If life takes you right to the edge and you find a path back, how loud will you shout to show others the way?
As a young Fijian growing up in New Zealand, 'Apo' Aporosa found himself drawn to service, first in the army and then in the NZ Police.
He eventually left the force, but his demons followed.
Living in small-town New Zealand, the volunteer fire siren would send him headlong into panic.
Putting his life on the line had seen him lose his way, drawn far from his culture and from the bonds that secured him.
Then he began to weave the strands of his life back together, through telling his story and being heard; through hearing the tales of others and listening.
It became clear that it was about connection, about talanoa - and for him and many other colleagues, about kava.
Now he has been awarded one of academia's top prizes, a Fulbright scholarship, to study how the Pacific beverage and its traditional, communal use can help treat Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder among others on the front line.
'Sat down and just talked'
That former police officer is now Dr Aporosa, a researcher and lecturer at Te Huataki Waiora School of Health and Te Kura Whatu Oho Mauri School of Psychology at the University of Waikato - but Aporosa still talks like a cop.
He's careful with his words, apologising when he's drawn off-topic or when he gets carried away - as he often does when discussing kava.
He's also at pains to point out that he didn't want to leave the NZ Police - he had to go.
"I really loved that job and the people I worked with. But I got to a point where I just was not functioning properly and recognised this was becoming detrimental to me, my family and others," he explains.
He found his way back to health through "unpacking" his trauma with others like him in a space where he felt free to talk, around a tanoa (kava bowl).
"For many Pacific families, kava is always around, so it's there from when you were born.
"Parents often present kava following the birth of their child as part of cultural practice, with the belief that if kava isn't presented, then the child may not have a long and blessed life.
"Kava is also presented when we die, so it's part of everything that you do from birth to death.
"There is quite a strong alcohol culture in the police, as there is in many European organisations. To fit in, I've seen Pacific cops move away from their kava culture to increased levels of alcohol use.
"Alcohol just doesn't allow for the same level of relational connection as kava."
He says moving away from kava culture and its "clear-minded" dialogue has reduced resilience to trauma and created a space for PTSD to take hold.
Aporosa is reluctant to get into the specifics of what triggered his PTSD but acknowledges the demands of the job ̶ life and death at the sharp end of policing - can be mentally challenging and left him in need of serious repair.
He cites recent statistics from the Police Association which show that 40% of Kiwi cops surveyed "indicated significant PTS symptoms", arguing that his experience is far from unusual.
"You can't clean up an accident scene where somebody's been bowled by a train, putting bits into a plastic bag, or attend a serious domestic incident in which a mum and child are traumatised and hurt and remain unaffected by that.
"These are the things police and other first responders have to deal with. Some of us, particularly me, ignore the impacts and then when things start getting out of control, opt to tough it out because of this misguided idea that talking about it or getting professional help is for wimps."
For Aporosa, that meant not sleeping or eating and being plagued by nightmares that lasted long after he left the police.
"Panicking for no reason," he says, recalling how the sound of the volunteer fire siren in his small-town home would trigger a shattering panic attack.
The road out of the police led him back to Fiji where he eventually "sat down and just talked".
"At the start, I didn't talk, I just sat and I was pretty numb," Aporosa says, revealing that he eventually came to "unpack" his trauma through talanoa, the open and respectful dialogue that forms a central pillar of societies across the Pacific - and often involves drinking kava.
Then he says he was privileged enough to spend time with Fijian men who had fought with the British in Afghanistan, men who had experienced the horrors of war.
That cemented for him the value of the kava experience, listening as newly-returned soldiers sat with veterans who had previously served in Afghanistan in the years prior and witnessing them build connections that allowed them to give voice to some of their darker thoughts.
"If you've also pulled a mate out of a humvee with no legs and your colleague who was in Afghanistan before you had done the same thing, they talk about that. I was really privileged to be part of their journey toward healing."
He says he also heard those same men share stories about their white counterparts returning from war to broken marriages and one-room apartments, turning to alcohol to self-medicate and becoming violent.
Those Fijian soldiers were not PTSD-free, he said, but were in a "vastly better situation" than many of their brothers-in-arms.
Aporosa says the experience brought home the value of kava as used as part of talanoa, providing what he calls the "full package."
"It's being able to take a substance that relaxes you, that doesn't inhibit your thought processes, or disinhibit you or cause euphoria - and then to be able to talk through issues."
When he returned to New Zealand and started talking to other police officers, around a tanoa, he realised the process that had helped him could provide relief to many others - and set about to prove it.
A package deal
Years of hard work and dogged determination, with the support of family, friends and colleagues, have now brought Aporosa to this point - preparing to fly to Hawaii on a three-month trip as a Fulbright Scholar.
He plans to work with post-combat soldiers to investigate how kava and talanoa can help them heal and then bring that work home and launch a full research project involving veterans, first responders and corrections officers.
Aporosa notes that alternative treatments for PTSD are already being explored through microdosing drugs such as MDMA (ecstasy) and psilocybin (magic mushrooms) and from experiences with the strong hallucinogenic brew Ayahuasca, originally from the Amazon.
His research will control for talanoa, measuring kava's effectiveness by using only kava tablets outside of a traditional kava session - but he doesn't see those tablets as truly kava.
"It's a package deal, which is something that you just can't achieve with kava tablets alone."
He stresses that while he strongly believes kava can help people across all backgrounds, it won't work for everyone.
"I don't believe kava and talanoa is the magic bullet for everyone.
"But I want to challenge some of the Western psychiatric treatments that are currently seen as best practice for severe PTSD. I have heard many stories of people saying 'I feel crap when I'm taking Prozac'. Although these kinds of treatments can reduce irritability, those taking them also report feeling lethargic, uninterested, hollow and just as bad, but in a different way."
"There's got to be more to it than this. People should be able to sit down and unpack how they're feeling with others. I think there's too much of this medication that is taken in isolation."
Ending the 'washdown'
The second part of his research aims to help shine a light on a poorly-understood aspect of kava use that continues to give the drink a bad name - and land some of its drinkers in serious trouble.
Aporosa says the 'washdown', or consuming alcohol after kava, is increasing in popularity.
"This is particularly the case with Pacific people living away from their home villages and also among non-Pacific people who are increasingly using kava.
"There is suspicion that this introduction of alcohol causes a chemo-type disruption to the kava which can damage the liver. We want to clarify this with the aim of improving health," he states in a press release from the University.
In conversation, Aporosa is more typically forthright.
"I hate the problems alcohol causes. Alcohol is not part of Pacific culture and certainly not the kava culture. Kava relaxes and allows for cleared-minded sober discussion.
"Alcohol potentiates the effects of the kava. With just a small amount of alcohol washdown, people very quickly become intoxicated. Then you often see the beast come out."
He believes the liver problems that have been attributed to kava were often due to the addition of alcohol.
"Unfortunately, kava becomes scapegoated and [known as] the thing that causes liver problems and not alcohol and the practice of washdown."
He recalls conversations with people who had mixed kava and alcohol for years and now regretted the decision, believing there was a direct link between washdown and ongoing health effects. He wants to prevent others from the same fate.
Aporosa urges those who wanted to include a washdown as part of their kava session to remember that alcohol is a recent arrival to the Pacific, but drinking kava is "what we do".
"If you want to drink alcohol, go away and do that. But if you want to be part of your culture, be Pacific, just drink kava."
'It's my passion'
Aporosa's ideas on PTSD are already catching attention, with individual police officers, both male and female, expressing their interest.
NZ Police told the Herald that they support the mental health of officers in a variety of ways, but "do not currently have a wellness-focused policy regarding the use of kava".
"Support for employees' mental health, including symptoms related to PTSD, is provided for in our trauma support policy that supports access to Clinical Psychologists," they said in a statement.
"Police are interested in the outcome of Dr Apo Aporosa's research, but it would be premature to determine the influence it will have on current policy at this stage."
That cautious expression of interest is still a long way from the reception he received when he first sought to study kava.
He advises any Pacific person pursuing research in aspects of their culture to be persistent, saying it was suggested to him that his lack of success in initially securing funding was because he was "too early" when he first began pursuing financial support to study the plant.
Aporosa battled on, working long hours to get his PhD, to get funding, to make a new life for himself.
"I'm quite shocked at where I'm at now.
"Back then, when I was in the darkest days of my PTSD, I would never have believed I would be where I am now. I'm loving life and am certainly in a new place."
He says he got a tear in his eye when he was told he had won the Fulbright, double-checking the number after he got the phone call to make sure he wasn't being pranked.
It was his biggest supporter, his wife Jan, that encouraged him to apply and she was the first person he called when he got the news.
He describes himself as the "luckiest guy in the world" to have Jan's support, saying she stayed with him during his darkest days, when many would have left, and backed him all the way as she advanced her own career.
He's had help from many others, including former colleagues and the Pacific team at the University of Waikato.
"I represent them - and I am part of them - and I wouldn't be doing this without their support," he says.
He is working to give back, to promote a solution that saved his life and is ever-mindful of the blessings he's received.
"It's my passion, it's my culture, it's who I am."