S1 Ep4: Kerrie Atherton

Having experienced sexual assault and drug and alcohol addiction before the age of 18, Kerrie Atherton is The Girl Who Broke Through. Kerrie has used her lived experience to help thousands of people with addiction, mental health and suicide prevention through her work as a chaplain and counsellor.

Founding Stories of HOPE Australia, she now brings together communities to share and listen to stories that resonate, connect and inspire.

I first met Kerrie while interviewing her for a story in My Weekly Preview about Stories of HOPE and I was able to get a sneak peek of her book, Stories of HOPE Australia when she asked me to edit it for her.

This interview provides a glimpse into the awe-inspiring way Kerrie has overcome so many challenges in her life, watch the video above, or read on for the full transcript…

Roxanne – Cool, here we go. All right, thank you everyone for joining us today for another installment of The Phoenix Phenomenon. So, I’m Roxanne McCarty-O’Kane, and today I have the lovely Kerrie Atherton with me. So, Kerrie is a bit of a jack of all trades. She’s an inspirational speaker, presenter, a qualified addictions and recovery, and mental health coach, and counselor. She’s the founder of Empowered Life Solutions, and through that she has helped countless people over the years with her ability to relate to them, not only on a professional level but also on a personal level, having a lot of lived experiences through a number of challenges in her life, which we will have a chat about today. Kerrie is also the founder of Stories of Hope, which is a monthly gathering on the Sunshine Coast, a community gathering where inspirational speakers come and share their personal journeys to spread a message of hope and an inspiration to all who attend. Kerrie is a very busy lady, so thank you so much for joining us today, Kerrie, appreciate your time.

Kerrie – Thank you for having me. It’s a privilege.

Roxanne – Excellent, that’s great. So, one of the things that, one of the projects that you’re working on at the moment, soon to be author. So you’re busy pulling together not only your life story but the story of probably about a dozen other people who have taken to the Stories of Hope stage to share their journeys as well. So, I’d love to have a chat to you about what it was like for you to really take that time to reflect and to put your personal journey down on paper. I know you have spoken many times about different aspects of your life journey. But what was this experience like for you?

Kerrie – Well, it was really great. It’s something that I’ve been wanting to do now for about 10 years. And I thought that not having the glasses on would work but it doesn’t, so they’re back on. There’s nothing like a diversion. Yeah, it’s something I’ve been wanting to do for about 10 years. And I actually had the title come to me back then. And it was, The Girl Who Broke Through. And I had this envisaged on the cover would be this picture of this little kind of a cartoon type character but with her arms up like that. And so, I had written bits and pieces of my own story down on paper. But I often became stuck at difficult times. There was some very pivotal moments. And as you would know, being the editor of my book, you would know by reading that there was some pivotal times which were very hard to talk about on paper. So, I would often become stuck there. And there was one particular incident when I was 17 that I became stuck on, and I literally did not go back to writing my story for about two years. But it was this something inside me always like, I have to do this, I have to do this, this gnawing away all the time. And so then when I came up with the idea of writing the Stories of Hope book, because I had also spoken at the beginning and through another one of our meetings, I thought, I’ll include my story with the title, The Girl That Broke Through. So, even though I haven’t written my full book yet, I just feel such a sense of accomplishment and just, like, afraid I’m in a relief almost, that I’ve finally really done that thing that I always wanted to do.

Roxanne – Mm, mm, absolutely. And what sort of, I guess, how were you able to break through those triggers and allow yourself, open yourself up to reliving those more painful moments? Because that would have been a process in itself, I imagine.

Kerrie – Yeah, that has been a real process. And, I think with the incident that happened with me when I was sexually assaulted by a pedophile at nine, I’ve really dealt with that. The age thing was more difficult to deal with. And in the book I talk about when I, I don’t know if I talk about, yes I do, when I was raped when I was 17. And that was the thing that I found the most difficult to write down and to deal with because I didn’t actually deal with that until about 4 1/2 years ago. So that would be why I kept getting stuck on that. But, being a counselor myself, and yes, I’ve had a lot of professional supervision and people that I’ve talked to about these things that I’ve gone through. And so, it’s a very slow process to be able to recover from these things. And so, I don’t think it’s until we actually fully recover that we’re in a space where we’re able to be that raw and vulnerable. And that’s the point then only when we can truly help others because we’re speaking from a point of recovery where we can give hope, not still in that victim mentality. So, while I was in that victim mentality I could never really be honest, and open, and raw, and write that down.

