Most Common Obstacles to Recovery

Let's Talk: Addiction & Recovery Podcast
Indian dancing in traditional clothes

Some obstacles to addiction recovery for the Native community are obvious and well documented, like underfunded health systems. But other, less obvious challenges are just as sticky and prevent just as many people from seeking help. These obstacles, in turn, lengthen "the journey from the head to the heart"—when a person understands that they need help, but the paradigms of recovery have yet to take root in their heart and soul.

What healthy looks like to you and to I may look different to someone who is trying to get healthier and making smaller baby steps.

Ceclina Mahinalani

0:00:12 Andrew Williams
Welcome to Let's Talk Recovery Equity. A series of conversations about how we can reach and help more people find freedom from addiction. This series offers us an important space to reflect on some of the complexities of substance use and mental health conditions. And consider new pathways to hope, recovery, and healing. I'm your host, Andrew Williams. Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation. Today, I'm very excited to welcome back our guest Ceclina Mahinalani Garza. Celina is a Kanaka Maui or Native Hawaiian. She also identifies as Portuguese, Mexican Native American, with Texas roots. Currently, she is the Coordinator and Facilitator for the Native Strong Men Project, a health and wellness program held a hundred percent online which was launched in July 2020. And was successful in recruiting over a hundred and eighty Native men across the country to actively participate via Zoom classes and groups. She is also the founder of Native Lifeway. Celina specializes in creating meaningful connections as an indigenous advocate and practitioner of wellness, mind, body, spirit. Celina's background includes mind, body transformational psychology and traditional ecological knowledge. She's an energetic motivational facilitator who masterfully integrates cultural traditions, spirituality, holistic healing modalities, and movement as medicine. And uses these modalities to positively motivate people from the inside out. Hello, Celina, welcome back! It's great to see you today!

0:02:02 Ceclina Mahinalani
All this makes me blush. [chuckles]

0:02:03 Andrew Williams
Oh, well it's from the heart! [chuckles] You know, I've been looking forward to Part Two of our conversation from the moment our first conversation ended. [Celina nods] And so again, thank you for your generosity of time and spirit today.

0:02:16 Ceclina Mahinalani
Thank you! Super excited on this sunny morning here in Arizona. I'm twenty minutes out of Phoenix. And we've been over 110 for the last, you know, few days and got some rain and so, it dries up and then there's a lot of sticky humidity. But, really grateful. Thanks for having me again.

0:02:37 Andrew Williams
Me too, I'm glad that although we're in diverse geographic positions that we can both kind of benefit from the radiance of the sun this morning. 'Cause it's very sunny and beautiful here in Minnesota today. You know I always like to start our interviews by giving our viewers and listeners a chance to get to know a bit more about you just as a person. And you know, one of the really one of my favorite and I think among the most beautiful and powerful kind of intercultural exercises I've done with students and community members is an exercise developed by Beverly Tatum. An African-American Psychologist. And this exercise is entitled I Am From. And it creates sort of a space and process for participants to develop a four-stanza poem. And each kind of stanza in the poem begins with the phrase 'I Am From.' And I'm just gonna ask you in some way if you don't mind, improvise with us this morning and to respond to this first prompt. Which is 'I Am From.' And the first prompt, as Tatum describes it, asks us to kinda talk about the sights, the sounds, the smells of the neighborhood communities that you grew up in. And so if you could, you know, tell us where are you from?

0:03:47 Ceclina Mahinalani
Love that. I'm so excited to do this! 'Cause it sounds like it's gonna end in a really descriptive kind of who I am and where I'm from. And then, everyone who's listening and watching can know exactly where I'm from. So, I would say I am from a small town full of rolling hills, green grasses, sprinkles with four seasons. I live next to horses so the smell of manure, if you will, woke me up each morning. But also the smell of fresh raspberries and strawberries growing in my side yard. And the smell of leather from my grandfather's saddle shop. And also, the sound of trucks coming into the gravel driveway to come and see my grandfather who was the saddle maker. And the smell of eggs and Spam cooking on Saturday or Sunday. And a fresh pot of rice that I started for our family to eat. And the sound of laughter and the sound of my brother's music with his stereo, big speakers he was putting in an old Oldsmobile. And the sound of my sisters running back and in and out of the house. And my mom getting after them and telling them don't slam the door, be quiet. [laughs]

0:05:23 Andrew Williams
Well thank you, Celina, for being willing to kinda go poetic with us, you know, today. [smiles] And giving us such a really rich window, you know, into sort of the—the sights, the sounds, the smells of the cultural communities that you grew up in. And on our last interview we spent a good amount of time talking about the range of programs that you've started and that you lead, some of which I described in the introduction. I wanna maybe take our conversation now to the next level. And really kinda dig in and look at maybe with a more focused lens issues of addiction and recovery and healing in the Native communities that you work in. [Celina nods] And if you would, could you please share with our viewers maybe a few important points you think are important for us to understand about the contours of addiction and importantly, recovery and healing in the Native communities that you work with.

