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I’m Indigenous, Empowered And Now Drug Free

While alcohol and cannabis are still the two most abused substances in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, in recent years there has been an escalation in the use of the methamphetamine drug ice in regional and remote areas of Australia and there has been a significant increase in Indigenous people undertaking rehabilitation for ice addiction.

Joanne, whose name has been changed to maintain confidentiality, is an Indigenous Australian from the Yamatji tribe in Western Australia, who is currently undertaking our 90 day residential addiction treatment program for ice addiction. Wishing to remain anonymous, Joanne, as part of her recovery, wants to start to share some of her experiences that led to her addiction.

Hailing from Geraldton, Western Australia, Joanne is part of a large extended family, which is normal in Indigenous circles.

Joanne’s mother was part of the Stolen Generation – she was taken from her family between the age of 5 and 18 years and experienced a tremendous loss with her culture and native language, Wajarri, being taken from her.

Joanne’s father was Caucasian.

Growing up, Joanne says she struggled with being “in between” Indigenous and Caucasian – she is not dark skinned and her Indigenous heritage is not immediately apparent.

This feeling severely impacted upon her confidence. Joanne says that she found it hard to fit in.

“I just wanted to belong, to fit in. I would do anything to please people,” she says, “and that’s where I think it was easy for me to start using drugs. I was also exposed to a lot of racist behaviour, which dented my confidence and made me feel less than worthwhile.”

Joanne started working with the Australian Navy enforcing border protection, a job which she found extremely stressful. She also found herself within a racist navy culture. She found she could deal with the stress by drinking.

Drinking for Joanne was a means to numb the pain from the racism and sexism she experienced on a daily basis, and a way to fight her increasing feelings of diminishing self worth.

Following a car accident, Joanne’s drinking escalated and she started using and abusing ice. Her excessive drinking led to her discharge from the navy, which led to a further downward spiral into abusive relationships and heavier ice use.

“My abusive relationships reflected that I lived to please people. I was ashamed to be myself. I didn’t feel like I fitted in – ever,” she says.

Joanne is currently sixty days into her residential program at the Hader Clinic QLD and says that the rehab program has been eye opening and she says that she’s learning to put her needs first rather than being a doormat for others.

She’s also determined that as she recovers from her addiction to call out the racist comments that had become so commonplace in her life that she didn’t recognise them and to educate others about Indigenous cultures.

She’s also looking forward to piecing together her extensive family tree in the hopes of preserving and understanding her cultural heritage in the years to come.

As Joanne progresses with her residential rehabilitation program Joanne looks forward to sharing more of her experiences as she continues to identify the causes of her addiction and learns how to not let them be triggers for relapse.

Are you Indigenous and experiencing racism? Get support.

If you are an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person who has experienced racism, talking to someone about your experiences can help you stay strong. If you’re going through a tough time or are concerned about someone close to you, the beyondblue Support Service can help.

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