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Toni's story

Home was never a happy place.

I don't have many memories of my childhood, but what I do remember is dark. I always tried to be a good girl, but even when I was really, really good, I wasn't good enough. I'd still get into trouble, I'd still get beaten.

I wasn't allowed to have a voice so when I did speak up I got in trouble. I learned to just not do that. To sit down and shut up. To keep to myself.

It began with my dad and when I married, things got worse. I was absolutely consumed.

All my life, I heard that I was not good enough.

It was drummed in for so long that somewhere along the line, I began believing it. Even when I would receive external praise and positive affirmation, it was never enough. I wouldn't believe it. You could give me a gold medal and I still wouldn't think I deserved it.

But I'm starting to see little bits of me breaking through and thinking, 'well, maybe I DO deserve it'.

There is a lifetime of pain to unpack. It will take time to find a place for it.

As a child there was one place that I felt love and safety: with my grandparents.

I stayed with them a lot, but I wanted to live there. I remember laying in bed at home, crying my heart out for my Nan - I just wanted to be with her.

They are my strongest, most vivid memories. My grandparents had a complicated relationship, but I always felt safe and loved in that space.

Today, the contentment and comfortability that comes with feeling safe allows me to explore the sh!t in my past and what it's like to be me.

I jumped out of the frying pan into the fire. I thought I was escaping my abusive family only to find myself in an abusive marriage.

I picked up alcohol really late in life. Up until that point, I had ineffectively used other strategies to cope, but when life became completely unbearable and I felt there was no hope left, I used alcohol to knock everything out.

I wanted to leave my marriage, but I didn't know how. I didn't know where I would live or how I would support myself. I just knew I couldn't hold on any longer. I tried, again and again, to take my own life. Then it was taken out of my hands - I had a heart attack.

When I was discharged from hospital, I never went back.

I moved into the caravan my father-in-law had gifted us. I was in and out of hospital, not safe on my own. And then my husband took back the caravan and suddenly I was homeless.

I ended up in Sunshine Psychiatric Unit waiting to get in somewhere, and that's the first time I went to residential rehab.

I don't know how long it took me to detox, but I was there for 6 weeks. I felt so close to death, so completely broken.

Afterwards, again I had nowhere to go. Back to my homelessness and my hopelessness and my overwhelming lack of control.

When I drank, there was no euphoria for me. I didn't even like alcohol, it just had the right effect. I functioned but had no recollection of what I was doing. Everything was completely blank in my mind, and that's what I was looking for. I completely escaped my life.

I still feel so much guilt. I probably always will. I still find it difficult to believe just how far I strayed from my own moral compass.

I can hear my father yelling that I should be ashamed of myself and I do take responsibility for what I did. But I won't regret the past, or shut the door on it.

I don't remember what the catalyst was.

I was out for brunch, I got a hair cut and that's all I remember. At some point, I bought alcohol. I don't remember buying it. I don't remember drinking it.

I have brief memories of being in the back of a divvy van, crying. The police officer said my license was suspended and I asked him what would I use for ID, to which he responded, 'Madam, quite frankly that's the least of your problems'. I remember thinking how rude he was.

I went back to my friends house and dry retched for hours. I was not safe to be on my own and ended back in rehab to do some more work.

But I was adamant I was only doing two weeks this time.

I thought I'd be fine. I had done the work, I was going to meetings. Yet everything in my life was so hard.

I picked up a drink and it just took over again.

Back to rehab.

I would try so bloody hard, and yet, I would come out and pick up a drink. It wasn't as if I didn't have the desire to stop. It wasn't as if I wasn't focused. It's just that there wasn't a plan. I thought I could wing it on my own.

I didn't put my recovery first. My AA Sponsor recommended ResetLife, but I was really pushing myself to return to work.

Back to rehab.

I knew I needed to do something different. I needed to trust my gut - my survival instinct that includes the feeling of fear but also the feeling of safety. I had a feeling about ResetLife.

When I first came to ResetLife, all I could see were the differences.

People would tell me to look for the similarities, but I felt that my story was just so different - I didn't drink for most of my life and I've never taken drugs.

But I finally realised that I have actually been an addict my whole life, it's just that I picked up alcohol really late.

I got to a point of absolute desperation. I recognised that I was doing everything that was suggested but it wasn't enough.

ResetLife was different for lots of reasons.

It was the absolute desperation and the recognition that I was doing everything that was suggested, and it still wasn't enough.

It was the care, compassion, acceptance, professionalism. It was the regularity and effort of turning up. It was the peers. It was the sharing openly and honestly. And mixing it up with people who were all different, but all the same. It was the content of the program. It was the counselling, and it was about understanding addiction and recovery.

It gave me perspective and that has been gold.

I battled sadness, depression and low moods all my life, not knowing where they came from.

Now I know I have been a victim of abuse. I'm starting to unpack this because before I just didn't have the capacity. Now I can choose how I live my life moving forward. And when I start to get overwhelmed, I know I can get through it without alcohol. I've done it. I've proved I can do it.

A friend recently said to me, 'surely you're finished with that now' (about recovery). I explained that I will be doing this for the rest of my life because that's what keeps me safe and well, and more importantly, I have found my a place where people accept, support and understand what I have been through, and what I am still going to have to go through.

I have had a lifetime of trauma and can't let go of that in five minutes - it's a process and I'm working through it.

There is still a lot of fear when I'm not traveling well.

It surprises me how quickly and strongly it jumps out at me. It will start as nervousness in my belly, move into my chest and then up into my throat. But now, when it does comes up, I recognise it quickly.

I know this will be with me for the rest of my life, and but I know how to keep myself safe - I'm vigilant to stay connected because that helps keep the fear where it belongs.

I can't do it on my own. It's kind of that juxtaposition - I need to do this on my own, but I can't do it on my own. None of us can. You've got to have your team. And I've found mine.

I feel like I am living for the first time. I am learning to live. To just be me.

I'm learning to set boundaries, to hold something back for myself, to attract people into my life that support and accept me. To look for connection.

I can honestly say, the desire to drink has completely left me.

I don't know how it happened, but it's completely gone. If I still had the desire to drink, dealing with the trauma I have to deal with, I would have picked up alcohol by now, it would have been too much. But it's gone.

I want to tell my story and give hope to other people who can't see a way out. It's doable. It's not easy. It's flamin' hard work, but it's worth it.

I heard people say, 'I'm grateful to be an alcoholic', and in the early days I thought, no way! But that's true for me. Had I not picked up a drink I would have continued to live the way I was.

I've still got so much life left to live and I'm going to bloody grab it with both hands and live it!

I'm a nurse, I'm a carer. Inside of work and outside of work, but I'm getting better at understanding that I have to save myself first.

I needed to return to work for lots of reasons - it's an income, I'm interacting with people, it's something do with my time, a sense of normality, I can still care for people. But I can't yet go back into a high pressure role, I'm just biting off what I can chew.

I feel comfortable and content and it's a nice feeling, although sometimes it's challenging because these feelings are so unfamiliar. It's a learning curve.

I'm about to buy some land and want to build a house that meets my needs and for what's important in my life - my gardening, my cooking. And somewhere for the baby grand piano that my grandfather left me.

I've got everything I need in my life now and anything else is just a bonus.

Thank you to our photographer, Nicholas Walton-Healey.