0:06:17 Ceclina Mahinalani
Yeah, thanks for asking that. I definitely think that healing looks different for everyone. And also recovery. And what healthy looks like to you and to I may look different to someone who is trying to get healthier, you know, and making smaller baby steps. Some of the different places that focus on recovery that I've been really honored to work with and blessed to have the opportunity to work with some of these places. Working in recovery does look different 'cause you feel and see the different bright colors and the different activities that are happening. The songs, the language, the friendships, the families, it seems to me and what I have been, you know, just experiencing is the rich culture and the food that comes along with it. And it feels like home. And it's kinda strange to say that, you know, because when we think about people in transition, we're thinking about people in recovery being either taken away from where they usually live on a reservation, or thinking about maybe even being displaced from their families. Now if we look at a non-Native residential place, it does feel different. I feel like when we go to some of these other places, there's art, there's really a lot of color. We hear a lot of music. Crafting, beading, a lot of aunties or grandmas who are also, you know, working on getting healthier or maybe, you know, just taking a vacation is sometimes what they call it. You could tell that they've taken the lead to take care of some of the other younger clients or participants that are there. So it is really different. A lot of going out is what they call it. Just going to sight-see. 'Cause a lot of the people and a lot of our people who are suffering or trying to get healthier have been—I don't know wanna say stuck on a reservation, but, away from the city. Like you and I, you know, we can drive out 15 minutes and go to the grocery store like we, you know, want to. Or go see a movie or go out to the mall. And some of the people who are living in different reservations have to drive an hour or two just to get to the grocery store. To seek help and healing. So, it is very different.

0:09:08 Ceclina Mahinalani
I think also the grouping, I think also the opportunities to participate in different ceremony. And it might sound strange to non-Native people or people who've never participated in any of our cultural events or ceremonies or know anyone who—who participates in any of that—the ceremony is constantly being taken place and the people are taking advantage of it. because I would say half of our people, half of the clients, have never participated. They've only heard about it. For whatever reason. And so, when people are coming to healing centers, they're having the opportunity to meet other people and participate in ceremony. So, it is really different.

0:10:00 Andrew Williams
Thank you, Celina, for that response. And I really think you help us all to more fully understand, right, the complexities both of in some ways how—how addiction manifests itself. And I think partly what you help us appreciate right are the cultural complexities of Native communities and that there's no sort of singular approach that could work for all Native people. Or not even necessarily for all Native people within one specific tribal group or reservation, right? And that's kind of the—the challenge of this work is to grapple with that complexity. [Celina nods] And to figure out how to respond to that in nimble and culturally attentive ways. And I think what's clear to me as you share, right, what you shared, that as we work to kinda develop diverse kind of culturally attentive approaches where there are some core threads that are consistent. You talk about food and really when you share that it's food as medicine. And then you know the second stanza that we're asked to write in that 'I Am From' poem is to talk about the foods, right, that were associated with growing up and celebrations, right? And you just—you can see the faces light up as everyone shares that. And there's just something healing about being connected to your comfort food. And then there's of course we also know there's that next level of work of making sure that the food we're putting in our bodies is medicine, right? And not working in some ways to accelerate or put up a barrier to our healing. We also talk about the centrality of culture. Obviously cultural traditions which really resonate with some of the work I've been doing with Native youth. And we talked about talk within our recovery sessions and we asked them, you know, what's your vision of recovery. They repeatedly talk about I wanna return to Native singing, I wanna return to dance, or I can't wait for the fall to be out with my family. As we brand our cattle and engage in all the different traditions and rituals that are a part of that. So I appreciate giving us a window to what that looks like, right, in the communities that you work with there. I'm wondering if you could perhaps dig in a little bit deeper and talk some—not just maybe about the barriers—you did note the barriers in getting support and healing. And some of that's just about geography and space and the lack of transportation. I wonder if you could maybe speak to some of the other barriers that are in the way and then maybe after that if you could speak to some of the specific healing modalities that you use in your practice with Native communities.

