By Jo Abi|
Shanna Whan says the moment she found out she'd won the 2022 Local Hero honour at the Australian of the Year Awards was closely followed by one of her classic "Bridget Jones" moments.
"Got through the WHOLE day without a Bridget Jones moment until I just said 'd–khead' on national live radio when speaking about how I behaved when I was on the booze," she writes in one of her characteristically blunt social media posts.
"It was the truth and it just came out of my head," she continues. "I'm a work in progress and I'm no poster girl, as you all know."
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But to many she is exactly that — a poster girl. Maybe not in avoiding using colourful language during live media appearances, but certainly for recovering from past trauma and alcoholism and devoting her life to helping others do the same.
Whan is the CEO and founder of registered national charity Sober in the Country, an organisation that helps those with alcoholism. Her own battle with alcohol almost killed her many times, at one point leaving her battered and passed out at the bottom of a stairwell.
She told 2GB's Ben Fordham Live her focus is on helping her local country folk due to a lack of support services for Australians who live in rural and regional areas compared to those offered in cities.
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"Something I reckon I've probably heard two million times is, 'You know drinking's not just a problem in the country,' and my first response is, 'Yeah, I promise you that I'm well aware of that.'"
Whan says Sober in the Country and her "passion" lies in the country.
"I'm a country girl, and those are the people I advocate and fight for 'cause no one else does," she tells Fordham.
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"There's a lot of services and support and funding and awareness in the city and you know, larger regional areas, but there is very little in rural and remote Australia, so Sober in the Country speaks for that group of people because like I said, nobody does," Whan continues.
"And whilst addiction and alcoholism is the same all over the planet, in the bush there are some really, really specific unique sets of challenges we live with including life in permanent 'iso' (isolation) and a lack of anonymity and all sorts of things that city-centric models are never gonna touch."
Whan has previously opened up about her recovery, explaining that while she has "found peace", she can trace her addiction back to when she was 18 and suffered horrific abuse that would change her life.
"[T]he truth is the things that happened to me as an 18 year old girl are the things that went on to shape what would almost claim my life over two decades later," she explains in a gut-wrenching Instagram post.
"And the reason I share these memories is because one of the most common and brutal assumptions about those in addiction is that we are bad people who ''did this to ourselves'."
She has urged others to understand that society must make an effort to understand the connection between trauma and addiction.
"For me; I was a bubbly kid with the world at my feet," she writes. "But as a hopelessly naive and desperately homesick kid fresh out of an archaic and restrictive boarding school system that taught me no life skills – I wasn't prepared for the real world."
Whan says she was "raped and then sexually assaulted and predated upon" while working as a jillaroo on a remote property.
She would also suffer in a "profoundly abusive relationship, self-harm, further sexual assaults, eating disorders, PTSD, and enormously outrageous risk-taking behaviour".
Whan says on the outside she appeared to be a "wild party girl" but on the inside she was traumatised and her behaviour was her way of coping.
Her recovery is nothing short of a miracle, and her work today is incredibly important.
After hitting her 'bottom' in 2015, Whan gave up drinking and began volunteering to help others locally. This evolved into Sober in the Country, which now helps countless others.
For those with addictive personalities, the charity assists them in ceasing drinking all together. For others, it urges moderation.
One such message reads: "Remember: just because it was marketed to us since forever as a 'thing,' Happy Hour and Friday arvo doesn't have to be synonymous with booze. Happiness of any kind comes down to what brings you joy… and what makes you feel good. For some of us it's a cold beer. For others, it's a walk with the dogs. You do you, boo. Always."
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© 2022 Nine Digital Pty Ltd
© 2022 Nine Digital Pty Ltd
By Jo Abi|