Images & words: Shanna Whan (Sober in the Country founder)
LACHLAN CAMERON – or Lach as he’s known to mates – is a down to earth Narrabri local who can be found on any given day training hard or running clients through PT programmes at his gym down the main street.
Phoenix Two390 was aptly named to both represent both rising from the ashes and the local post code of 2390. The mythical phoenix and this address are significant to Lach’s story which is truly inspirational and indeed a humble parallel of a metaphorical rising from ashes and the prodigal son returning home.
Back in the early 2000’s Lachie’s footy skills found him leaving the comfortable familiarity of his home-town and on a sharp trajectory to ‘living the dream’ in the big city lights of Sydney playing rugby for the Manly Marlins.
In a short space of time the small town lad was captaining the under-20’s first grade team and then also earned himself a spot in the prestigious Manly men’s first-grade Top 30.
This was Lachie’s lifelong vision and dream on the way to being made, and he figured this 'was it'. However fate was about to step in, and a nasty injury saw Lachie sidelined for a period and so impatient to get back onto the paddock that he simply didn’t rehabilitate the injury properly before hitting the paddock at full speed - and before his body was ready.
He said that after six weeks of doing ‘not much’ other than drinking plenty of beers with the boys, it was probably always a disaster waiting to happen given he’d also gained 10kgs and lost fitness; and, just like that, he was back to an even more serious injury and dropped to seconds – a massive shock and a swift turn of events.
Lachie admits he spiralled quickly from a place of ‘’having it all at his fingertips’’ to a debilitating depression that saw him spending days locked away, isolated, and mentally crushed by disappointment.
‘’I started my last season at Colts as first-grade captain and finished the season as an overweight, depressed mess in second-grade. It was just such a terrible come down,’’ he said.
‘’I lost heart completely and I just didn’t know what to do.’’
Harder still for Lach was that the isolation from his close network of family and friends back home suddenly started to kick in. Nonetheless – he thought he needed to stick it out and pride saw him digging in, losing the weight, and getting super fit once again. But mentally, he couldn’t recover.
‘’My body was there but my mind just couldn’t do what had to be done. It all came to a head when my boss at the time basically told me (nicely) to take some annual leave and have a think about things, as he knew I wasn’t right.
‘’At the time, I remember I was having benders on the grog several times a week with my mates. We’d go out and we’d go hard. I remember all of us thinking it was a great joke one night when the police picked me up from an alleyway, where I’d gone to sleep. We regularly went out – but I was consistently the one who’d get blackout drunk and never be keen or ready to go home. I wasn’t addicted to alcohol; I just loved the part of ‘being out’ on the town and throwing my inhibitions to one side and escaping. I thought I was having fun.
‘’Anyhow, after my boss gave me the nudge – I spent a week with my family on the coast.
Lachie said that after seven days sitting quietly with family and contemplating things that a simple question from his loving Dad finally triggered what he’d been keeping at bay for so long.
‘’Dad basically just asked me quietly one day: ‘are you REALLY okay’….?’’
‘’I said ‘I don’t know’ and suddenly I broke down and started to cry.
‘’I’d never cried like that, ever. It really made me see how far I’d slid into a really bad place.
‘’Later, when I was driving back to Sydney, I was heading down the freeway and John Mellancamp’s ''small town’’ was playing. I was really listening hard to the lyrics, and suddenly, it just came to me: it was time to go home, back to my own small country town.
Lachie thought the move back to Narrabri from Sydney would fix everything. However, soon, he found the same old patterns were emerging, and that the core of the problem hadn’t been addressed. Despite working hard physically as a labourer for the local council and immersing himself back in local sports – he was back to big drinking binges on weekends with mates.
He’d also met a lovely girl – Megan, and the pair was dancing around the possibility of a serious commitment. When Lachlan’s brother invited him to head back to the big smoke, it was a consideration, but ultimately Lach said decided to stay and commit to the relationship and see where it went.
It was embarking on an adult relationship, shifting into a more senior job, and finally marriage – and knowing that fatherhood was imminent - that would force Lach into looking hard at the truth that his mental health, ongoing mood-swings, dissatisfaction, and discontent within himself just wasn't okay.
Around this time another injury saw him once again sidelined and back on the couch and soon up to his heaviest weight ever. Lachie freely admits he was terrible company and that he was pessimistic and down on the world again and back to drinking heavily.
