Enter The Addict’s Pearl

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According to the Department of Health Victoria, from “2009–10, 54024 courses of treatment (COT) were delivered to 28508 clients in Victorian specialist alcohol and drug service”

(Department of Health Victoria, 22 May, 2012)


As a person who works in adult and youth drug detoxification and rehabilitation centres, there is a concurrent theme which runs throughout the lives of the individuals who utilise our services. These similarities are particularly evident when observing the youth who enter our doors. I have personally witnessed but one individual who did not conform to these consistent similarities, with individuals suffering from one, two or even the trifecta of issues, which are; mental health concerns, trauma, grief or loss. The one individual of many who did not conform was 15 and may have been suffering from one of these, yet failed to notify the service, but (in my humble opinion) he appeared to be at high extremes of intelligence, apparently using substances to quieten down his brain from the madness of over activity. But then again many of the geniuses of our time have been considered mentally ill at some point in their life (think John Forbes Nash Junior, centre of the acclaimed film ‘A Beautiful Mind’).

When youth come through these services, with a little digging, it becomes apparent that they are aware what their issues are. This can be viewed as a positive thing, if the individual is ready to deal with these issues (which they rarely are), or negative if the individual is not emotionally or physically prepared, and are subsequently re-traumatised over and over via dreams or hallucinations. In regards to particular forms of mental illness, well, obviously that is a work in progress, and is most times still related to a capability to deal with such issues that arise from trauma or grief and loss. The best way that I can explain these scenarios is with the notion of a graph, with numbers ranging from 1-10. Each individual’s levels of tolerance are difference. One person may experience the death of a grandparent as a ‘3’ in the category of ‘grief or loss’, but then another may experience the same death as a ‘9’, and not have the appropriate emotional skills necessary to deal with such a traumatic event, resulting in such behaviour as substance use, cutting or burning themselves, or the inability to adequately function on an everyday level.

Now when you observe the adults in the detoxification centres, their issues at first seem to be drug related. They are suffering from the loss of a child to Department of Human Services, dealing with pending legals and ramifications of other sentences from incarcerations of years prior, and the loss of loved ones through overdoses, or loss of contact due to their substance use issues, or loved ones inability to be continually hurt and disappointed by the substance effected individual. If we remove all of this chaos, and all of this distraction, and all of the subsequent substance sagas, what is going on for this individual? Who were they prior to all of ‘this stuff’? Who were they when they were the youth, haunted daily by their original demons?

When working at the adult rehabilitation centre, these original demons progressively come to light. They say that when an individual commences substance use, they stop growing emotionally. And when they cease usage they begin growing again. So these centres hold 35 year olds, who are really 12, 13 or 15 years of age emotionally. When in these facilities, we as workers watch their walls slowly retract, the walls they have spent the last 20 years of their life building, so that they can no longer be hurt.

To some, working in these centres sound miserable, listening to sadness and misery on a regular basis. But I don’t see the sadness, I see hope. I don’t see a problem that needs “fixing”. I see people who request an open ear for them to expel their thoughts, and requests for tools to deal with these demons. But if this individual takes these tools on board is their prerogative, not mine. They are not my body, my soul, to “fix”. It is their choice when, where and how they reroute their life.

When watching these walls slowly crumble, I feel lucky that I am of the privileged few able to watch such a phenomenon. Working in these centres is the greatest prize a person can obtain. To see another person week by week retract their walls, retract what they hide behind, and truly look at themselves; question what is going on for them, to look their demons in the face and be no longer afraid… Thus, the demon retreats, just like the walls their owner previously hid behind. Like a pearl in an oyster, so shines an amazing person, strong, yet vulnerable – an open novel about to commence their Act III.


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