Well, any of us who live remotely or regionally are fully aware of a viral ‘COVID drinking challenge’ doing the rounds at the moment - along with a little controversy, too.
As the CEO of national charity Sober in the Country - created specifically to take on the immensely tricky topic of alcohol awareness in the bush; I am obliged and mandated to respond after being bombarded day and night with messages and tags from across rural Australia the last week.
Those who know about me almost losing my life to alcoholism 5 years ago know I am utterly invested, and, you will also know our charity catchphrase that it’s ‘’OK2SAYNO’’ is what we are about: namely, shifting discussions respectfully in the bush so that our mates who can’t actually safely enjoy a drink or simply choose to be sober for health reasons are always fully included and feel supported.
We do not, have not, and never will demonise or criticise those who enjoy a drink in moderation.
In other words – I am not going to ever pass judgement on this stuff or get engaged in the divisiveness. I am woman who lives in rural Australia. Many of my very own dearly loved rural friends are uploading videos and I know for a fact it's being done only with good intentions.
However, I do now also represent a huge portion of rural people who fight for their lives because they've become alcohol dependent and are desperately in need of our work. Therefore, I have to acknowledge them, too. I cannot begin to tell you how complicated it can be at times to drive this conversation. That's why it took me 10,000 hours as a solo volunteer to even crack this chat...
.. and that is why I've always walked the very fine, careful, and respectful line I've always walked in this space: which is to not judge or condemn but rather to focus on encouraging the terrific and inclusive stuff. In this instance - we are sharing some really great posts from men and women who are opting to say ‘no thanks’ or 'not today' and are rather sharing their own take on the challenge and their reasons behind why alcohol was detrimental to mental health, for them personally.
This does not mean those 'doing the challenge' are deserving of a pummelling. SITC is not anti-alcohol nor prohibitionist. If I had a dollar for every time I’ve clarified this I’d be a squillionaire.
That's why I will just keep chipping away and doing what I (we) do which is to be very clear that we are here for those who’d like to be more informed and educated around alcohol and its potential devastating impacts and to raise awareness around for those who cannot moderate or even drink at all and who have had shocking mental health ramifications from alcohol abuse.
The reason this challenge is stirring up a hornet's nest is that many rural people are waking up to the seriousness of the struggle for many in our circles and they simply feel (understandably) conflicted about the messages of mixing grog and mental health together.
Much like the drinking-challenge has been done with the best of intent, so has the counter-messaging from people. The intent is excellent. On both sides. So let's focus on that instead of tearing eachother down.
For the record - Beyond Blue has also clarified they didn't endorse or initiate this challenge. Nor do they recommend treating mental health issues with alcohol. You can read their statement here.
Remember that the issue of alcohol abuse, misuse, and addiction has about 200 million shades of grey and can be hugely triggering and distressing for some, so be kind, take a breath - and let's show respect on both sides.
What I’d love to end on is this: if you personally don’t want to take part in an alcoholic version of this mental health awareness challenge but you love supporting mental health and feel strongly – please feel free to remind your mates that we, SITC, are here as a rural charity doing hard work in this space day and night.
We are a registered tax deductible charity (with zero government funding) and if you want to help us out with $2 or $20 it would help us help those who are in pretty serious need out there hidden in amongst our very own bush circles. Chances are you won't even know who they are..
You can donate here: https://www.soberinthecountry.org/donations ... or you can grab a trucker cap or T-Shirt that show you support your mates whether they love a beer or a soft drink https://www.soberinthecountry.org/merchandise
If you want to learn about my own backstory as the founder - feel free to watch our Australian Story. And you'll understand why balance is essential...
Much love as always -
PS - please share this post if you can. It all helps. And remember - it's OK2SAYNO!