0:12:18 Ceclina Mahinalani
Yeah I always get a little bit passionate when we're talking about challenges and obstacles and barriers. There's this perception that if someone wants to go and detox or someone wants to stop drinking or stop using, then all it is is a car ride and there's all these places that are available. It's a scary place, you know, if you've never been away from home. And never been away from your community. The people who look like you, sound like you. First of all, it's just an uncomfortable situation, you know, Native people seeking help. Especially, you know, Native men with my experience in the last two years that ask, is so uncomfortable. But who do you ask? You know, some of these opportunities to go to these different transitional living detox centers and transitional living where they're plentiful here in Arizona. And day centers sometimes is what they call them out here. It's an uncomfortable situation 'cause you don't know where to start. A lot of programs are run by non-Native people. So you don't know how they're gonna treat you or receive you. So I would say that that would be, you know, the first.

0:13:44 Ceclina Mahinalani
And then, you know, the other part of that is the different health disparities that come along with a person. Say for an example someone who is struggling with addiction as far as abusing prescription drugs. That the doctors so easily will write for someone who's having back pain or headaches. And you know because of our family's background and mine specifically with my mind, body spiritual psychology and understanding how that all works with us, is once we start introducing and then start abusing any type of mind-altering substances, everything is kind of upside down and backwards. You know. We never feel the same anymore. The longest journey is here, right? [gestures with hands] It's never the same. And so, when we're thinking about going away from our home, and seeking help from a program, someone could have that, right? Someone could be suffering with addiction from the opiates but on top of that have high blood pressure. On top of that, not have glasses. Where they've only been able to and are familiar with things around their house. If you're looking at the healthcare system, or Indian Health Services, it's like this. [gestures to suggest 'small'] You've really gotta ask a lot of questions and know someone who's already been there and done that. So just simple things. That some of take for granted for getting glasses in a good way. Dental care, you know? A lot of our Native people unfortunately are really suffering from a lack of dental care. And we know that with our dental care health in our mouth, right, the health of our mouth, infections, teeth that need to be removed. So that access to care. You know, you mentioned transportation, that's huge! How are we gonna get back and forth to these places. How am I gonna pay for some of these things? And that's kind of a scary place too we just have to kind of go to a place that accepts health services to access. So there's just so many, you know, family members who are sick too on top of that. Consistently getting the medication that we need or never started. The doctor prescribed meds, I've never started them.

0:16:25 Ceclina Mahinalani
I've heard the same thing about some of our people who were incarcerated. Never knowing that their A1C or their, you know, their sugars are out of control and over 13 that the—the gauge you can't even read it. their AIC is super out of control so the medication that they're getting is when they're incarcerated. They start to feel better once they're incarcerated. So, it's kind of the same thing. When we're thinking about our people seeking recovery and healing is that access to care because of other health elements. Other health disparities. Whether it be for ourselves or our family and then also our children. We're gonna take care of our children. The good thing is is our family systems with Native peoples, you know, Auntie will take care of them or Grandma. And, you know, childcare in general is difficult for a lot of us anyways. But when we're thinking about that, a lot of us come from families who are families raising other people's children. Who weren't able to care for. So, just the lack of already to begin with and then the lack of resources as far as our old daily care. So, prescription meds. And making sure that they stay consistent. And making sure that it's important enough that case workers there already have a full load, so it's—it's kind of like this trickle. This trickle effect that's happening. When we're seeking care. So, our health, that would be, you know, another big one.

0:18:14 Andrew Williams
Yeah. Celina, I just—I so appreciate your answer and I think one of the lasting gifts I'll take away from this is this—this image you've given us of the long journey. That the longest journey is form the heart, right, into the mind. And what I appreciate about your response, right, is it kind of is also both a heart response and a head response, right? You've helped us develop empathy, help our viewers and listeners to understand that hey, there's a lot of barriers between, you know, having it in your heart and knowing—having that recognition and awareness that you need healing, right? To getting to the intellectual, the decision-making, right, that you need to seek care. And you've kinda really helped us to understand right at an intellectual level all the different social barriers, political economic barriers, and the way in which health disparities themselves right create new barriers. To seeking hope and healing. But what I also like about what you just shared there at the end is that reminder which you do in all of our conversations we've had right is that hey a reminder that our Native communities are not passive victims. That within their communities, within their hearts, are the cultural resources, there's the social networks, the family community networks, and the soul force to begin to advance both individual, family, and community healing. [smiles, nods]

