real life

'Alcohol was completely sabotaging my life. Then came the moment I knew I had to quit.'

This story discusses addiction and suicidal ideation. It might be triggering for some readers

I first picked up a drink at 17. I was extremely shy, crippled with social anxiety and it gave me a major confidence boost. 

Looking back, I can see that I never drank like other people, but, of course, hindsight is 20/20.

At university my drinking went up a gear. But that’s just what people do, right?

While you're here, watch Shanna Whan on staying 'Sober in the Country'. Story continues below.

Video via Mamamia.

I started working in magazines in London and my drinking went up a gear again. 

But I was a driven, ambitious, hard worker, right? As the years ticked by, and my career was my only focus, I became a hard-partying workaholic alcoholic.

I did not know that I was either. I was either at work or at the bar; until I got barred from the bar(s) and then I’d do (another) geographical - which is an AA term for 'thinking that moving location will stop you from drinking'. 

My job took me to New York. Well, no, that’s not quite right: I worked for a year and a half trying to get offered a job on a magazine there and then cried on the plane filled with regret that I’d made it happen. I’d packed up my little life in London and arrived in New York not even sure why.


I was utterly disconnected from myself, my values and my own soul.

The harder I worked, the harder I drank. The more I got promoted, the more booze became my crutch and enabled me to push through persistent imposter syndrome.

The more I moved, the lonelier I became – and the more I drank. People think that living in the West Village, working on Park Avenue all sounds very Sex & The City. Reality check: there is nothing Sex & The City about drinking every day, binging over weekends, feeling suicidal and not knowing where to begin lifting the lid on the dark thoughts that are wriggling and writhing around in your head.

There were many unhappy scenes and rivers of tears in that little apartment in the West Village. The mask I wore to face the world grew thicker and deeper and more claustrophobic.

By the time I moved back to London to work on a magazine weekend supplement, I had completely lost control of my drinking. I had no idea about alcoholism; no one in my family was an alcoholic.

I also had no idea that it’s a progressive disease. I had zero clue that I was living in untreated alcoholism and untreated depression and anxiety. I hated myself for the sweet promises I made over and over again to friends, family and partners; meaning them with every fibre of my being as they left my lips only to break them in the next breath.


The drive for success was how I concealed my inner turmoil, suicidal ideation and self-loathing.

Image: Supplied

As I continued to blow up friendships and self-sabotage my own life, my drinking became more seriously out of control. It had ceased being fun a long time ago. For many years it was a necessity and things got gradually worse.


By the time I left Sydney, I had lost all of the respect that I’d worked so hard to achieve. Mostly I lost all respect for myself. I just wanted out.

My drinking had affected and impacted many people over the years. They say that alcohol is the great remover; that was certainly true for me. It removed friends, family, partners, trust, hope and self-belief.

By the time I staggered through the doors of AA on the Gold Coast, I was absolutely broken. I knew I was going to end up dead if I didn’t get this under control.

I’ll be eight years sober on August 10 this year. I’ve learned that it’s the first drink that does the damage; not the second, third or fifth.

I’ve learned that I was a very sick person, not an evil one. I’ve learned that it was never a matter of willpower or resolve. I never stood a chance from that very first drink.

I’ve learned that I can swap remorse, horror and hopelessness for a new way of life that is sober, sunny, smiley and filled with purpose. It took a long time for me to emerge from the mental fog of alcoholism; several years in early sobriety that I would not want to have to live through again.

So, I stay sober. I go to meetings, I stay connected, and I stay away from people, places and things that could threaten my ability to remain sober. Stress is not my friend and it’s no longer the fuel on which I run my life.


Last February, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Within weeks, I started chemotherapy, undergoing 16 cycles before a double mastectomy.

I did all that sober. I did all that without a mask. I did all that being present every day, feeling every emotion as it arose. I did all that as the sober warrior I’ve learned to recognise as me in the mirror.

Maybe another day, we can have the conversation about how much I blame myself for causing the cancer through alcohol consumption. But not today.

Listen to No Filter, On this episode, Journalist Sarah Hepola shares her ‘Blackout’ Drunk To Sobriety story. Post continues below.

Today – and every day through my cancer chapter, I thank God that I don’t drink anymore. The freedom I’ve found is worth more than all the money in the world.

If you find that when you start drinking that you can’t stop or that alcohol is often causing problems in your life, you may like to consider stepping out of that horror show and into a calmer way of life, supported by millions of others around the globe who have decided to do life sober, one day at a time.

If you find yourself needing to talk to someone after reading this story, please call Lifeline on 13 11 14.

Image: Supplied