Healing and Wholeness Through Cultural Practices

In Hawaiian culture it is the individuals' kuleana, their deeply rooted sense of responsibility, to realize their place, roles, and responsibilities in their environment. Native Hawaiian practices like working with the, ʻāina--the land, promotes social responsibility, strengthens cultural identity, and rebuilds relationships. Much of the activities promote unity, strengthen and sustain cultural identity, and develop an understanding of place and an appreciation of the environment. There is something magical that happens when we interact with the land. In treatment, reconnection with the ʻāina yields a sense of belongingness, humility and purpose that was once lost in our addiction. Simply providing people with the chance to work the land provides an opportunity for positive growth.

Extensive research has been conducted on the benefits of cultural practices in helping native people deal with the challenges of addiction. Mokuau (2002) reported that "Human services should continue to emphasize interventions that integrate 'mainstream' and cultural-specific approaches . . . increased attention has been paid to the importance of cultural competence and the provision of culturally based interventions that either complement or substitute for conventional interventions." Culture is a part of our everyday lives because we live and breathe it. Recently, we have embarked on a journey to fully integrate Native Hawaiian practices into our treatment. The response has been remarkable. We have worked alongside the individuals that we treat and see them flourish in the environment, culture and its practices that were suppressed by their addiction. What we have all discovered from this experiential process is that reclaiming culture is an integral part of recovery and overall well-being. The following were important concepts that were revealed as benefits of cultural integration:

Belonging--no laila

"I feel like I finally belong to something" - 50 year old part-Hawaiian male

"This is the most connected that I have felt to something in such a long time" - 24 year old Part-Hawaiian male

According to Dr. Karen Hall (2014) "Feeling that you belong is most important in seeing value in life and in coping with intensely painful emotions . . . A sense of belonging to a greater community improves your motivation, health, and happiness. When you see your connection to others, you know that all people struggle and have difficult times. You are not alone. There is comfort in that knowledge."

Humility--haʻa haʻa

"My addiction was always about me. I forgot about everything else that was important to me. Working here today and going through treatment has taught me to think about others"- 19 year old part-Hawaiian male

Dr. Karl Albrecht (2015) states that "humility is a kind of liberation, a paradoxical state of freedom from the culturally imposed norms of narcissistic "me-first" thinking. He believes that humility "is a necessary part of the journey toward enlightenment."


"In my addiction I felt dirty and I kept all of my emotions and my traumas inside...Being in treatment and reconnecting with the land made me cleanse and release everything that was holding me back" - 44 year old Caucasian male

Dr. Matthew James (2011) stated, "The good news is you can change that belief and experience greater peace and physical, mental and spiritual health as you learn to release unforgiveness. It is not human nature for us to hold on to grudges and bitterness because the prime directive of the unconscious mind is to let experiences go."

Finding Meaning and Purpose--ʻimi pono

"When I finally said that I needed to change I realized that up until this point in my life I was so into my addiction that I had no purpose in life . . . Today, I am happy that reconnecting has given me purpose and meaning to live my life."

According to Dr. Steven Stosny (2012) "The purpose of life lies not in what you feel like but in what you choose to make important. A sense of purpose is the pursuit of what is important to you, not what merely feels good or comfortable."

Having a clear sense of identity plays an important role in giving meaning to an individual's life. Being able to connect to one's cultural identity helps begin the process of anchoring a person into their deep seated sense of why they exist and where their place may be within the context of the incredibly vast, swiftly moving and sometimes confusing universe in which we live. It helps one who is desperately treading water in the wake of the ravages of substance abuse, once again stand on solid ground laid out by generations past and begin to build a life again.

Ua Mau ke ea o ka ʻāina I ka pono--The life of the land is preserved in righteousness.