Recovery is possible - Episode 4 of Addicted Australia
In this episode we follow the participants through the final weeks of their bespoke treatment program. We see that the road to recovery isn’t a straight line, and observe that addiction, like other health conditions, can be characterised by periods of improvement and periods of vulnerability. What is great to see is that each participant has made positive steps forward to improve their health and wellbeing.
Trigger Warning: Some people in recovery may find watching some parts of Addicted Australia triggering, particularly in relation to alcohol and drug use, and trauma. You may want to seek support while watching if this is the case.
It’s not magic
“I think the community and government’s expectation is [that] supposedly we can magically fix people. If we were running a treatment program now for diabetes, stroke or heart disease the expectation wouldn’t be that we could fix everyone. The same’s true here in addiction.” — Dan Lubman, Executive Clinical Director, Turning Point.
A problematic and widely held view is that people struggling with addiction should just stop, and that they are personally accountable for their health problems. However, we don’t expect people with other health conditions to recover without treatment and support. This difference speaks to the significant stigma and inequity faced by people affected by addiction.
Another issue is that support services and treatments available for addiction are often underfunded, and not necessarily connected with one another or available through an integrated program. This can make it difficult for people to stay on track and maintain positive changes. The treatment program featured in the documentary series has been unique in this regard, as wrap-around and holistic treatment and support has been available to the participants wholly through Turning Point.
Lapse and relapse
We see several of the participants experience lapses during the episode, which is expected.
When Matt has a lapse he comes to his next counselling session quite reluctant and concerned about what the team will think. Fortunately, he finds that they just want to keep helping him:
“I feel positive, I felt like I let a few people down. But they don’t seem to think so, it all seems to be a part of it, I’ll keep it going.” — Matt, in recovery for alcohol addiction.
While (of course) we would prefer to avoid lapses or relapses, they are often part of recovery and are an opportunity for the person to learn about their addiction and to keep moving forward.
“Relapse is part of recovery. Its certainly not a failure. It’s that willingness to make mistakes and the critical thing is to have the courage and resilience to get up and keep on going.” — Dan Lubman, Executive Clinical Director, Turning Point.
Medications for addiction and outreach support
For some of the participants, medication is prescribed to help them manage their cravings and substance use.
All the participants also continue to receive counselling and peer support as part of the program, and some receive additional outreach support. Outreach support, is a highly useful service that provides additional support to people in their own environment in the community, Unfortunately, outreach support for people affected by addiction is not currently available through most mainstream public health services.
Judgement and stigma
We know that the stigma around addiction and public perceptions of the types of people who are affected by addiction can be a huge barrier for people accessing support. Stigma can also be a stumbling block for people who are in treatment, as they can feel constantly judged by others, which can put a huge amount of pressure on them.
In a peer group session Sarah says:
“It’s the judgement that comes from other people, like are you an addict or whatever. I work on myself every single day. I don’t think a lot of the community can say the same about themselves, yet they are so quick to point the finger… I’m just a good person that’s trying to do the best I can. It’s exhausting though being an addict.” — Sarah, in recovery for methamphetamine addiction.
For some people the shame and stigma are so overwhelming they don’t feel they can tell anyone about their struggles. For most of the episode, Heidi still hasn’t told anyone about her addiction, however, when she finally does tell her mum, the relief seems profound.
“She had no idea what I was going through, she just listened. She didn’t do any of the things I had imagined in my mind. She wasn’t angry…then I just cried. Then she said thank you for telling me.” Heidi, in recovery for alcohol addiction.
People accessing help for addiction are strong
As we have found out more about the participants in the program it’s become clear that many of them have experienced mental and physical trauma, with addiction developing as a way to cope.
“I think the stereotype is that people with addiction are generally weak in some way and what I think’s really been demonstrated by this group is they’ve had to overcome some incredible struggles in their life. They get up every day and they try to make themselves better and that takes enormous strength and resilience.” — Dan Lubman, Executive Clinical Director, Turning Point.
What the participants demonstrate is that they are extremely strong — they showcase their ability to survive adversity and their desire to work through the hardships in their life and find other ways to cope beyond their addiction.