Roxanne – Yeah, yeah, absolutely. And, if you’re comfortable with talking about your journey, I know this isn’t actually necessarily covered in the book but to talk about your journey of getting to that point 4 1/2 years ago. Was there a particular pivotal moment where you just felt that release, or what was that moment like for you when you were finally able to, I guess close that chapter for yourself?

Kerrie – Yeah. I had always had this sense of feeling less than. And it was like, I know now that it was like a deep shame that I carried for all my life. And you often hear children of alcoholics talk about this shame, and it goes into their adulthood, but it’s the shame at an early age of having to cover up for people, and not be honest, and not have people around to the house at certain times, and tell lies to try and protect your parents. And so then there was that, then there was the incident when I was nine. And when children have been sexually abused, this lie sets in that basically they’re damaged goods, and this sense of shame that is never theirs to carry anyway, but as children, children don’t understand that. So, carrying that shame really gave me that sense of I’m not good enough, I’m not worthy, I’m not lovable. And they’re typical things too that children of alcoholics and addicts grow up thinking, that they’re not valuable and they’re not worthy. So I carried this sense into my adult life of just being less than. And I just never felt like I measured up. And about four years ago I just got so sick one day. Not sick, but I was just so sick and tired of feeling like that. And I was having a bit of quiet time, and meditation time, and praying to who I call God. I just had this light bulb moment that, you are carrying shame. And I was thinking about my kids and how they’ve been born into the lifestyle that I’ve created for them and how they have had no baggage. It was like, wow, all those years ago I had that opportunity to, when I turned my life around, to step into a life of letting go of all that, but I carried it for so long, and I don’t know why. And so the day that I let go of that shame I also did a forgiveness thing where I really felt like I had to go over it in my head and make a decision to forgive that person that raped when when I was 17. And since that day, I have never had that feeling again. And it’s like something happened on the inside, and for the first time I really loved who I was on the inside, and I knew that I am worthy, and I am more than enough, and I don’t need any outside influences to tell me that. And it’s not an, oh, I’m wonderful, I love myself. It’s not like that. It’s a true love of who I am and the fact that I was born for a purpose and a reason. And from that day I’ve just held my head up high and embraced who I was. Because I always felt different, always felt like the square peg in the round hole, the really colorful person when everyone else is wearing their designer clothes, and their stilettos and everything, and here’s me, I’m just full on in color. And I just always felt like I never fitted in, but I don’t care now, I actually embrace my difference, and my uniqueness, and that’s because I’ve done that inner healing. Long answer, sorry.

Roxanne – Sorry?

Kerrie – That was a long answer, wasn’t it.

Roxanne – No, that’s fine. A long answer is a good answer. And I guess, going back to when you first, now that you’ve on reflection realized that you were carrying that shame from such a young age, at nine years old, it was also a lot of fear as well, which you do speak about a bit in the book. I guess, can you maybe share a little bit about how that has affected you as well? And did you carry that for as long, or were you able to shed the fear a little bit earlier on?

Kerrie – Wow, the fear. And that’s something that I haven’t actually really talked about much, is the fear. It’s very difficult to explain the fear because I doubt that a lot of people would understand just the kind of fear that I actually had. And I had carried debilitating fear through my whole life. And as I talk about in the book, after I got back from Port Macquarie, after I was sexually assaulted by the pedophile, it was the son of the owner of the caravan park that we were staying at, and they had our address. And so, from that day forward I lived in fear that he was going to come and get me because we’d been to the place and track me down and kill me. And that fear just turned into terror of anybody breaking into my house. I wouldn’t open my windows again until I was 25 years old at night, and I would lie sweltering in my room at night. But I had many fears. My dad had been locked in cupboards as a kid to protect him from his violent alcoholic mom. And from the day I was born, he continually planned contingency plans into my life, taught me to be fearful of everything. And so, I was such a fearful person. I was fearful of people because I was bullied. I was just so riddled with fear. And when I met my hubby, I didn’t realize how bad it had become. But we stayed at a caravan about a year after we met, and once he went to sleep I stayed up for about an hour and a half, which was my usual custom. It was like a ritual. And I stayed up checking all… I went outside the caravan, and I was checking all the windows outside the caravan, and making sure that nobody could get in, and I was looking underneath the caravan. I came back inside, and then I heard a noise, and then I was back outside. And this went on for about two hours. And I got to sleep, and I just had this moment where I just thought, I’m a prisoner to fear. And it just hit me that this isn’t normal. And when I woke up in the morning, I was sobbing. I have to tell him what’s wrong, you know, the truth about me, because he has no idea that I’m this prisoner to fear. And anyway, we talked about that in the morning, but it was good to get that out. We can’t change until we acknowledge that we have a problem. And so acknowledgment is the first step to making a change and the first step to healing. So, I started to get some help for the fear after that. But that’s been a very long process. And it was only last year that I stayed in my house on my own for the first time.

