NADA CONFERENCE 2021

SMART shines at #NADA21

Emily Carstairs
Content Manager

Let’s rewind a few weeks and talk about the recent NADA conference. Not only is it an important discussion of all things relevant to SMART Recovery but it was a very significant occasion for us.

It has now been three weeks since the NADA (Network of other Drugs and Alcohol Agencies) conference and we’ve had sufficient time to reflect and appreciate the work of so many individuals, as well as our organisation as a whole. We do feel privileged to have been involved in such an event, and so proud and grateful to the SMART Recovery Australia people that delivered such stimulating and insightful presentations.

It was incredible to finally be in the position to be able to attend an AOD (Alcohol and other Drugs) conference in person once again. This is the first event of its type that has welcomed a gaggle of guests since the pandemic began all those many months ago. The theme for this conference was ‘enhancing connections’ and was actually chosen pre-COVID. However, as the CEO of NADA, Robert Stirling states, “It is now more important than ever.” In a nutshell, the aim of the gathering in Robert’s words is to acknowledge and emphasise that “social connections are essential to achieving positive outcomes.”

That said, there is one much-loved and formidable friend of SMART Recovery that is entitled to a very special shoutout. Josette Freeman. Josette was the very well-deserving recipient of the Outstanding Contribution Award alongside the highly respected Dr Marianne Jauncey from the Uniting Medically Supervised Injecting Centre. This award recognises the significant contribution of an individual working in the non-government alcohol and other drugs sector.

For Josette, this award is as a result of her 17 years of commitment and service to what was once just a little up and coming program at St Vincent’s Hospital in Sydney that has since thrived and grown to do great things (with much more to come).

This would never have been possible without her much-needed assistance, expertise and knowledge. There may have been some serious grunt work required but Josette never faltered in her commitment to what she believed was expected, required and what everyone around her needed her to do.

The fact that Josette received a highly honourable award, plus the extent of the SMART Recovery presence at the conference is a testament to just how far the organisation has come since its foundation.

SMART Recovery would also like to thank and commend the people that were willing to stand up in front of a crowd of people and advocate for our organisation and the important work that we are doing.

Jenny Valentish, one of SMART Recovery’s board members, was a keynote speaker at the event. Jenny is the author of the addiction memoir Woman of Substances, which used findings from the country’s leading researchers to look at the way in which women in particular experience addiction and treatment. As she is also a journalist who teaches memoir writing, she used her keynote to highlight the value of the written word in recovery. The talk looked at existing addiction memoirs as a lifeline to those in early recovery, but also explored ways in which those with lived experience – such as the clients of AOD services, but also peer workers – can similarly be a lifeline to others.

“I have so much admiration for those who are prepared to tell their stories,” she tells us. “For me, ‘coming out’ was relatively risk-free, since I’m a freelance journalist and I have no children. But for those who are parents, or who are reliant on one employer, for example, stigma can be a much greater concern. Networks such as NADA really work to support and lift the voices of those with lived experience, which is so important, as they are the people with hard-earned wisdom to share and who have a unique understanding of what others are going through.”

Peter Kelly, the SMART Recovery Australia Research Advisory Committee Chair, discussed a very exciting new purpose-built app – ‘SMART Track’. This app was developed to provide a tool that can help monitor an individual’s behaviour, track the data and then provide tailored feedback to positively impact their future decisions. The added benefits of this app are that people can access services outside of SMART meeting hours so it is essentially enabling 24/7 assistance.

Angie Pickering, the National Project Coordinator at SMART Recovery Australia, gave invaluable insight into the dramatic changes that were essential due to COVID-19 to allow the continuation of meetings. SMART responded to the pandemic by providing online meetings as an alternative to face-to-face. It was a massive adjustment for all – the attendees, the facilitators and everyone behind the scenes.

Overall, it has proved very successful and the aim is to continue to offer this online support going forward and SMART is committed to expanding the reach and effectiveness of these meetings, utilising research to improve the design and application of SMART in an online context, as well as enhancing systems, training and support for online SMART facilitators.

Dr Angela Argent, National Program Manager/Research Lead at SMART Recovery Australia, spoke about a new research collaboration pilot that will evaluate the SMART Family and Friends program. Online mutual aid support sessions for family and friends run over eight weeks and began in April 2021 with four more groups planned for this year.

In collaboration with the University of Wollongong and the SMART Recovery Australia Research Advisory Committee (RAC), funded by a grant from the National Centre for Clinical Research on Emerging Drugs (NCCRED), SMART Recovery Australia wants to empower supporters in coping and managing circumstances that are not of their own making.

It is important to remember that there is not just one individual impacted by someone who uses drugs or alcohol. We need to think about the people who provide support. SMART Family and Friends is strengths-based and supports supporters to learn to concentrate on themselves, find the motivation to change, engage in self-care, challenge their thinking, communicate assertively and ultimately cope. It really is about providing supporters with a toolkit for their own self-management.

To sum up, this event was clearly not just about SMART Recovery – it was about the discussion, education and exposure to information, including options that can assist, how to help those in need, the stories of people having difficulties with issues of concern, and providing ways for people to understand that there is always someone there for you if you are ever in need.

For those interested in the SMART Family and Friends program, the next online meeting begins Tuesday 15 June from 12-2pm and will run for eight weeks. For more information, please contact Camilla Weeks on 0408 379 700 or [email protected]

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