Burden and relief for families
Ruben expresses considerable guilt for the impact his addiction has had on his family. When he tearfully talks about his mother being so scared, it is an incredibly raw moment.
“First thing she does when she wakes up is come to my room, she just comes to see me move, you know. Because she doesn’t know if I will be alive or dead.” Ruben, in recovery for heroin addiction.
Later in the episode we see the impact that the program has had on the whole family. Ruben, his sister, son and mum can all see a future that is much brighter.
“We always say don’t lose hope but there was a point that I was thinking…is he ever going to do anything?Is he ever going to get better? But now I can see the difference, yeah. I’m proud of him and I think he will make me more proud.” — Dora, Ruben’s mum.
The impact of COVID-19
Towards the end of the episode COVID-19 reached Australia. Restrictions began to be implemented, and the face-to-face aspect of the treatment necessarily shifted to telehealth.
Unsurprisingly, this created and additional layer of difficulty for the participants, who are quite vulnerable and are really concerned about being isolated.
As Victoria went into its first lockdown, Heidi said:
“All of us will kind of be struggling at the moment and I think even more so if you have an addiction. It just plays on anxiety and uncertainty and that’s what this time is right now.” — Heidi, 31, in recovery for alcohol addiction.
One advantage of the widespread move to telehealth is that it has helped people who have traditionally struggled to attend healthcare services face-to-face — for a number of reasons such as transport difficulties, financial difficulties and geographical distance. We anticipate that in the coming years, a mixed care model will be adopted to provide health treatment, including in the addiction treatment sector.
Connectedness is crucial
In the final peer support group, we see the progress made by the participants and the crucial role their connection to each other has played during the treatment program. They are supportive, understanding and encouraging of one another, and will even call each other out and challenge each other. Recognisably, they support and interact with one another to try to help each other make positive changes.
Lucas reflects on the peer group saying:
“It gave me for the first time ever a sense of community. Throughout this whole journey I had never found a community and that’s what I have got out of it. Its just having that back up for the first time in my life and I can’t thank you all enough!” — Lucas, in recovery for gambling addiction.
Recovery is possible
As the series wraps up, we see incredible progress from the participants. Recovery is possible for anyone affected by addiction. While addiction might still be part of who they are, it’s not the only thing they are anymore:
“My name’s Sarah. I’m currently a full-time student studying a Diploma of Community Services, I’m also a daughter, I’m a sister, I’m an aunty and I’m a dog lover. And I’m currently recovering from addiction.” — Sarah
“My name is Reuben and for the longest time I believed that heroin had broken me. But today I strongly believe that you know I have a chance to finally be normal again and I have tomorrow and the next day and you know the day after that.” — Ruben
“My name is Dawn [and] I started drinking when I was 13. I’m about to turn 63. People can get on top of this addiction at any age you know. You don’t have to be 20 or 30 or 40. It’s never too late to stop, never.” — Dawn
Things need to change!
In reflecting on the program, Prof. Dan Lubman points to the lack of integrated treatment and support options and evidence-based treatment available for addiction:
“I think what’s really unfortunate is addiction isn’t seen as a health disorder, because of that it doesn’t have the attention, the resources, the commitment to actually put in the treatments we know that work.
I think what this program has shown is if you meet people where they’re at, if you look at where they want to go and you put the right supports and structures around them and provide them with what we know works in terms of treatment we see people flourish, we see people get to where they want to be.” — Dan Lubman, Executive Clinical Director, Turning Point.
We need to talk about addiction!
“My name is Heidi and I’ve had a problem with alcohol for about 5 years now. I am currently sober thankfully. As a society we don’t want to talk about addiction. Why, why are we not doing this, what is there to be ashamed of, because I can promise you that you know someone who has an addiction and we need to talk about it.” Heidi, 31, in recovery for alcohol addiction.
Now that these incredible people have shared their powerful stories and recovery journeys with you it’s time to take part in the conversation and become part of the campaign to #RethinkAddiction.
You can do this by:
Remember if you or anyone you know is affected by addiction and need support, help is available: