Shanna Whan – Back from the abyss and into the most important work of her life

Shanna Whan is a rural woman who speaks, educates, blogs, and travels. She was a finalist in the prestigious 2018 NSW-ACT Rural Women of the Year awards in honour for her work in the field of alcohol awareness – and has now joined our team of HSM ambassadors to reach even further and show support to her ‘rural Australian family’.

We have a 25% rural member base here at Hello Sunday Morning – and Shanna is perfectly positioned to be a representative flying the flag for those who are most remote of all with very limited access to support and services. Here’s her story …

If anybody had told me as a young woman what my future would entail, I would have quite frankly curled into a ball, covered my ears, or run like the wind.

If anybody had foretold how a series of traumatic events when embarking upon adulthood would alter the trajectory of my entire life and ultimately nearly take it all, including my chance to have a family … well …

If they’d told me that time would fly past and the grief of it would all eventually catch up with me, take my breath, imprison me, and enslave me to my ‘go-to’ of a few drinks, for hard times, social occasions, courage, or even sleep … I would’ve bargained with my soul then and there, to change it all.

If anybody had told me how a miracle at the brink of hell itself would see me come back, heal, and then take all that experience and roll the dice to do the craziest, boldest thing of all, I’d have laughed my head off.

Life doesn’t go to plan. That’s what I’ve learned.

All of those things and more, did happen. The ongoing impact of some serious traumas in my life as a young and naïve country girl would in fact be devastating, and follow me until I was in my late thirties, when those two decades of unaddressed mental health and an increasingly unhealthy relationship with alcohol would all (inevitably) finally catch up and almost cost me my life.

I became a high-functioning alcoholic who presented one face to the world but was falling apart in increments after five o’clock, in the privacy of my own home.

A party-hard lifestyle at university ended up in a habitual love for dealing with anything difficult using alcohol as a crutch, and eventually turned into habitual blackout drinking to drown the avalanche of feelings, fear and shame I couldn’t stem.

And yet I never considered (until the last couple of years) that I was an ‘alcoholic’ because doctors, friends and other people  – including me – thought that alcoholics were people who were homeless, with holes in their coats, who drank every day out of a brown paper bag. I was a successful businesswoman with a great husband

and a mortgage. I didn’t even drink every day. I certainly didn’t drink before five! Well, most of the time.

I worked out, ate well, presented well, and contributed to my community. I’d never accepted a cent of welfare or support. So no way did I think I could be ‘one of those’ people. No way. I was mortified if the suggestion was even made.

But eventually I was unable to reconcile the loss of our chance to have a family or deal with the devastation of my past, and found myself at the edge of hell itself at what they call ‘rock bottom’. I lost my will to live. And I was forced into the realisation that an alcoholic was exactly what I had become.

My life was completely out of control. Once I had that first drink, I was no longer ‘me’. I could not stop. Alcohol was affecting my health, my finances, my relationships, my work, and my entire soul.

Countless attempts over the years to seek emotional or physical support were met with statements like ‘Don’t be ridiculous – you look fine to me! Here – have a drink!’ Even professional healthcare workers didn’t have a clue what to say or do. The standard response was anti-depressants and cutting back.

Which proved impossible. In the rural, country party scene I’ve grown up in, alcohol was (is) basically encouraged at every turn. From school, to uni, and at work, at sports and weddings, funerals or even community events – it’s always been a prolific and revered part of any social connections.

So I fell back into the same patterns again and again. It was just too easy. It was encouraged, always.

At the point of almost no going back, I was very lucky to meet an amazing woman who’d suffered and recovered from alcohol addiction. Her story was almost identical to mine. And through that simple conversation, connection, and information flow, I finally found a way out.

Four years ago (next February) – thanks to that one amazing lady – I finally escaped the devastation of alcoholism. I made a decision to reclaim my life and to do whatever it took to get healthy, well, and healed. And from that place, I hunkered down and worked like I’d never worked before. I overhauled everything: from mental, physical and emotional health, to my home, work, and circle of friends.

I realised I was going to war and that I had to give myself the information, equipment, and armour to win the battle for my life.

Somehow, I made it. The odds were overwhelmingly against me – as I kept reading and being told. Some fanatics declared ‘once an alcoholic always an alcoholic’ and I realised that was why so many people cannot beat the stigmas and are overwhelmed before they even start.

Once I got my head around the sheer enormity of what a miracle my survival was, I made a plan. I decided to use every single fibre of my being to do what I could to ensure no other rural or remote person would lose their health or their life to this rampant and insidious culture, and potential disease, that dwells richly in our country environments.

I had seen over a lifetime, firsthand, the appalling lack of services, support, and information for ‘people like me’ in the country: men and women who our society dismisses as having any problems because they have (at least superficially) a ‘normal’ life being presented to the outside world.

The longer I walked the walk the more I saw the true underbelly of our rural and remote mental health issues, and diseases that were intricately linked to alcohol abuse. And yet not a single person that I could find was taking the topic on.

So, I decided that person would be me.   That’s why I’ve spent four years working full time as a volunteer. Because I knew change was possible, but that somebody had to go first to break up the dirt, so others could walk behind a little more easily.

So I went first.

That’s how ‘Sober in the Country’ began. I decided to do for others, on a much larger scale, what had been done for me. I reached out and connected others and broke down stigmas and spoke the awkward, uncomfortable truth of what is living in every country community, dressed in lovely shoes and masquerading as okay…

By Shanna Whan, founder: Sober in the Country, aka SITC

I don’t even know where to begin..I am not rural I am me. A health professional with years of caring for others in their time of need..a family member who has been there for all through thick and thin..this week my beautiful boy attempted suicide ..the fifth in my world…I have struggled with depression and anxiety..I drink to block the pain. I work in a role to support others..this year I have an ongoing cancer journey with my father-in-law ..started 12 years ago…lost my Dad in my arms 6 years ago…all year one thing after another my boy facing surgery for the third time…I need redirection and strength as I am so broken…I seem to have lost the light but so want to find it….

Omg thank you for sending this link to me! Although I’m in the UK, I am now alone and living in a remote location. Shanna you could have been writing about me. I have nearly lost everything and the reality is it’s down to my alcohol consumption. Even though I function perfectly well during the day, I do believe that it has clouded my judgement and my decision making. I have nearly lost my life on a number of occasions and have been covered in bruises more often than I care to admit. So much more to say but I have no one to talk to.

Shanna you’re amazing. The people of rural Australia are so lucky to have you. Could I ask some advice please. I live on the northern beaches in Sydney where I’d like to reach out just like you did as I’m almost two years AF. I just don’t really know how to do this. Any tips would be greatly appreciated. Thank you so much, Tara

Very well done! Something I wish I’d have started 20 years ago but it’s never to late to start.

Thanks for sharing your inspirational story

I have a very unhealthy relationship with alcohol. When I decided to get some help (counselling) I was taken under the wing of a well-meaning and knowledgeable man called Paul. As the weeks went on it became apparent that Paul had never touched a drop of alcohol in his life and seemed rather keen to point this out from time to time. Since stopping my sessions at the centre I have fallen back into old habits, drinking quite heavily at home on my days off. Reading Shanna’s piece here has reinforced my belief that it takes a person who has gone through the experience to help those who need it and not someone who simply has the necessary qualifications. I have no problem with Paul whatsoever but I will try to find someone more like Shanna next time.

Boy, what a great entry! I want to read more. So inspiring. Wish you were my neighbor! Great timely reminders as the holiday season approaches. Seems like I always choose between a fun nightlife or day life. Daytime is a lot longer and nothing feels better than waking with a clear head!!

My story is so similar and reading it… I find hope for my journey into sobriety. I am frail at the time but I attend SMART meetings and just bought The Feeling Goid Book that has tools that I can start using… I

Thank you for the share. I needed to read this today and I am so thankful for this website.

I don’t live in a country area but my story is similar.

Good on you, your comments about not feeling or accepting you were an alcoholic is the same thing I was going through. I have a great job, loving family I am a high achiever but alcohol was controlling me. I have not had a drink or smoke for 4 weeks now and my problems don’t seem to be as bad as they were when I was drunk or hungover. Keep up the good work as there is a lot of people out in the bush [men and woman] that could use your help.

Thanks for sharing Shanna. I see so many similarities between your story and mine. I feel hopeful. I’m just starting my war against alcohol (18 days sober now) but I’m reading and talking with people to armor myself to win. X

Shanna – Your story is my story. As a single mum for 20 years trying to raise and educate two children, I used alcohol as a crutch to blunt the stress of a very busy job and lack of money. Nowadays I am in a much happier time of my life but my addiction still remains with me as hard as I have tried to make changes to my life.I try drinking kombucha instead of wine for a few nights and then the old cravings come back. On top of this I am so ashamed of my habit and depressed in the morning when I have had a lot to drink the previous night and I beat myself up mercilessly. I wish I could find a way to stop this dreadful spiral.

Fantastic . I have been sober for two months. Just trying to deal with the next step. Very inspiring thank you.

That’s a great read , very encouraging- good on you

You are an amazing, amazing inspirational woman and deserve the best there is to offer……want to meet you……

Awesome post. Alcohol seems to ‘hide’ behind so many of us…. rural… urban… small towns… big cities…. in every country (I’m in Canada). Good for you for taking the first step in your community.

You are an amazing and inspirational woman.. well done to you

I’ve already mentioned this post in a few places, including my blog today. https://zenmode.org/2018/11/17/less-alcohol/ Thanks for the insight, and well done on your work, Shanna!

Encouraging. There is hope for anyone who has wrestled with alcohol.

Thanks for sharing your story Shana it really resonates with me evan though i am a male living on the coast.

I would so love to connect with you.

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