0:19:37 Ceclina Mahinalani
[nods] Yeah I think that we always go back to that and I think that's why some of our recovery centers, treatment centers if you wanna call them that, are successful. You know? Because they are helping our clients, our family members. I've been to several and different conferences even where clients and participants are there and they're not called clients and participants, they're our relatives. You know? Because we are all related. And so, the feeling of being home. You know when you mentioned like what did it smell like in your house, right? So when I smell Spam cooking, even though that's not the best and the most healthy to eat, it's comforting. Just like the smell of fresh coffee. You know? So, at a lot of these places, we're smelling the medicines. Like sage or smelling sweet grass after ceremony. You know, when you go to a sweat, you're smelling the grandfather stones. You're smelling sweat too. But even in that, it's comforting because, you know, we know that when we participate in some of these traditional ceremonies like a sweat, is that sweat is detoxing us. That sweat is helping carry those prayers. The hotter the stone, the better the prayer. And so, you know, just thinking about some of the different ways that we heal and the way that we introduce people to the different modalities of healing. And offering it. It's not like okay, here's a class, here's a group, this is what you're gonna do. It's more of an introduction and an invitation.

0:21:27 Ceclina Mahinalani
I always like to invite people to participate if it feels good to you. And a lot of our traditional knowledge and understanding is if it doesn't feel good to you, does it pull at your heart? Or if it doesn't feel good in I was gonna say your belly button--we call it our na'au, your guts, like in your gut knowing, right? That gut feeling if it doesn't pull to you. It doesn't feel right at that moment, doesn't mean that you totally discount it. It means that you pay attention to your own inner knowing. Because in a lot of our belief systems, is we already have all the answers. Sometimes it just gets buried with the different choices we make, you know? It could be anything. It could be the foods we eat. It could be the way we wake up in the morning and forgetting to pray and acknowledge the sunshine. And the new day. It could be, you know, rushing our kids out the door. Yelling at them, being crabby, getting after them. Forgetting something so it's in the way that we give, but also in the way we truly receive something. So if it doesn't feel good helping our people know to pay attention to that. 'Cause that will make a difference in our overall health and our overall healing, our overall happiness, right? It also helps our people remember that they are free of choice, right? That we have free will. That we should be choosing—helping people to make the better choice moving forward. [nods]

0:23:13 Andrew Williams
Absolutely. You know, your last comments around the importance of Native people trusting their gut really resonates with something I learned from a local Puerto Rican activist and artist. Ricardo Havin Morales. Who in a session we were participating in around police brutality in a global perspective. You know, told us all that we need to trust our intuition because our intuition has many teachers. And your last response there really kind of speaks to that and the value again that we have the inner knowledge to help us make the right choices. And I think that's a great note to end on. Unfortunately and as I had a sense would be the case, our time together has gone by much too fast. [Celina chuckles] And we have to close out. When there's much more conversation, right, for us to have. But I'll look forward to that possibility in the future. Whether it be on your journey here to Minnesota or sometime in the future. But again, I just wanna thank you so much for your generosity of spirit and time today. And please know that we recognize and value and appreciate the soul-growing, healing work that you do. In Native communities in your region and of course around our country.

0:24:31 Ceclina Mahinalani
Thank you! Thank you, Andrew for the opportunity and just the really good way that you carry this series. Interview people and give people like us who are doing the good work in the community. 'Cause there's more of us. And I think a humbleness around being a Native person too, I think that I'm speaking for all of us when I say thank you because we need good advocates like you and we need good “actionists” like you, right? We can talk all day long, but if we're not doing anything about it, it's kind of like yes we can advocate and be on the sidelines, be a good cheerleader but what are we gonna do about it. So thank you, because we need more people like you. And like Lisa and like John. Who are getting right into the community and offering the opportunity for us to share good medicine in this way. So that we can reach audiences near and far and wide. So, I'm very glad for this platform. And I would love to give you some suggestions for other people if you're interested. [Andrew nods] To share some of their medicine and just some of their experiences. 'Cause that's kind of how we get the word out, right? So we can help our communities as a whole and in the next seven generations. Thank you so much, have a really good rest of your day! And thank you everyone for listening and keeping your heart open. And your ears open. To the health and the healing that is still taking place. So it's not all bad. There's awesome things happening, too.

0:26:09 Andrew Williams

0:26:09 Ceclina Mahinalani
So just be open to that.

0:26:11 Andrew Williams
Well I'm glad that the ancestors have guided us together and I look forward again to working in solidarity with you and many others. As we work to advance health equity and healing. In Native communities and across BIPOC communities all around our country. [turns to camera] To all of you listening or watching today, I wanna express my gratitude for you taking the time to join us for this very important and soul-growing conversation. Please, let your friends, your family members, your colleagues know about these important conversations that are part of our series. And we hope you'll come back often to catch more episodes of Let's Talk Recovery Equity. Together, we can advance health equity and bring loving care into the reach of all in need. Thank you.

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