Roxanne – Oh wow!

Kerrie – And something that people would not understand, they probably would laugh at that. But to me, it was the weekend that my son left home and moved to Sydney, so I was really happy for him, but I was really heartbroken because it was a real empty nest thing. And at the same time, my hubby went down with him, and I was left on my own here for five days. And it was the first time that I’d ever done that. And it was such an achievement.

Roxanne – Absolutely.

Kerrie – Staying on my own in my own house. People take things for granted like that, but for me that was just such a huge thing in my life.

Roxanne – Completely. And how were you at that point? Were you feeling comfortable with the situation, or did you take a day or two to adjust?

Kerrie – To the being on my own?

Roxanne – Yeah.

Kerrie – Well, it’s a crackup because I did a barricade.

Roxanne – Oh bless.

Kerrie – Even though I stayed on my own in my house, I actually tied two of the doors together. I’m being so honest here. Everyone will love this. And then I set up a little barricade in my room, and I felt safe in my room, so I thought, maybe I should take the barricade away. And I’m like, no, this is the best I can do. I’ve taken a huge step just staying at home on my own.

Roxanne – Yeah, absolutely, yeah.

Kerrie – Because before, I would get friends to come over, or go and stay with my daughter. I was like, yay, I’ve done it. I’ve stayed at home on my own. And even though I’m barricaded in, I’ve done it.

Roxanne – It’s still a major milestone. That’s amazing.

Kerrie – It was for me, it was so huge for me. Who would have thought?

Roxanne – Wonderful. So I guess another major part of your lived experience and your journey through life, particularly in your younger years, was obviously, well not obviously, but you did turn to alcohol to kind of, I’m guessing, deal with what was going on in that young mind of yours. So, can you tell me, or tell our listeners. I know a little bit. But tell our listeners a bit about what that journey looked like for you. And, I guess having alcoholic parents there was already a bit of influence there for you to begin with.

Kerrie – Well, my dad stopped drinking before I was born because both his parents died of alcoholism. His mom of an overdose at about 46 years old, and his dad at about 51. And so, he’d seen the tragedy of alcohol big time. But he had a problem as well, and he actually put his fist through a moving train window when he was 21 and almost bled to death on the train. And so he just realized that he needed to stop, so he’d stopped drinking before I was born. And my mom drank until I was 12, but she drank primarily at night. But I was addicted to pills because I was put on medication at about 10 years old after I had a breakdown following the sexual assault. And so I started abusing pills. And then, at 15 I just became very curious about alcohol. It sounds really strange, but I’d been going to Alateen meetings. And the kids there, it was like a support group for children of parents that were alcoholics. And the kids in that group were talking about what happened when their parents drunk and everything. Because I couldn’t actually remember seeing my parents drunk, I just became curious about what would happen. And so my brothers had flogged a cask of wine from the cellars across the road and hidden it under the caravan, which was also across the road, overnight. And I was severely depressed at that stage, and I just had this sense that maybe I could try alcohol and maybe it might take my problems away. And so I got the cask of boiling hot wine, and I drank the whole cask. And I got violently ill. But the feeling was absolutely incredible. I just felt like it colored me in. I felt normal for the first time. And I felt like how I think everybody else normally feels. Because I always felt I was like an alien with two heads or something like that. I felt so foreign to everyone else. So, I didn’t really realize, but if you’re an alcoholic, you just can’t stop at one drink. And I have a lot of clients and people say to me, oh surely this person can’t be an alcoholic because they don’t drink every day. Well, it’s not about when you drink, it’s about what happens when you drink. So I think that makes sense. It’s about what happens when you drink. And I turned from being a very introverted, very clean type of a girl to very aggressive, swearing at everyone, starting fights. I would just take off in the middle of the city at night. I was attacked a few times, and just so many things happened to me. And I would wake up on fences when I’d go to parties with people, and the people wouldn’t be there anymore but I would have woken up on the fence. And I’d be like, how did I get here? And I started having blackouts. But I had a very quick downhill slide with alcohol because I just hit it so hard, and I mixed pills. And I was feeling like it was taking away reality. But the depression the next day after I’d come down from drinking was unbearable. It was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. That’s why people who are addicted or are alcoholics drink and take drugs again, because the feelings afterwards, and the feelings of shame, and the feelings of regret, of the things that were said and done, they can’t cope with that, and I couldn’t cope with that, so I just drank more. And in the end I’d drank a bottle of scotch and a bottle of wine, and I was still sober. So I’d built up such a tolerance for alcohol. But stopped when I was 18 after deciding to commit suicide, and I heard a loud voice say, don’t do it. If you hang on a bit longer, you’ll find happiness one day. And I rang up Alcoholics Anonymous, which I knew my parents were in. And I’ve walked in those rooms now sober and clean for 37 years.