‘’I felt the absolute worst I’ve ever felt mentally and physically - but I was busy convincing myself and those around me that I was okay, and meanwhile, I was also busy being best mates with everyone who wanted a beer’s.
‘’The patterns of isolating myself on the down-days started happening again. Megan was patiently helping me as best as she could and being so loving and forgiving – because she knew my own internal pain was at the heart of it all - but I was irritable, irrational, and always out of sorts.
The next turning point was the birth of Lach and Megan’s daughter, Ally.
‘’I just suddenly realised I had to get better. I wanted so badly to be one hundred percent present and available as a father and as a husband. And the truth was that so much precious family time was being lost to ‘beers with the boys’ and hungover Sundays.
Around this time, Lach had been working with and establishing a bond with a local personal trainer, Jaspreet Singh, who has a passion for spiritual and physical health and encouraging personal growth.
‘’Jas (Jaspreet) and I had been talking about what it really meant to be a role model within the community to kids. And we realised that because of my sporting positions and fairly regular exposure in newspapers etc., that I could really take the opportunity to be somebody who could make a difference at a local level.
‘’I thought long and hard about it and I quickly came to the realisation that in addition to being a good community member, I just didn’t want my kids (or others) growing up thinking that playing sport should always go hand-in-hand with excessive alcohol abuse; and that sport could be just about health and mateship.''
It was Jaspreet’s gentle influence, encouragement, and nurturing that ultimately pushed Lachlan down a road he never expected to take – and that’s when he decided to make a massive leap and purchase a local gym.
He’s never looked back.
Lachie has indeed risen from the ashes of what he says were really difficult and challenging times. Phoenix Two390 is now not just his second home but also a sanctuary for many locals who have also decided to put health first.
Over time, Lach’s evolution and his relationship with alcohol saw him shift from regular binge-drinking to cutting back to only ‘special’ occasions … and eventually a measured and intentional lifestyle choice to remove alcohol altogether. It’s now been 12 months since he had a drink – and he said he’s literally never felt better.
‘’I will forever be so grateful that I had that massive watershed moment about the clear link between alcohol abuse and the manic episodes, insomnia, and depression in my life.
This was honestly a critical turning point that changed everything - and in the end it was so very obvious that the positives of being alcohol-free far outweighed the negatives.
‘’Megan still enjoys the odd drink but she also cut back drastically and now also puts her health as a total priority.’’
Until now – Lachie has been keeping this back-story fairly quiet.
‘’In the early days, I just had a quiet goal in mind, and I wasn’t wanting to preach this choice or anything like that. It's just what I chose to do. But over time I noticed that heaps of my mates were asking questions and were really curious about the change in my health and my mood. So, I began to speak more and more freely – because I could see the benefit of helping others with an insight that isn’t encouraged as much as it should be in a rural setting.
‘’Watching Shan (Sober in the Country founder) recover from her own alcohol battles and then go on to do her work and even a TED talk about positive shifts and awareness in our rural drinking culture made me realise this was the perfect platform to share my story.
‘’These days I just feel really comfortable with my life and in just being who I am,'' Lachie says.
''Sure there have been challenges along the way. And sometimes, I’ll still get a hard time for being alcohol-free. But honestly - if somebody wants to tell me I am less of a man because I don’t drink I just have a laugh and let that go because I know that ten years ago I would’ve been the exact same bloke saying that exact same things – so yeah, I instinctively know that comments like those come from someone else’s insecurity and discomfort.
‘’Sobriety isn’t really the done thing in the country!’’ Lachie jokes.
‘‘My good mates occasionally jokingly ask me if Old Lachie will make an appearance, and I quickly respond that old Lachie has retired for good.
‘’I found that I’ve only had to cut one friend out of my sober life. Unfortunately he has become a chronic alcoholic and that’s led to violence and destruction in his life; but he’s not prepared to do whatever it takes to get help and recover, so I had to step away from the toxicity of it in the end.''
Lachie says that if you had told him five years ago where he would be today – he would have burst out laughing – but that today he is truly content and at home and thriving in his life, and career.
‘’Thanks to getting away from booze I am now exactly the kind of husband, friend, and father I’ve always wanted to be.
Follow Lach and Megan's fitness journey and more on Phoenix Two390 on instagram here.
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