A mother has opened up about her crippling alcohol addiction and the heartbreaking moment she decided to turn her life around.
Though approaching 50, Justine Whitchurch looks and feels younger than ever after overcoming her debilitating addiction to alcohol.
The now 49-year-old first turned to the drug as a way to cope with her declining mental health, citing depression and anxiety as a trigger for her drinking.
The mother-of-two’s seemingly “harmless” habit slowly turned into a life-or-death situation — and Justine says if she didn’t get help when she did, she probably wouldn’t be here today to tell her story.
“I used alcohol as a way of coping with life,” Mum from the Gold Coast, Queensland, told news.com.au.
“People get addicted for a variety of reasons, and for me it was a way to numb my brain.
“I suffered from depression and anxiety, so drinking became a mainstay for my mental health.
“Alcoholism is complex. There were times when it wasn’t a problem, and I could drink casually, but other times it was much more than that.
“I remember when I was 19 and I was in bed when my boyfriend called me and broke up with me. I was devastated.
“I was sitting on the house at the time, and alone. I went out and got some beers from the fridge and drank them until I fell asleep.
“That’s when I learned that alcohol was available to me as a mental health aid.”
Justine rose to fame in the 90s and found success with modeling and music, and her band once even toured with pop icon Kylie Minogue.
But as she fell deeper into the grip of her addiction, her music career slowly fell apart and she “admitted it all”.
Dealing with marital problems and a subsequent divorce, Justine turned to alcohol as a coping mechanism more than ever.
On her worst days, she consumed 2-3 bottles of wine, while also taking shots of vodka when she wanted to stay drunk without being noticed.
“It became a big deal for me in my 30s,” she explained.
“Alcohol can easily shift from something people enjoy to something they can’t live without.
“That’s what happened to me. I became dependent on it, it was no longer a choice.
“I felt like I had no idea what I was doing. I thought if I didn’t have alcohol I couldn’t handle life.”
The turning point for Justine came when she realized that her children were beginning to worry about her well-being.
The mother said that thanks to a strong family support system, her children were very sheltered from the reality of what was going on.
But it was 10 words from her little girl that changed everything.
“I’ll never forget that day,” she recalls.
“My father collected the children from school and he had to assess whether he thought they could stay at my house that night.
“He told me he was sorry, but he couldn’t leave them with me. He didn’t think I was in the right shape.
“My little girl was only 10 at the time and she looked at me and said ‘mom, I’m afraid you’ll never get better’.
“She didn’t know exactly what was going on, she didn’t know I was an alcoholic.
“All she knew was that her mom was sick and she was worried about me. Then I knew something had to change.”
Justine was admitted to rehab just before her 40th birthday, a move she says saved her life.
Now, 10 years later, she says she’s a completely different person and living her best life yet.
Despite turning 50 next year, when comparing photos of her at the height of her illness, she looks younger than she did when she was in her 30s.
“I came close to death because my liver values were so high,” she said.
“I’m just thankful that I’m still here. I knew I had to be here for my kids.
“They needed a mother.”
She now uses her experience to raise awareness of the potential dangers of alcohol consumption.
Justine says Australia’s drinking culture can be particularly harmful, and the rise of the ‘mummy wine time’ trend is concerning.
“Drinking is so ingrained in our culture and is so normalized,” she said.
“It is almost expected. So when you get sober it can be difficult and socially isolating at times.
“I think if you start to question your drinking, you may already have a problem.
“Admitting you need help is the first step. Tell someone out loud, speak your truth.
“Alcohol ages quickly, especially for women.
“Getting sober was the best thing I ever did. I look and feel younger than ever.
“I wake up every day and go to the beach, eat healthy meals, exercise. I have so much energy.
“If I can do it, anyone can. Help is always available – you don’t have to do it alone.”