Roxanne – Congratulations, that’s amazing.

Kerrie – Thank you.

Roxanne – You do touch on a little bit, in the book, about being the youngest, or one of the youngest, in the room at these meetings. What was it that kept you going? I know there would have been, I guess, a bit of a sense of even feeling like an outsider at that stage. Or did you feel a connection with everyone because they had all, I guess, experienced some level of what you had been through?

Kerrie – I felt an instant connection. And the thing was that I had nobody. I had lost all my friends, which you often hear from people in AA. They just can’t stand the behavior anymore, and they don’t like the person that you’ve become. I’d lost all my friends. I’d probably done some damage with my parents. I remember standing with my dad one day, and we nearly got into a punch up. And he was a very placid man, but I was very violent when I would drink. And my mom and I became like best friends after I became sober for a while. But I entered the rooms of AA when I was 16 because everybody, six months after I started drinking, everybody that I knew, my boyfriend, my parents, all my parents’ friends said, you’re an alcoholic. And so to shut them all up I went along to a couple of AA meetings because I thought, I’m outnumbered here. Like, everybody in my life is saying this. So I went along to shut everyone up. I stopped drinking for three months to prove I wasn’t an alcoholic. And then I went on a massive bender as a celebration that I’d stopped drinking for three months and I wasn’t an alcoholic. And it was just a very quick downhill slide from there. But sitting in those rooms, I felt before I went into AA like the loneliest person in the world. I was so lonely. And going into those rooms, there was people that cared. You know, there was no agenda. They just cared about me as a person. They had suffered, they had walked the road. And they were gonna do whatever they could to make sure that I didn’t have to walk down as far as they went. And I felt the instant connection. Because they all used to talk about the fact that they used alcohol to color them in, and to get through life, and to inebriate the pain, and to escape from reality and trauma. And so, I knew that they knew what I had been going through. And, it just felt like I had an instant family. And even though they’re older, I let them take me under their wing and help me. Because even though I loved my parents, you know what it’s like when you’re a teenager. You don’t want your parents, you know, what you’re saying is not true, but you’ll listen to other people. So it was very much like that. But yeah, I did think at 18 when I stopped drinking that, wow, this is what I’ve got to look forward to for the rest of my life. Everyone is out at parties, and the best it was gonna get for me was the movies and an AA meeting. But I knew that that was it, it was the last stop. And if I wanted to live, it had to be like that. I just had to be sober. I came to love those meetings, and I went seven nights a week. And I got straight into a relationship, unfortunately, with a narcissist who was extremely abusive, and I stayed in that relationship for the first three years of my sobriety. I just don’t know how I made it through. But I did.

Roxanne – You’re definitely a strong lady, Kerrie, a very strong lady. And so, I wanted to move forward to the establishment of Empowered Life Solutions, your counseling business. But I feel that, was it before that that you were doing chaplaincy work with young students?

