Check on your wild mate


Shanna’s story begins – like so many others belonging to country children – with a desperate desire to be free of boarding school.

With her newfound liberation, she jumped at the chance to work with stock and to sit on a horse all day, and took a job as a Jillaroo.

Content Warning: this post contains discussions of suicide and sexual assault.

Life for Shanna Whan was punctuated by her relationship with alcohol – she’s been the girl that was date raped, the winner of college drinking comps, the forty year old drunk and, now, the woman who started Sober in the Country. 

Shanna’s story begins – like so many others belonging to country children – with a desperate desire to be free of boarding school. 

With her newfound liberation, she jumped at the chance to work with stock and to sit on a horse all day, and took a job as a Jillaroo.

But life outside the school gates wasn’t all it was cracked up to be and, within a year, Shanna was a victim of date rape and three cases of sexual assault.

“By the time that gap year was over I’d been battered and bruised,” she said, “it’s like you’re a fledgling learning how to fly but then your wings are clipped and you just get smashed to smithereens before you’ve even got your landing gear off the ground.”

From here, Shanna says she jumped from the frying pan into the fire and entered the university college scene where her dangerous drinking was met with commendation rather than concern. 

“I was a novelty because I was this little country girl in the city with my Cuban heel boots and blonde ponytail going flat biscuit,” she said. 

“University was basically learning how to drink like a fish and earning the inimitable honour of being Fresher of the Year, which basically means drunkest on board.”

This was the beginning of Shanna’s alcohol addiction, but it took until her forties for ‘rock bottom’ to hit, sparked by the grief of not being able to conceive.

“I remember being at a party where all of the people were gathered on the lawn at my beautiful husband’s family’s place. There were kids, families, pregnant people, people with toddlers.”

“Everyone was together with all the babies, all the newborns, all the pregnant tummies… And there’s me… who still doesn’t fit in no matter how hard I try, full of self pity.”

Shanna walked out mid-way through that party and drove to the bottle shop. Her husband found her a couple of hours later unconscious at the bottom of a flight of stairs in a pool of her own blood. 

She woke the next day to Tim sitting beside her and waited for him to ask ‘why do you do this?’

A question she didn’t have the answer to. 

“But instead he just looked at me and said, ‘you can’t help this, can you?’”

And that was it, Shanna said, “I just went, ‘no, I can’t.’”

She went on to ring a helpline and connect with one extraordinary woman whose story was identical. And that simple connection was the game changer.

“I had this preconceived notion that alcoholics were homeless people with brown paper bags, who drank all day, and every day, not me,” she said. 

“I worked 14 hour days, I worked really hard, I had a successful business, I had good hair thanks very much. I was just so offended if anyone had dared to suggest I had a problem with alcohol.”

The issue, Shanna thinks, is that society – especially in the bush – is also averting their eyes, sometimes intentionally, to dangerous drinking, alcohol abuse, and the subsequent hard-to-spot first signs of ‘a problem’ becoming alcoholism. 

She believes that to change the dialogue, prevent future harm, and to have an understanding of how to support our mates who are struggling, we need to recognise it and we need to talk about it. 

“Take your toughest mate. Take your wildest mate. Take your craziest mate, scratch the surface, and it’s often anything but.”

“If a loved one of mine is misbehaving on the grog, I’m never going to tell them what to do or how to do it. That doesn’t work.”

“What I will say is, ‘if you want to chat, I’m here.’”

If Shanna’s story has raised any concerns with you, you can contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 and 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732.

More information on Sober in the Country, including peer support and online resources, can be found here.

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