Real Life

Holly Beckham’s journey from P addict to climbing Mt Everest

After winning her battle with drugs and alcohol, the Whangārei journalist is at an all-time high
Guy Needham

In April, Holly Beckham, journalist for the current affairs show Marae, was sent to cover an inspirational story about a group of former drug addicts acting for the first time in a theatre production.

It was an especially moving story for the reporter, 34, as she is also a former alcoholic and methamphetamine addict, who spent 19 years in a downward spiral before making the decision to regain control of her life.

Holly’s connection to the play, He Aha Te Mea Nui O Te Ao?, was so strong, she was asked by producers if she wanted to join the cast and share her own triumphant tale on stage.

Though she’d never acted before, Holly hesitantly accepted their offer and she’s since found the experience therapeutic as she knows sharing her troubled past will help others.

“Watching the other actors perform made me want to do it,” Holly tells Woman’s Day. “They also had never acted before and they’re telling their stories, which are confronting and personal. They allowed themselves to be vulnerable. I saw that it gave them freedom and I wanted to have that same feeling.

“It’s hard to tell my story and be emotional, especially when I’m having to act out the most traumatic periods of my life. You can’t hide when you’re on stage. You are bare and vulnerable when you’re revisiting your past, and exploring the person that you once were.”

Holly, who was born in Whangārei, says she used drugs and alcohol to try to block out a childhood full of traumatic experiences. Her first memory is at 18 months old, when her father, who suffered from a serious lung condition, bled to death while holding her.

“I remember him picking me up. He fell and I fell with him. There was blood on my hands and blood coming out of him. He went to the hospital and he never survived. This is how my story starts.”

Holly, who is of Ngāpuhi and Ngāti Rangi descent, also suffered sexual abuse as a child. She recalls, “I knew what was going on, but I was too young to understand and deal with the emotions. I ended up blocking everything out because I didn’t know any other way.”

By the time she was 13, she was drinking. At 15, she was smoking marijuana and got kicked out of school. At 20, she was taking drugs such as cocaine, ecstasy and meth. “Drugs and alcohol made me feel that I was on top of the world. It made me feel safe and it gave me confidence.”

Yet she still felt like there was no hope for her and tried to take her life several times. Her turning point came three years ago, when her body couldn’t function on drugs or alcohol and she had to be hospitalised after suffering a seizure.

“That was my rock bottom,” confesses Holly. “I was married and that ended. I lost my job. I felt like I had lost everything and I didn’t have anything left. The first step was realising that I needed help. I reached out to my mum to help me.”

Holly set herself a goal. If she survived rehab, she would become a documentary maker to share her story and others about surviving addiction.

“I asked myself, ‘What would have helped me when I was younger?’ If I had seen someone speak out about their journey of addiction and surviving sexual abuse, then maybe that would have helped me. It would have shown me that I wasn’t alone.”

It took Holly two years and seven rehab centres to get free from drugs and alcohol. Once she overcame her addictions, she enrolled in a film and television course to learn how to make documentaries.

Since graduating from Auckland’s South Seas Film School, she’s produced and directed two documentaries about drug addiction, He Ara Anō and Mana Over Meth. The former was screened at film festivals around the world and won 20 awards.

Holly also talks in schools about addiction and will be the subject of a new documentary series called Te Ara, which will follow the journalist as she tries to become the first wahine Māori to scale Everest.

“Life is great for me and I’m on a roll,” grins Holly. “We call it the gift of recovery. When you fully commit to recovery, then recovery gives back to you.”

He Aha Te Mea Nui O Te Ao? runs 20 to 22 July at Auckland’s Te Pou Theatre. For tickets, see tepoutheatre.nz. If you’re struggling with alcohol or drugs, please call 0800 787 797, text 8681 or visit alcoholdrughelp.org.nz. For help with sexual harm, call 0800 044 334, text 4334 or visit safetotalk.nz. For the Suicide Crisis Helpline, phone 0508 TAUTOKO.

Related stories


Get Woman’s Day home delivered!  

Subscribe and save up to 29% on a magazine subscription.