Kerrie – I got my diploma of community welfare in counseling, and I’d always been like a natural counselor. I was the person that everybody came to and said, I’ve never told anybody this, but I just feel I can tell you. And I was carrying millions of secrets for thousands of different people. And so I really felt kind of cold to that work. And especially when I stopped drinking and stopped taking drugs, I knew that I wanted to devote my life to helping other people also become free, and especially young people. I wanted to help prevent as many young people from going down the track, going through the traumas that I’d had to experience. So, I got my diploma of community welfare when we moved to Queensland, which was about 15 years ago now. And I started running programs for at risk teenage girls in high schools while I was doing my counseling. And that saw me going to work in about six different high schools with very, very, very troubled girls. They’re girls that had been expelled from many schools, at 14 were sexually active, drug addicted. Some of them had seen their older boyfriends die by suicide, and really horrific stuff. And so I was really throwing in on the front line, straight up. And after about a couple of weeks of my, say, eight week program with these girls, I would do an exercise where I would ask them, who do you have the support, you know, emotional support, physical support. And 80% of the girls identified me, on the second week of the program, as their number one support person. And I thought, oh, that is so devastating that I’m gonna be gone in another six weeks, and I would be yet another voice and a transient person just coming into their life and leaving. And a lot of them had abandonment issues. And I’d interacted with a couple of the school chaplains. And when I was working at Maloney, there was a young girl that was in my program whose father, in the midst of our program, the third week in, he had killed her mom, her grandmother, and himself. It was a triple, a triple murder homicide. And then I saw the work that the chaplain at Maloney school did with that family and that community, and I was just blown away by the care that he had for them, and the respect that he had from the community. And just the access into the personal spaces of their lives that he was able to have, and the change he was able to make. And it was just a huge driver for me to think, well, if I get a job as a chaplain then I don’t have to leave these kids. You know, not only girls. I have worked with a lot of boys and guys as well. I don’t have to leave them. I can be consistent in their life, week after week. So that’s when I started applying for chaplaincy jobs. And I was the chaplain at Chancellor State College, and I was there for six years. And I left there four years ago, and that’s when I started Empowered Life Solutions on the side while I was working there.

Roxanne – Absolutely. I bet you’ve probably lost track of how many people you’ve helped in that space and time.

Kerrie – It’s everyday, every single day, I have someone that comes to me for some kind of help.

Roxanne – And what sort of age ranges are you seeing? Like, how young are you being able to access these people and help to turn their lives around?

Kerrie – Well, when I was at Chancellor State College, I was a P-12 chaplain, so that was prep right through tier 12. I probably relate much better to teenagers, and I love young adults. I love people of all ages. I mean, I’ve had clients that are in their 70s come to me for support for different areas. And people from all walks of life, professionals who are thriving in their business but secretly addicted to substances, and they don’t want anybody to find out. And I think I’ve just built up a real trust factor with many people now. And the fact that I have no judgment. I just love people where they’re at. It doesn’t matter what they’ve done. And I have heard absolutely everything that you could hear. People often say to me, I’m sorry, I don’t want to shock you. And I’m like, I’m actually unshockable. I’ve heard it all. Nothing shocks me. But I do do a lot of work with young people, and I work, run my programs in a couple of schools. And I’ve got four programs that I’ve written. They’re really targeting the high level situations that young people face today. There was a show out last year, 13 Reasons Why, and there was also season two out this year. And I had many, many young people say to me that that show did so much damage to them. And after, just on the back of that show, there was such a concern about suicide amongst so many young people. Suicide prevention has always been one of my… It’s the base of everything I do. Because when I was 18 I nearly took my own life. And to see what I’ve been able to do with my life and the amount of people I’ve been able to help just continually makes me very emotional to think that I nearly took that away. And whatever young person I can give that message to to hang on, and any person, it doesn’t matter how old they are. And some of our highest rates of suicide are people over 65. If I can give hope to anybody of any age, that means the world to me.

Roxanne – Absolutely. And I wanted to ask you your advice as well. You mentioned earlier that the first step to recovery or to facing whatever challenges that you are up against is acknowledgement. Now, we’ve got a lot of younger people, and you’ve said so yourself, you know, at 16 you were told you were an alcoholic but you weren’t quite ready to acknowledge that yourself. So if there are some parents, or grandparents, that know someone that they love that is up against either drugs, alcohol, depression, any of these big things, but they know that that person is not ready to acknowledge it yet, what advice would you give to them to, I guess, maybe guide the person that’s affected and to help them connect with a source of help?

