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Stellar series (2)

Cheers to Sam WILSON, Australia’s Stellar South Asian Woman 2021 and the founder of Sober Mates

If you don’t ask, you don’t get – This is the mantra Sam Wilson, founder of Sober Mates, goes by everyday.

Sam Wilson is the second woman in Australia’s South Asian Stellar Women 2021. She is the founder of Sober Mates, a safe space where Australians explore their drinking habits. Sober Mates was created for people who want to “cut down, learn more about their drinking habits, and find all the information in one place with no judgement from others”. It’s a place for you to learn about alcohol and how to navigate social situations while sober.

Her sobriety journey

Not long ago a glass of wine was the easiest way to feel the rush. But the next day anxiety hit her, sinking into her bones.

Another glass of wine was all she needed.

Just one more.

Everyone around her seemed happy. She was happy. Then why was alcohol affecting her the way it was? Why was that sneaky voice in her head tantalising her to take another glass?

Why couldn’t she just…stop?

Sam Wilson was a typical Aussie from Geelong who loved partying and big nights out. But when her mental health started collapsing as a result of her drinking habits, she began to sit up and take note. She wanted to stop but she was scared. Her social circle might get smaller, or worse, she might have none at all. And how could she go on a date without wine?

That was almost two and a half years ago where she was stuck in a repetitive cycle of drinking a lot. At first, it was fun. But the endorphins were starting to wear off. She was edging off the cliff.

Being the social person that she was, Sam started looking for a community that she could talk to about her situation. She wondered if she should speak up about it on Instagram. Would people really listen, or even care?

“At first, I thought that my story was unique, that I was special. Turns out I’m not. A lot of people deal with this hangxiety,” she said. She thought Australia was not ready for a sober curious movement but she was wrong.

“There are some wonderful resources in the US and the UK. But I couldn’t find anything that was Australian, that spoke to young people about our drinking culture,” she said.

That was when she founded Sober Mates. A drinking problem Sam thought was hers alone turned out to be a widespread issue that many Aussies were battling with. Deeply embedded into Australian culture, booze was not something people could easily turn their away from without being called “soft”.

Sam went on a three-month break from alcohol to understand her drinking patterns. She wanted to understand why alcohol was affecting her the way it was. She had taken month-long breaks from alcohol before, the Dry July here and there, but a three month long break eventually helped her find clarity from the constant buzz of alcohol. The haze began to lift. She was no longer falling off the cliff.

The need for openness in such conversations

Not many speak up about mental health issues exasperated due to the inevitable hangover.

“People saw themselves in my story,” she said. “I realised that if I wanted to leave an impact through my journey of being sober, as a woman of my culture, I had to start these conversations.”

And while it was daunting, Sam admitted that she had been an open book almost all her life. A date she once went out with called her a ‘mystery’.

“No, I’m not. You just have to ask me the right questions!’ is what I said to him,” she told Daizy Maan in the interview, dissipating the gravity in their conversation.

Somehow, her bold answers put the guy off, but her bold sober curious movement is drawing in more people than ever. In an alcohol-driven culture, Sam is redefining the meaning of sobriety. She was, and still is, striving to de-stigmatise conversations around the negative mental health impact of alcoholism. She’s not shy when sharing her personal experiences and has gone above and beyond starting a movement. That is what makes her a Stellar South Asian Woman.

Her childhood

Sam grew up in Heywood, a countryside town with a thousand people, along Fitzroy River in Southwest Victoria. Her mum was the only Indian woman there and her father was Australian. Her mother had come to Heywood at the age of 26, seven months pregnant and completely alone. She went on to make her first friend the day Sam was born, a Fijian woman who became Sam’s adopted Nani (grandmother) throughout her childhood. Her parents were part of the Apex Club in Heywood and formed beautiful friendships there.

Sam and her brother were the only Fiji-Indian Australians at her school. As a child, she was victimised to incessant bullying because of her skin colour. “You couldn’t pay me to do my schooling again,” Sam said.

In 2018, her biggest high school bully apologised to her. While it was a difficult step to undertake, Sam appreciated that he approached her and apologised many years later. She accepted his apology and to this day, they are friends.

Sam recollected an incident where her mother encountered a racist woman while babysitting her friend’s child. ‘You must be happy that you have a white child,’ that woman sneered at her mum. But being non-confrontational by nature, Sam’s mother merely walked away from her and said nothing.

After school, Sam took a gap year. She went backpacking around Europe with her high school sweetheart. “That’s when I really got the travel bug. I absolutely loved the experience,” she said.

She moved to Geelong after that to study a Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Management at Deakin University.

“I loved uni. I love my course. I really wish I’d started an Instagram fashion page. I was the girl who walked in heels to every class,” she laughed. “I know it was tragic but I loved it so much.” She lived on campus in a unit called ‘The Block’. It was the party block, where everyone would come over to drink on Wednesday, Thursday, even Sunday nights. Sam enjoyed every aspect of her life as a wild party girl during the course of her degree.

 

A free spirited woman

Sam is a free-spirited open minded sober woman who is comfortable in her skin, when her mother saw one of Sam’s experimental nude photographs hung on her wall – Sam wasn’t embarrassed because she had pride in her body and her mum has now embedded this pride. On an average day you can catch her waking up and doing a plunge in ice cold water, kicking goals at her corporate job, growing the community at Sober Mates and occasionally heading to Geelong’s nude beach. She’s a vibe. She misses the touch of people and can’t wait to hug her close ones again, post lockdown.

This blog post is second of five in the Australia’s Stellar South Asian Women 2021 series, recognising five exemplary emerging and established South Asian creatives, activists, founders and leaders whose voices and work are a force of good. They’re women who are not only successful, but are generous and supportive of those around them, and are paving the way for the next generation of South Asian community leaders. 

This series is part of the global South Asian Heritage Month (18 July – 17 August) during which we will be celebrating and reclaiming the history and identity of South Asians. Today we’re amplifying the incredible public contributions of Sam Wilson. If you enjoyed this post, follow us on Instagram to be kept in the loop as we share the next three profiles in the Australian Stellar South Asian Women 2021 series during South Asian Heritage Month. If you’d like to be a part of our community of ambitious South Asian women then sign up for our paid membership!

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