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Cultural identity and whānau

“I go back to my DNA and my gene pool and all this stuff, and I'm like, man, all that memory trauma stuff. It's real.”

Cultural identity and whānau

“I go back to my DNA and my gene pool and all this stuff, and I'm like, man, all that memory trauma stuff. It's real.”

A wahine Māori opens up about her experiences with anxiety and addiction. She talks candidly about overcoming denial and shame and the empowering journey of reconnecting with her roots in te ao Māori. Her story is one of reclaiming identity and finding strength in the principles of Te Whare Tapa Whā.

Raised up in the Waikato until I was about 12, 13, and then we made the big move down to Feilding. And that there um, I think the move down – it contributed to a lot of things that I would later come to find out in my life. Because I realised that Feilding and the Manawatū and Waikato were two completely different places.

Everything that I had grown up with up in the Waikato, it was i te ao Māori. However, my brother and I were the only ones in my whole family that were doing it. And so when we moved down here, there was no te ao Māori things that we came across. And so, for me, that was the defining point in my life, like where do I stand? Where do I fit in anywhere? And so that was at like 12, 13. I distinctly remember being like, well, this is just … it's completely different down here. I felt real foreign. So I think that triggered – for me, it triggered a lot of little anxieties about myself. So because I recognised that no one was quite like me and they didn't really kind of come from the same background I did, that I was low key like alone.

We were starting to just get to know all our whānau, getting to meet everyone down here cause we didn't know anyone down here. We knew our immediate families, but the extended wider whānau – no we didn't really know them. And so, coming to meet everybody, it was … it was awesome. But again still just very alone.

I just remember thinking that like, whoa, there's like no kura Māori around here. There's like, yes I'd been to the marae but like the kids don't how to speak Māori, like little things like that. It was … it was … I was shell shocked.

For me,. it was right from a really young age. Like I remember like clearly like 5 and knowing that my life was not normal. There was abuse going on, you know, we were getting hidings and getting the bash all the time, and there wasn't … there wasn't any room for praise, like there wasn't, you know, te whakapiki te wairua, you know, there wasn't any of that kind of stuff. So we weren't raised being patted on the head, like we weren't raised like that. So it was very hard.

My mum … my mum was actually … she was that one. She would try to akiaki us to support us and encourage us but she’d have … she would have to do it in such a way that my dad wouldn't hear cause it was very controlled. It was a very controlled childhood. But I suppose I understand, coming from my dad's point of view, he just didn't know any better, you know, he didn't know how to be a parent. Like he just didn't know. He didn't know. No one taught him how to be a parent and so that's how I knew that there was something wrong with this picture.

I knew it right from a child and, and I'd look at my friends, my friends, we went to kura. Everyone was a Christian at the kura except us. We didn't even know Christianity was, we didn't know God. And so being with them and their whānau, and we'd see this different side. And it was really nice and togetherness, and it was just full of love and aroha, you know, and we were like, whoa, what is that? Like we've never seen that in our house, never. We were never raised like that. My dad was very firm and very hard and ruled with an iron fist. But I mean, we knew how to do gardens, we knew how to mow lawns, and we knew how to clean the house and these little responsibilities that were expected of us – all our little obligations as children. So that's how I kind of knew that from right from then.

So my mum, she got us scholarships to go to boarding school to get us out of home, you know, and to give us another way of life I think. And my poor mum, like I'm not going to speak on her story. But you know, her upbringing wasn't, wasn't great either. And so I think for her that this was her way to, to help her kids, you know, to get us out of this awful lifestyle at home. Somehow or other it was going to come back and I was going to find, actively find that lifestyle myself. Something just kept pulling me towards it.

I knew that, if I was going to have to wind up on the same in the same spot, like because I was actively searching for it, I think, to rebel I think. I'm not really too sure because I can't think back as a teenager, but I know that it definitely followed me from my teenage years right until the end of my 20s even up until the beginning of my 30s. That lifestyle it was… it started to cement itself.

It was … was really quite selfish now that I think about it was, but again, I didn't know any better. I didn't have any tools in my tool belt. And so I just kind of went with what I knew – abuse and I knew like, you know, drugs and gangs and stuff like that, that I thought which was quite normal. Because everything else – the Christianity stuff, the families all going out for family dinners and stuff – that wasn't normal to us. We didn't do that. My children's father, we were young and, you know, I had them quite young, and and unfortunately I see I was searching for a partner that was, that would blend into that kind of lifestyle, you know, and so and so for the next 13 years essentially would low key nearly like destroy my life.

