From hero to zero and back again

01.06.20

After five years of sleepless nights, ten thousand hours of volunteering, and risking ‘pretty much everything’ to establish her charity “Sober in the Country;” founder, recovered alcoholic and former Rural Women’s Award Finalist, Shanna Whan thought 2020 was going to be her year. That is until COVID-19.

Sober in the Country is a national charity changing how we talk about alcohol in the bush, and letting our mates know it’s OK to say no to a beer.

Shanna went from hero to zero as she watched it all go up in smoke off the back of the pandemic. What was set to be twelve months circumnavigating Australia delivering her life’s work went up in smoke in days.

‘’There I was in March presenting at the Sydney Opera House for International Women’s Day alongside some amazing women, with bags packed ready to start travelling all over, and then, whammo…  COVID happened,‘’  said Shanna.

“It was a brutal shock. To be standing on the edge of a big break and then have COVID-19 strike was devastating,’’ Shanna said. She freely admits she gave herself permission to fall into a screaming heap.

“Honestly I was just heartbroken. To be finally at that breakthrough point where the risk and work had paid off, and where I was established, credible, and 100% ready (and also about to pay myself a small salary for the first time) .. well , I came home and just couldn’t get out of bed while I processed it all and tried to recalibrate,” said Shanna.

What happened next is extraordinary.

“Out of the blue I was contacted by several leading philanthropic organisations and extraordinary individuals who told me they had been watching what I had been doing (from afar) for a long while,’’ said Shanna.

“They offered me a literal lifeline and the crucial support I needed to just pick myself up and get back to work. It was just beyond my wildest dreams and at a critical moment. They just lifted me up and honoured my work in rural Australia in the most profound way.”

COVID-19 has changed all of our lives but for Shanna Whan who thought her life’s work had been lost, it has been nothing short of miraculous.

So why did they offer to help?

“I think COVID-19 has allowed the nation to take a moment and truly imagine what it’s like trying to get out of a hole when you’re isolated and without a choice of services. I think the entire nation got a glimpse of the fact this is actually our normal in regional and rural Australia,” said Shanna.

“The virus meant that suddenly our city cousins couldn’t get to their regular face-to-face recovery support group meetings and there was this great moral, social and cultural panic that things were going to fall apart – and this terrible virus bought this to the fore.”

Shanna added: “What we are is an incognito demographic. A silent majority of hard-working Australians who – if battling alcohol dependence – must do so in isolation and silence mostly without anything even close to adequate resources support.’’

This is why I will remain grateful my entire life to philanthropists and that their hearts are big enough to uncover initiatives that genuinely do good and need supporting; particularly when governments are unable or unwilling to do so,” said Shanna.

“As an advocacy leader now representing tens of thousands of people in this ‘chat’ – I can say, with my hand on my heart that literally everyone I have ever had a conversation with is impacted either directly or indirectly by alcohol addiction.

‘’So my passion remains fierce and bright. Six years into my own recovery story – I know there is much our rural peers could so easily benefit from, and so I do what I do, because real talk from real people on the ground in the bush is what we’ve always lacked.

“I thought I had lost everything at the start of the year … but in the end I have gained the chance to help more people and get up and show up every day without fear over my head. I am absolutely humbled by what has happened.”

Just three years ago, Shanna Whan was a NSW Finalist in the AgriFutures Australia Rural Women’s Award. Her then project was establishing “Sober in the Country” as an online discussion to raise awareness around men and women like her living in rural and regional Australia struggling with alcohol addiction while having to maintain busy lives, and unable to access the help they needed in a way that made sense to them.

“The lead-in to the Rural Women’s Award was an amazing experience and the care, nurturing, love and courtesy shown to all the finalists by the Rural Women’s Network (RWM) was truly incredible,” said Shanna.

“There is no doubt that the process gives finalists a toe in the door.

“There is a lot of camaraderie and the friendships you make are golden. There is a real sisterhood which instantly binds the finalists.”

Shanna also has this piece of advice.

“Love it, enjoy it, and grab it with both hands – but be aware that when the lights go off – that’s when the work really begins,” said Shanna.

“I would really love to see more ongoing training for the finalists once the pomp and ceremony is over so that no one falls through the gaps and no projects drop away. In my case I was pretty naïve and trusting and had no real knowledge of how to communicate in certain areas such as with politicians,’’ said Shanna.

“Now of course, it’s a different story. I feel like I am literally a different woman in 2020. I’ve had some enormous knocks, and plenty of knockers – but not once have I stopped holding my line because I’ve always known in my deepest heart how incredibly important this work is. And the proof is now in the pudding.

‘’I would like to be able to share my hard-earned insights with others.

Shanna Whan is the founder and CEO of Sober in the Country Ltd – a national charity changing how we talk about alcohol in the bush, and letting our mates know it’s OK to say no to a beer.

To watch Shanna’s Australian Story episode Last Drinks visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MYbK0baA_TQ

Or to visit the national charity website go to www.soberinthecountry.org

Media enquiries:

Brooke Croft, Manager, Capacity Building, AgriFutures Australia
brooke.croft@agrifutures.com.au | 0409 611 633