After years of binge drinking and hiding her addiction at work, Weekend Sunrise newsreader Talitha Cummins is challenging the stereotype of an alcoholic.
When the now 36-year-old journalist phoned her mother to confess she had a problem with alcohol, the reaction took her by surprise.
“I thought alcoholics were like the old bag men in the parks. That’s how naive I was,” Kaye Wiig said.
But Cummins said her mother was not the only one in denial.
“There is a huge stigma attached to this label in our society. It’s one of the biggest problems we are facing but we are still afraid to talk about it,” she said.
Now four years sober and the mother of a baby boy, the Channel Seven newsreader describes herself as the “modern face” of alcoholism.
“I’m professional, educated, high functioning,” Cummins said.
“I hit rock bottom but it could easily have been much worse.”
Cummins — an ambassador for the online alcohol support group Hello Sunday Morning — has shared her struggle with Australian Story, with input from her friends and family, as a cautionary tale to other young people.
“I think going public has actually helped me in a way,” she said.
“I still have days where I think, ‘have I done the right thing’? But from the responses I’ve had, I think it is helping people, perhaps planting a seed in the minds of others who may have a problem, but may not be ready to deal with it just yet.”
Professional by day, binge drinker by night
By her early 30s, Cummins was juggling dual identities — working as a successful television reporter by day and transforming into a binge drinker by night.
At her worst she could down more than four bottles of wine in one sitting.
“I used it as a stress release,” Cummins said.
“I’d go for a drink with friends and at 3:00am, I’m still there.
“And then I’m fighting a hangover the next morning, pretending that everything is fine and fronting up to work with that other alter ego.”
In an attempt to maintain control, Cummins resorted to exercise to snap her body back into sobriety.
“I remember getting up at 5:00am to go for a 10-kilometre run after a big night and having a black coffee. Sometimes I was still drunk. But to keep it all together, to keep that lie together, that’s what I had to do,” she said.
“Work seemed to be a leveller for me. I just had this mental thing in my head that I had to be in character and that I could do it.
“Some of my best workdays were those days, strangely.”
‘With alcohol, I wasn’t the shy girl anymore’
As a child Cummins struggled with shyness and said her introversion became more pronounced after her parents divorced.
Her first drink was as a 14-year-old in a Gold Coast park before a school social.
“Alcohol made me feel like I wasn’t that shy girl anymore, that I had confidence, that I didn’t have to be reserved. From that point I realised I could be this person if I had alcohol,” Cummins said.