Yeah, yeah, moemoe wā. What a waste of time that all was like, yeah. Like, and so I turned 37 last week, and mate, you know, my kids now, my eldest son's 17. And I'm, I'm scared, you know, I'm really scared for him now because I'm thinking like, well, I was, I was in his, at his age, you know, I was out here making these big choices for myself, um and I had no knowledge I had no, I had no tools, I had nothing to try and maybe influence another lifestyle. I didn't, I didn't have any influences. I had none. I didn't look at anyone else's influence, I didn't look at good things as an influence because it wasn't consistent for me.

I'm really honest with my kids. My kids have been through a lot with me, I've taken them on one hell of a journey. Their father and I – we’ve both taken them on a journey with us but now it's – I'm at desperate measures now. I'm like, yo, I need to like really work hard with my boys because I know where this is going to go and this can, you know, continuing the cycle. One, two, three. Like hell they'll be the third one, you know, like so I'm trying very hard my big boys at the moment because I can't help and control what happens on the other whakapapa lines, you know. So it's things like that other… other factors come into play and influence as well. And that's what I'm competing against.

Because the race, it's a race now, and time's running out for me. Right from a young age, I knew what anxiety was. I didn't know the name of it, but I knew that there was something wrong with that feeling. There was a feeling of dread like every time like eggshells, you know, and, and because he was so meticulous about things, it was really hard to, to just live and to survive, you know, let alone live. It was hard to survive with a person like that.

And so my brother and I, we were always on edge. I was very, like, very on edge, on eggshells. I could never, ever quite get over that. Like why do I feel like this every time he's calling out to me, you know, like why am I feeling like, like I know that I'm gonna get hurt, I'm gonna get hit. And nine times out of 10, that would be, we would get hit. So I think that just contributed and just compacted everything again. Still didn't know what it was called, but I knew that it wasn't a good … no, I knew it wasn't a nice feeling. And that stuck with me like right from – from a young age, and it's just grown and blossomed into full-blown adult anxiety now, yeah. Because it's a real thing for me now.

So for me, even making like simple decision – just simple decision making sometimes you know, it comes down to like should I or shouldn't I? Like what if I did and then this happens? Oh no, but what if you didn't and then that happens? And then, and then in the end I end up – it’s like I explode.

Like I've never been to the doctor for ever. I don't, I never believe in going to the doctor for mental health stuff because, one, I was an addict so I didn't want them prying into my life, and two, I just didn't trust, I didn't trust the system. I was just like, nope, they don't trust … they don't help Māori. They, they throw us into the mental hospitals and they throw us in jail and they throw us in prison.

So those … that was my barrier to not going to the doctor. But I, I have been, I've been trying to pick up the courage to go, but I can't. Like I really just that's another anxiety of mine. Like I can't see a doctor. So I self-medicate. I will work on my own techniques and stuff that I've picked up over the years at different, at different avenues like rehabs or courses or like little support groups, different support groups and things. So I will do all these other things to avoid going to a doctor because I don't, I don't believe in them.

What was really helping was connecting like reconnecting back to whānau, whenua, kaupapa. I just completely ignored te ao Māori. Like, I just put it to the side, and that's everything – going to the marae, going to tangihanga, going to birthdays, hanging out with whānau, doing poupou karanga hui, doing all sorts of different type of hui at the marae. Like I stopped all that. Like I was like inactive for like 5, 6, 6 years, 7 years. I was too embarrassed. I was too whakamā, too whakamā to go back because there was nothing I felt like I contributed any more, like and so I stayed away in my little dark hole. I got to the point where I realised like, okay, what am I living for then like? Like what am I up to? Like, if I'm not doing this stuff over here that's supposed to keep me on track, on track. Well, what's the whole point of all this life stuff and then I thought well, honestly, reconnecting, that was, that's my go to, like it's helped keep me solid.

Well, I was an addict. I think my childhood really took a lot out of me. And so I just didn't feel worthy even with all this te ao Māori stuff that I grew up with, but it wasn't enough to keep me on the straight and narrow, you know, like because, again, I go back to my DNA and my gene pool and all this stuff, and I'm like, man, all that memory trauma stuff. It's real. So I think I picked up all these habits just to try and cope.

