canton, Ningpo, Fuchow, and Amoy. Another treaty the next year gave most favored nation status to the United Kingdom and added provisions for British extraterritoriality. Then France secured concessions on the same terms as the British, in treaties of 1843 and 1844.
    Second Opium War
    Main article: Second Opium War
    Depiction of the 1860 Battle of Taku Forts

    During 1856–1860, British forces fought towards legalisation of the opium trade, to expand coolie trade, to open all of China to British merchants, and to exempt foreign imports from internal transit duties. France joined the British. The war is also known as the “Arrow War”, referring to the name of a vessel at the starting point of the conflict. The war resulted in a second group of treaty ports being set up; eventually more than 80 treaty ports were established in China, involving many foreign powers. All foreign traders gained rights to travel within China.

  2. Joseph Carli

    I would even go further and accuse the colonising powers of using a crude method of biological warfare against the indigenous peoples here and in the Americas, first learned from experiments with deliberately introducing small pox to the Mexican and Nth American natives..

    https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0002962915344815

    ABSTRACT

    With the arrival of Europeans in the Western Hemisphere, Native American populations were exposed to new infectious diseases, diseases for which they lacked immunity. These communicable diseases, including smallpox and measles, devastated entire native populations. In this article, we focus on the effect of smallpox on the Native Americans from the 15th through the 19th centuries. Among the “new” infectious diseases brought by the Europeans, smallpox was one of the most feared because of the high mortality rates in infected Native Americans. This fear may have been well-founded, because the Native Americans were victims of what was probably one of the earliest episodes of biological warfare. Fortunately, they were also major beneficiaries of early vaccination programs. Thus, the arrival of smallpox and the decline of the Native American populations are inexorably linked, as the history summarized here illustrates. (pay-walled article)

    I have done a little research into the Conquistador’s deliberate introduction of small pox into the Inca / Aztec people via the transportation from Africa of a infected slave kept isolated on board one of the ships in the Spanish fleet…This same slave was then sent with a gift of infected blankets and items to the Tribal leaders…

    While there may not have been knowledge of the way germ-infection works, there certainly was knowledge of the devastation of the spread of a plague…All the Conquistadors had to do was to sit and wait..

  3. diannaart

    Cally

    Most centres also require that patients be drug free and clean for at least 6 weeks prior to entering the rehab facility to show genuine desire to quit

    If an addict could manage 6 weeks all by themselves, they hardly need rehab. So, what is a person with dependent children and addict friends/partner supposed to do? Particularly if living in regional areas where medical support is not readily available.

    Like so many so-called “support” services, they appear to be designed more to prevent people from access rather than actually providing effective, local and immediate support.

    I wish I knew the answer, the usual options, contacting local MP don’t exactly work too well if one’s address is less than salubrious.

    Thinking this would be an excellent Get-Up campaign if one is not already in the works.

    Australia neglects those living in cities let alone those in rural areas… please keep us informed as to how this young woman is managing. Living as I do in Koori country, I do not know much about help available in South-West WA.

  4. paul walter

    Diannaart, I usually respect your comments but this, “If an addict could manage for 6 weeks..by themselves, they hardly need rehab “, exhibits a crassness I am not used to with you. Have you ever had to deal with a dependency issue?

    Takes a bit longer than a few weeks, however it plays out. Sorry.

  5. Ann

    Well written Cally and good advice to your friend. Your article could find a place in any progressive magazine. You’re right, we need a society with “more empathy, patience and kindness”. My suggestion – look around for role models to help, eg former addicts who straightened out. That’d at least provide a partial empathy shield against what passes for society at the moment. Shalom House Perth might be of help.

    On another subject, what is happening with the Uluru Statement from the Heart?
    That was the best communique I read in 2017.
    Pretty sure the LNP wants to hear the message again seeing it didn’t sink in first time.
    The central concepts of the Uluru Statement (eg sovereignty is a spiritual notion) put to song for Australia Day? Jessica, Archie, Troy?

  6. diannaart

    Paul

    Apologies – I see now, how my comments must appear.

    This is what comes of trying for brevity.

    I agree drug dependency takes, well as long as it takes to become independent again. I guess the point I was trying to make was that leaving a person without ANY help or support for 6 weeks just to prove a person is “keen” enough for rehab, is nothing short of cruel.

    I hope I have made myself a little clearer. If not, please ask and I’ll try again 🙂

  7. paul walter

    Thanks friend. Thought it was out of character for you.

  8. diannaart

    🙂

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