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Real Life

From meth to mentor: Shannan’s road to recovery

Clean for seven years, the mum of two is helping others fight their addictions

By Dr Ruth Jillings
Shannan Hill's life is a story of redemption. Once a drug addict with dozens of convictions, there were many dark days of addiction, violence, crime and turmoil. But in the battle of her life, Shannan has fought her demons to find sobriety, academic success and win back her family.
Now a full-time drug and alcohol counsellor, Shannan has almost completed a Bachelor of Social Health and Wellbeing degree. She has also received an award recognising her outstanding contribution to addiction recovery – all while caring for and running a household of three adults, and up to eight children and grandchildren.
Sharing her life story with the Weekly, Shannan is matter-of-fact, explaining she was once a confident and bubbly child. However, all that changed with a series of traumatic events at age six when her beloved grandfather died. Not long afterwards, she was sexually abused.
"That was when I started to not feel safe in the world," recalls Shannan, now 37.
She had her first taste of alcohol at 11 and got black-out drunk.
"When I was 13, I got put into a naughty girls' home for four months. I developed this real anger towards the world. It wasn't true, but I felt like no one wanted me."
Aged 18, a boyfriend introduced her to methamphetamine and Shannan was quickly hooked. "Between meth and alcohol, I thought I had found the solution to life."
Instead, a desperate battle with addiction followed. With each of her pregnancies, Shannan managed to get clean, but she relapsed in the months after her children Mason, now 15, and James, 13, were born.
The police mugshots are a reminder of how far Shannan has come.
By her thirties, she was using daily, stealing to support her habit and she'd amassed a five-page criminal history with 42 convictions.
"In 18 months, I clocked up 20 charges," she tells. "I was on a one-woman crime spree, roaming around doing dumb stuff."
But then a pivotal moment came when family intervened and she lost custody of Mason in 2014. He was six at the time.
Devastated, Shannan tried to get clean, but without support, she relapsed again.
"I've had six overdoses where I have been found not breathing and transported to hospital basically dead," she reveals. "I'm very, very lucky that stuff didn't actually kill me."
Finding herself in police custody again in December 2016, she had a moment of clarity.
"I realised I had really stuffed up," says Shannan, who was accepted into the Alcohol and Other Drug Treatment Court, a Ministry of Justice-led treatment pathway and alternative to imprisonment that aims to treat the cause of offending.
She never dreamed she was worthy of an award.
For the mother of two, starting the intense two-year, evidence-based programme was life-changing. "It was probably one of the hardest times of my life, but the therapeutic growth I experienced was unreal," she says.
"I faced into the shame I carry around my children and my family. With a lot of hard work, I didn't pick up alcohol or drugs, no matter what."
Shannan graduated from the programme in 2018. In the same year, she regained custody of Mason – who had been living with his father – and was granted shared care of James with his dad.
"It was almost like regaining custody of Mason made all the pain and suffering make sense," she reflects.
In recognition of all that Shannan has overcome, she was also honoured last year with the inaugural Te Whare Whakapiki Wairua Mana Wahine Award, presented through the Alcohol and Drug Court, and sponsored by the Gattung Foundation in partnership with The Kate Edger Educational Charitable Trust.
With the award comes a scholarship to help fund the completion of her Bachelor's degree.
"I am not academically gifted and have felt like the broken donkey, but I am almost there," says Shannan. "I couldn't get a scholarship before because someone like me doesn't meet the criteria. I have a criminal history.
"I'm not an A-plus student, but I feel secure and happy. I like that I'm working as hard as I can for myself and also to pave the way for other women to come through," says the Auckland counsellor, who marked seven years of sobriety in December 2023.
"It's hard to imagine myself as I was," she says. "These days, I support others in every way I can. I see it as me giving back to a community that I once took from. I owe so much to the drug court.
"I'll be in recovery for life, but I've gone from jail with a criminal history to nearly having a degree and everything in between."
HELP IS HERE
Alcohol and Drug Helpline – 0800 787 797 or visit healthify.nz/support
Safe to Talk – 0800 044 334 or free text 4334 for help to do with sexual harm. Available 24/7 and staffed by trained counsellors
Need to talk? 1737 – free call or text 24/7 to talk to a trained counsellor

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