Kerrie – It’s a really, really complex, difficult question that one. I get that asked a lot. The reality is that… I’ll give this a two part answer. First, the reality is that we can’t help anybody that doesn’t want to help themselves. But I would say to any parent, without enabling your kids, and I had a former ice addict speak at my Stories of Hope event two weeks ago. And he said, if you know your kids have a problem with drugs or alcohol, never give them money. And I’ve said that to people as well. And they’re like, I’m only giving them money for their electricity bill, or they need food. And I said, if you’re giving them money for electricity and food, you’re giving them money for drugs. So, maybe buy them groceries, go and pay the electricity bill, but don’t give them money. But I would say to any parent that when somebody is in the middle of addiction, and especially the child that they once knew, because their child changes once they’re under the influence, particularly of ice and other hard drugs. The behavior is caused by the drugs. They feel like they’ve lost their child. But I have seen many of those children come to recover because their parents still loved them, but they didn’t allow their behavior to continue, but they always said there’s an open door here. The more you can allow your child to have to face the consequences for their actions themselves, that is a really great, that’s the best thing that they can do. And I read a book by an addiction specialist, and he’s worked with all the stars in America and everything. And he said that it’s like this. The parents and families of people who are addicted, it’s like they’re standing here looking down while their loved one is up walking on a tightrope. And they don’t want their loved one to fall, so they do everything they can down here to keep them propped up. And I see it so often with parents and family members. But what’s actually happening is they’re actually enabling them to keep up there and keep doing what they’re doing, even though they don’t agree in their heart. By removing the props, and removing the enabling, and removing the excuses for your loved one, you’re actually allowing them to fall and face the consequences. Because until they face the consequences of their own actions regarding their addiction, they won’t realize that they have a problem. And there’s many consequences. He actually names, Jeff VanVonderen, this addictions counselor, actually names a magic number of about 54 negative consequences that the clients that he’s worked for have had to come to before they’ve actually been rocked out of the delusion. And delusion sets in when someone has an addiction, and they actually don’t believe that it’s actually anything to do with them. They think it’s everybody, all the people, places, and things outside their sphere that’s causing their problem. So, once they start to have to face their own consequences, every time that happens, they are starting to be rocked a little bit out of their delusion. And then, the parents to be there when their kid or their loved one has really fallen, to be there and get them the help that they need straight away, which is rehab, usually. In that five or seven day period when their child says, I need help, they need to try and get them into a rehab. Sorry, that was a long answer.

Roxanne – I’m fine. I’m glad you took a drink. Excellent. No, that’s wonderful, thank you. I’m sure that that will help a lot of families, or parents, grandparents, anyone who might be watching this to give them some guidance, if they’re starting to see, or may be in the midst of, watching their loved ones going through something like that. So thank you for sharing that.

Kerrie – I’ve done a few podcasts now where I talk about this stuff. I’ve forwarded it on to parents because it’s something that kids will have a listen to when nobody is around. So, by enabling them to have some avenues where they can hear from some lived experience of other people, or even contacting Alcoholics Anonymous, or Narcotics Anonymous. Going to counseling themselves. I think parents, if they’ve got a child on drugs or alcohol, good chance is they need to speak to somebody themselves to get some ideas on how to cope with the addiction because it takes over the entire family.

Roxanne – Absolutely. And I know I’ve only got a little bit of time left with you, so I would like to talk about Stories of Hope. This has been a big passion project for you, and one that you’ve really put your heart and soul into. You mentioned earlier that you had some ice addicts. I know you’ve had speakers with eating disorders, depression, homelessness. You’ve pretty much run the gamut there, which is really incredible. But I’d love to hear from you what it is, I guess, that you really love about this community that you’ve built. And it really is taking on a life of its own.

Kerrie – Ah, I know. It’s just amazing. I’m just so excited. These people that have been my speakers now at Stories of Hope, I would call them, most of them, amongst my closest friends. And we all just encourage each other so much. Often, now, when people are coming to me for help in different areas, I’m able to say, hey, look, I haven’t fallen off a bike and had a brain injury, but I know that Darren has. Darren would be a great person for you to talk to. Or Trudy who’s got Lyme disease and battled chronic illness. How about you have a talk to Trudy. A lot of them have said too, that because their first speaking engagement ever was at Stories of Hope, and it’s opened up so many doors for so many of them. And a lot of them have come to me now and just thanked me for the experience. They felt it empowered them for the first time, and gave them a voice in the midst of their, what they’ve been through. And it’s made a lot of them realize their purpose now. Which, that’s amazing. So, it’s had such a double blessing for me because not only does it bring people not only in our community now, but even Darren gave me a message a few months ago and said that someone from Melbourne had contacted him. And they were on a tram and heard a group of people talking about Stories of Hope on the tram, and the fact that a guy called Darren Eastwell with a brain injury was gonna be speaking. And so they made contact with Darren. This Stories of Hope has gone far out now all over Australia. So, it’s not only people being at the events in person, but people reading the stuff, and the stories, and what’s happening there, are being inspired even though they’re not coming to the events. And then it’s also empowering the speakers to just go out and just change the world around them. And so, it’s been like a three fold, not a double, a three fold blessing. And plus I’ve got these amazing people in my life. I just think there’s nothing like having friends that are really genuine, and authentic, and transparent. I’m not really a weather talking person. We’re all time poor. And if I can build a really great connection with someone instantly, I’d much rather do that than stand there for an hour saying, oh, it’s a lovely day, isn’t it? Just talking about the weather. So these people, we talk about the real life issues, and I just love that so much.

