Growing up in a household where both parents were struggling with alcoholism, Kerrie Atherton was an alcoholic at 15 and was having suicidal thoughts by the time she was just 18.
The Buderim-based counsellor says she went to Alcoholics Anonymous as a “last-ditch resort” and has been clean since that fateful day 37 years ago.
Ms Atherton has since counselled and supported countless people suffering from alcohol and substance abuse through her business, Empower Life Solutions. She recently started the Stories of Hope series to expand the reach and opportunity for personal healing into the wider community.
At the free monthly community event, two guest speakers share their personal stories of major illness, trauma, addiction, mental health, abuse or relationship struggles to showcase their story of survival to offer hope and motivation to others. The first event of 2018 featured a full house as chef Matt Golinski took to the podium to share his personal story of loss and rehabilitation.
Two years ago, Ms Atherton lost her father and her husband was going through an emotional and physical breakdown due to work-related stress. “The world never looked more uncertain for me; I was in a black tunnel and I felt so alone,” she says. “It was a pivotal moment for me as I have always been somebody that was … always looking at the glass half full perspective and using what was bad in my life to make the lives of others good, but I just slumped.
“I reached a point where I became determined that I couldn’t lie down and be a victim. I had to rise up and use this because there was a greater purpose for everything that I had been through. Stories for Hope started a few months later.”
The events, sponsored by and held at The Sands Tavern in Maroochydore on the last Tuesday of every month, offers a safe environment for speakers to open up, many for the first time.
“Something really magical takes place in the room,” Ms Atherton says.“There is this unspoken, deep connection with everybody the minute they walk in.”
Ms Atherton says she has been overwhelmed by how the community has embraced the initiative. She is planning a men’s-only mental health night in April and a women’s-only event later in the year.
“I don’t want anybody to feel like they have to go through life alone. If you are struggling, seek out a person to speak to about it before it unravels too much, or come along and join us at Stories of Hope.”