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“This conference is different – so many tears.” Reflections on Rethink Addiction

Introduction by Croakey: People with lived experience of alcohol, other drugs and gambling addictions met alongside clinicians, policy-makers, researchers and advocates at the recent Rethink Addiction national convention in Canberra to find ways to put better treatment and care on the national agenda and address stigma and shame that cause so much harm.

They invited MPs to attend and scheduled multiple meetings at Parliament House to further their advocacy, but those plans had to be postponed with the sudden suspension of Parliament in the wake of the death of Queen Elizabeth.

Those MPs missed some powerful voices for change at an event that, as one participant observed below, was like few others, particularly in its privileging of lived experience and expertise.

This article from the conference features reflections on the proceedings from a number of speakers. Bookmark this link to see all our conference coverage.


Reflections on day two

Dr Stefan Gruenert, CEO at Odyssey House Victoria, offered the closing session of the conference a quick reflection on the event.

At dawn my colleague shared the news his friend had died
A drug overdose in a land far away — how many others will die today?
The flags are at half mast, the buildings purple
While 24/7 news remembers the Queen
I learn Uncle Jack has passed
Another great storyteller, who battled his own demons
Always happy to yarn with an admiring stranger, like me

We came to Canberra to lift our voices
To let the politicians and bureaucrats know — but where did they go?
Panels, keynotes, drawings, and a visual scribe
Sensitive questioning from a wise old hand
Powerless in addiction
But powerful in our vulnerability, we stand
Show up and share

People of colour, of genders, of sexualities — of trauma
People in pain, who self-loath, who self-medicate, who fuck up
And the systems that support it
People from families, and tribes, in communities, in the country
People with children and parents
Ubutu — we are I because of all of you
We are all just people, humble and vulnerable and awesome

I have been to conferences for many years
Mostly academic, data and evidence, tables and graphs
Brochures, tables, stalls
But this one is different — so many tears
I’m in my heart, my throat — a runny nose and dripping eyes
Truth telling, being heard, understood — healed
I’m challenged and nourished — this is what I need

The lived and living experience is all around us
I’m not sure about those terms — it’s not new and mental health didn’t invent this
But we must collaborate
Surrounded by our colonial history
Gambling and AOD harms
First peoples, intersectionality and voices from diverse communities
Grounding us in what matters
Now acknowledged, valued and welcomed
Unless it is too uncomfortable to hear

No one solution — it’s complex — tread carefully
A health and social issue
More options, choices and less barriers — evidence, more research, coordinated care
Legal frameworks, the justice system, promotion of helplines, flipping the investment
Harm reduction, treatment, prevention, education, through care — it all works
Build the next generation workforce
Spend here — save there
Is Treasury even listening?
What works isn’t popular, and what’s popular doesn’t usually work

We need a strategy, and tactics, and leaders
Who understand the levers to pull
We need to be ready when the opportunity comes
We are on the right track, make it accessible, available, relevant
Get organised to make an impact
Find areas of agreement, find the champions, challenge the stigma
Celebrate our wins

But the journey we are on is long and the struggles are plenty
Each story a reminder of the difference just one person can make
Something to connect
To show someone cares
Filling the intimacy hole
Burnout and compassion fatigue, fighting for the scraps
Imagine how many things a small tax on alcohol could fund

A shout out to all those who are here
Look after yourselves my friends— and each other
We are all flawed and we are all fantastic
Doing our best with all we bring
Succession plan and mentor
Respect each other
Respect  trauma — be compassionate

It’s time to rethink addiction
Don’t stay in your lane, change the rules, rock the boat
I see hope, young people, kindness
Create safety — so all can share their voice
Have authentic conversations
Speak with a common voice — collective action
Together we are stronger and we will break through
Because people need us to
And there is no other choice.


Taking our next steps

Heather Pickard, former Chief Executive Officer of the Self-Help Addiction Resource Centre (SHARC), offered the conference this reflection of hers.

Aspiring to:

shifting sounds, moving images, internal rivers, opening, expanding, the conscious space, less me less you, the new terrain we travel, created when we walk together, richer, the dance yet to be danced, the song not yet written, like the tender new leaves in spring, looking for light and a community in which to flourish, we take our next steps.

Heather Pickard. Photo from Rethink Addiction

Fire refueled

Gambling reform advocate Anna Bardsley also reflected on the conference, via Twitter.

Tweet #RethinkAddiction @ahbard


Other reflections:

‘Gamble responsibly’ message is a cop-out. Regulators must step up: by ABC broadcaster Jon Faine who was the MC at #RethinkAddiction: https://www.theage.com.au/national/victoria/gamble-responsibly-message-is-a-cop-out-regulators-must-step-up-20220916-p5bilw.html

Lessons from the Rethink Addiction National Convention: by Caterina Giorgi: FARE https://fare.org.au/lessons-from-the-rethink-addiction-national-convention/

Celebrating our diverse coalition at the Rethink Addiction National Convention: Professor Dan Lubman https://www.rethinkaddiction.org.au/post/celebrating-our-diverse-coalition-at-the-rethink-addiction-national-convention


Watch

Students from Monash University’s School of Media, Film and Journalism produced a short documentary for the Rethink Addiction campaign. Watch it below.

 


From @WePublicHealth

The Rethink Addiction team live-tweeted the conference for Croakey’s rotated curated Twitter account @WePublicHealth. Following is a selection of their tweets.


Finding help

Lifeline 13 11 14 www.lifeline.org.au
Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467 www.suicidecallbackservice.org.au
Kids Helpline 1800 55 1800 www.kidshelpline.com.au
MensLine Australia 1300 78 99 78 www.mensline.org.au
Coronavirus Mental Wellbeing Support Service 1800 512 348
Head to Health National Phone Service (1800 595 212, www.headtohealth.gov.au)
Head to Health Adult Mental Health Centres (www.headtohealth.gov.au/supporting-yourself/adult-mental-health-centres)
QLife – phone peer support service by LGBTIQ+ peers for all ages. 3pm-midnight. 1800 184 527 or webchat www.qlife.org.au

If you are concerned about suicide, living with someone who is considering suicide or bereaved by suicide – the Suicide Call Back Service is available at 1300 659 467 or www.suicidecallbackservice.org.au.

Gambling help: For free 24/7 gambling support, call 1800 858 858 or contact www.gamblinghelponline.org.au

Help with alcohol and other drugs: For 24/7 free, confidential alcohol or other drug support, contact www.counsellingonline.org.au or call the National Alcohol and Other Drug Hotline 1800 250 015 to speak to someone in your state. Click here to find out more.


Marie McInerney was in virtual attendance at the Rethink Addiction conference for the Croakey Conference News Service.

Follow @croakeynews and #RethinkAddiction for Tweets from the conference, with additional coverage via @wepublichealth and @alisonsbarrett.

Bookmark this link to see all our conference coverage and follow the #RethinkAddiction Twitter list.