#174 – Episode 174 – Sober in the Country with Shanna Whan


Getting sober in rural environments presents its own unique challenges. In this episode, Veronica interviews Shanna Whan founder of Sober in the Country a charity that helps people in rural places to stop drinking. Driven by desperation Shanna saw there was simply no support for people in rural Australia so she set about creating her own.

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about this episode

What happens if you struggle with alcohol and live isolated in the middle of nowhere, in a rural community hundreds of kilometres from a town?

How do you get support? Are you doomed to struggle alone?

Rural Australia has a unique problem with alcohol because abuse is prevalent there but meetings, therapists and sober people are rare and hard to find.

Our guest today says “Not Anymore”.

Shanna Whan is the CEO and founder of a national charity called Sober In The Country, which is based in Australia. She’s changing the narrative about sobriety in rural communities and providing support to people who can’t find any.

When she was growing up, she didn’t have the kind of home life that people would think addiction can come from – she had wonderful, loving, supportive parents. But when she went off to boarding school at 11, things went downhill fast.

She hated her experience.

It was restricted and confined. It was social structures and everything antithetical to the wild and free-wheeling life she grew up in. She did not thrive.

She tells the story of her experience communicating with her family at home. She had to book a time to call her family, and when she called, a matron would sit on the stool next to her. So she had no privacy.

As soon as she was able to leave, she bolted from that experience with everything she had… and went from the frying pan into the fire.

She fell into the wrong crowd at the job she was working at, and that year altered the trajectory of her life permanently.

Trauma after trauma led to a disastrous decade. Her 20s were ruined. That’s how her relationship with alcohol was shaped because she used it to mask the pain and cope with the multiple traumas.

That relationship continued to grow and evolve and she got to a point where on the surface she was a high-functioning businesswoman by day, and after work, she was a blackout drunk at home by night.

Her rock bottom came in 2014 when she literally hit rock bottom after falling down a flight of stairs during a drunken blackout, nearly breaking her neck.

She came to in the emergency room with her husband standing over her, sad, broken and helpless.

Continue going down the path and die, or not, were the only two options she was left with.

She chose life.

She had no idea what she could do to get help because nothing worked in the past, but she decided to call a helpline.

The lady on the other side invited her to join AA 300km away, and she lept in her car and drove all the way there.

She saw that this was a woman just like her, who had struggled just as she had, and was sober. It was possible. She cried with relief at the lifeline that had just been handed to her.

“Sobriety is very bloody good and I recommend it.”

She found hope, and she decided she was going to hold on to it no matter what.

She quit her job and left everything to focus fully on her sobriety. And she made it, despite all the odds and statistics that said she shouldn’t be able to make it, she became sober.

She swore to herself that she needed to create something to support people like her, people in remote, rural areas of Australia who are overlooked by other programs and communities.

That’s why she started Sober in the Country.

Here are some other topics we spoke about on this episode:

  • How did COVID change her approach to therapy and support in rural Australia?
  • What are some issues that people in rural communities face that most people wouldn’t think about?
  • The campaign that her team came up with to shift the stigma sober people face, pushing them outside the social circle.

About Shanna Whan

Shanna Whan is the CEO, founder, and force behind the Australian national charity Sober in the Country. She’s a self-described ”garden variety recovered alcoholic” who was fortunate enough to make it back from the brink of death – and chooses to use her very imperfect life and story to pay it forward and offer hope for those still in the fight. She loathes the word ‘influencer’ and the description of sobriety as ‘trendy’ because she has seen, first-hand, the life-and-death truth of this struggle for some.

She risked it all when going public after rebuilding her life from ground zero at the age of forty and going on to spend 15,000 volunteer hours in the ‘trenches’ to start a conversation around making it okay to say no thanks to beers in the bush.

Against all odds – today Shanna is a respected leader in the alcohol awareness space, and her conversations have become a national charity with a laser focus on bringing ‘common sense’ talk and advocacy to the overlooked demographic of hard-working rural, regional, and remote Australians who are more than familiar with the concept of living in ”isolation.”

Shanna travels and speaks nationally upon invitation and the SITC national charity is now aligned with the major national alcohol awareness groups and key influencers across the national alcohol space.

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