Roxanne – Absolutely. And I mean, you’re obviously, you’ve become a bit of a magnet for the people that are on the same wavelength and the same mindset as yourself. You’re continuing to find these amazing people month after month. And actually, you recently had a men’s only event. Can you tell me a bit about that?

Kerrie – Yes, yes. So that was great. I love people, and so I’m a real connector, and I will connect up with whoever I can. And I love going out and just talking to random people on the street and stuff like that. But through doing that I have met all these amazing people. And I’ve ran the third men’s only mental health night, which is under the umbrella of Stories of Hope. And I’m having requests for people in different places of Australia wanting me to run those events, and our other events, there, so I’m looking at doing that next year. But with the men’s mental health night, I have a lot of male friends, and I work with a lot of guys that are battling addictions, have been sexually abused, are suffering from trauma, suicidal ideation. And every week I’m hearing of a young guy that I somehow know or am connected to that’s taken their life. And I just think the suicide rate for guys is just horrendously out of control. And it’s something that’s very much on my radar with Stories of Hope. Stuart Rollins, one of the former leading detectives on the Daniel Morcombe case, is my leading guy for the men’s mental health nights. And Darren Eastwall also, he’s been helping me with them also. And had a couple of amazing speakers come up from Brisbane for the last one. A guy called Justin Grange, who works with Mates in Construction, suicide prevention in the construction industry. And another man, David McNair, who had worked with a lot of homeless youth and done some amazing work in Brisbane. Having some great connections. Together is better and don’t do life alone are my two mottos. And I just love what a team of people together can do. I’m not precious at all about this. The more people that I can have with me where we work together, the more thousands and thousands of lives we can change. And I just love working with a team of people who are passionate about the same things as me.

Roxanne – Absolutely. Ah, that’s amazing. Yeah, so 2019 sounding like it’s gonna be a pretty epic year for you. Your book launch, expanding out your speaking series. Yeah, sounds like you’re gonna have your hands full.

Kerrie – I know, I’m so excited. The book is gonna be launched on February the 28th. The Sunshine Coast Council is putting my book launch on, and it’s going to be there at Lake Kawana Community Centre. And yes, looking at taking Stories of Hope maybe to different states next year, and running more events, women’s events. I would like to run an event for women to know how to help the men in their life. I had so many women ask if they could come to the men’s mental health night. Because I wanted guys to be able to talk in a space on their own. I think a lot of women want to know how they can help the men in their life, so I’m gonna run a special event with that. And looking forward to doing some inspirational speaking next year, and maybe taking Stories of Hope into businesses for staff’s mental health and wellbeing. So, that’s all in the plan, and we will see what happens.

Roxanne – Yeah, absolutely. Now I’m really feeling the vibe off you. It’s really exciting.

Kerrie – Thanks for your support, Roxie. You’ve been amazing.

Roxanne – Yeah, not a problem, absolutely. It’s been awesome to help get the word out there. Thank you so much for your time. It’s been really awesome having you on, Kerrie. And for all those watching and listening at home, I will have contact emails, websites, and a link to the Stories of Hope Facebook page below so that you can click through and connect with Kerrie if you want to find out more, find out how you can become a speaker, find out how you can maybe become a sponsor and help with this amazing 2019 that’s bubbling over.

Kerrie – That would be great. Yes, I’d love some sponsors. I have a couple at the moment, but I would love people to partner with me and be able to expand this as far and wide as possible.

Roxanne – Absolutely, excellent. And while you’re checking that out, make sure that you like and subscribe the page here because we will keep bringing you amazing people like Kerrie to share their stories, and give you some inspiration, and wonderful advice to help you on your life’s journeys as well. So, thank you so much, Kerrie, for joining us today. It’s been really wonderful having a chat.

Kerrie – Thank you, see ya.

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