Shanna Whan is the founder of Sober In The Country and since February 2015 she has been sans alcohol.
Her journey to an alcohol-free life was not an easy one but eventually, the turmoil that alcohol was creating in Shan’s life and a huge amount of courage brought her to the decision to ditch the drink. Through her own private and painful story, she recognised a common theme between the bush and booze – a drinking culture that was prevalent, historic, and showed no sign of slowing down.
Shan’s bravery in speaking about her battle publicly, opened a well overdue conversation within rural areas of Australia. Alcohol addiction doesn’t necessarily have to mean you are drinking all day every day or that you can’t function, it can take shape in binge drinking on weekends, the reliance on alcohol to wind down and deal with stress or the notion that it’s either one or a hundred, with no in-between. Many of those who are addicted to alcohol are high functioning, well-educated and physically well-kept individuals; which is not widely known.
Rural and Remote Mental Health are always concerned with how lifestyle choices affect the mental health of people. There is without a doubt a strong link between poor mental health and excessive drinking. Most people are familiar with ‘hangxiety’ – the overwhelming feelings of anxiety that follow a big night out. Alcohol is a depressant and can cause our mood to plummet very quickly. What comes with the initial high, comes the inevitable low.
We were so lucky to be able to catch up with Shan and speak about her experience and how Sober In The Country was shaped. She was awarded 2022 Australian of the year, Local Hero in NSW for her efforts to help others and be a voice for those battling alcohol addiction in remote communities.
Shan began her advocacy work by initially hosting meetings within her local town, however, she quickly came to realise this was not effective. As country towns are so small, nobody felt comfortable walking into a physical location, their ‘problem’ would become common knowledge. Instead, Shan began blogging about her experiences and using the digital space to spread the message, and Sober In The Country was born. SITC created an online confidential community for people to come together and feel secure enough to speak about their relationship with alcohol.
“We’re encouraging Australians to have a yarn about how we drink, particularly in the bush. I was one of those people where one was too many and a thousand was not enough. And I now understand that I am not the only person who struggled like this. I am merely a spokesperson representing a legion of others who don’t yet feel they can speak up”.
“There is irrevocable proof that mental health and alcohol abuse and misuse are linked. There’s also much research around the link between trauma and addiction. How that looks for me is that my mental health is a working progress and probably always will be”.
“Alcohol is associated with isolation, loneliness, despair, stress, drought and mental health. We’re country people – we’re tough, we’re stoic. So we don’t ask for help”.
“We speak a lot about the fact that rural and remote men and women cannot access relatable or timely access to support that makes sense for them – but that accessing ‘alcohol’ is easy and offers short term reprieve from emotional pain”.
Shan’s feature on Australian Story’s Last Drinks dives into her history with alcohol and how she came to be sober. The episode is honest, real and extremely relatable.
Danika Leys from Country Women’s Association was also featured in the episode and speaks directly to the importance of culturally tailoring programs.
“There are services out there but there need to be more services that are more tailored to people in a rural context. So, what works in cities in terms of providing alcohol counselling for instance, doesn’t necessarily work in rural areas”.
If you are or know someone who is struggling with alcohol addiction please ask for help.
You can start at Sober in the Country, where they’ve worked to gather resources that suit rural and remote Australians.
Other valuable contacts are:
Beyond Blue: 1300 22 4636
LifeLine: 13 11 14