I just didn't want to admit that I had a problem, eh. Yeah, and I didn’t want to admit that, you know that, that is completely out of my hands. And that, you know, I've got all these issues and but I was absolutely in denial. And so I think by recognising that, it opened the door for me to start healing, but being an addict, like I've been an addict since before birth, you know, since conception, man like. That's how far this goes right back since before I was born.

And so knowing now what I know now, what tools I have got can shape the future. Whereas I didn't have those before. My father didn't have them. My dad, he was, he was always in jail, always. He was always in jail. And he had his own addiction issues.

I finally had enough, I didn't have my children in my care. I had a drug problem, I was an alcoholic. That was really, it's not me as a character – my character – it’s not me. I'm not that person.

And so I decided no bugger it. I've got to really stop looking at my whānau like they’re the enemy. Firstly, because they’re not. Having people that was really honest with me, like my whānau, that were really honest about our predicament. Like figure out how are you going to deal with that, you know, in a healthy way? How are you going to express your irritation and frustrations in a healthy way?

Because I realised that not only did I have an addictive nature, but my behaviour patterns was still the same and so had to work with other … had to start working on other methods like, like, I don't know, like karakia, for example. Picking up these karakia, doing the karakia, doing tai chi.

Funnily enough, it actually helped me settle. And being honest, like being honest to yourself, like you can't lie to yourself eh, you know, so I had to be honest with my family, and they… and I had to accept their honesty, even though I may not like it. But I had to acknowledge it and accept it anyways, you know, and so I think that really did help.

But my kids, it was, it was them, you know, like I really had to work hard to earn their trust back. And it was my big kids. My little ones, though, they didn't really know to, they didn't know any different. But my big ones, they were really young teenagers. So it was, it was really difficult to try and build that back up with them again. It’s still a work in progress 4 years later, like I still have to work really hard with my teens because it affected them greatly that I would never… in ways I'd never imagine.

I'm really up behind them, following them in every way. But also them seeing a different side of me and my lifestyle choices. I went to the wānanga. I had to… I had to keep this momentum going. So I studied, I went back to te reo Māori. I got my tohu in heke reo, and you know, I ended up coming … picking up a bit of relieving work, relieving mahi here at kōhanga, active as in the community, you know, with all the whānau, kapa haka.

Like even stuff like that. You know, they were having kapa haka at Te Reureu and I, I had nothing to do with it at the time because I just, I was so whakamā, you know, to even show my face around the cuzzies and the whānau, because I felt unworthy and that I had nothing to contribute.

Be kind, because um keep knocking … everyone else is knocking you down, you know, and if you knock yourself down, you'll take yourself out, you know, like as easy as that, like you are your biggest weapon, like your mind is your biggest weapon. That would be the very first thing.

Another one though, too, would be that people, whānau, and that like some of them, they may have other intentions. But the majority of them do not. Their only intention is that you get well. But a lot of, a lot of our whānau, we don't trust them. We don't trust our own families. Because we believe that they’re gonna … I don't know, for me, personally, I, I just thought my family just wanted to control me.

But it's all about control. And so when you feel like you're out of control of your own life, you're going to push anybody or anything away to hold and retain and maintain your own like rangatiratanga for your own life, you know.

But I think whānau need to just start putting the arms down and opening them up a bit more instead of pushing whānau away, because they're not actually there to hurt us. I had to learn that the hard way.

I haven't, I haven't been able to rekindle some of my family relationships to be honest. I'm being really honest now – 5, 6 years now I haven't spoken to some of my family. Because they wiped me off and I understand. I'm sad. I'm sad by it now.

One day at a time too, you know, like you can't complete and accomplish everything in one day, like you can't expect results in one day.

I've seen it many, many times, especially with whānau that's in like active addictions and stuff like that, you know, that they're expecting all this from these people, and it's like, well, they can't give that to you man, like, they really can't.

Another thing I wanted to say was connections – maintain, retain positive connections with whānau. Stay active. Keep Te Whare Tapa Whā – all the walls – standing strong. You know one of those walls have got cracks in them man, yeah, they're, they're gonna fall eventually – all four of those walls eh. If you fellas don’t know Te Whare Tapa Whā, go and check it out. It actually helped.