One morning a few years ago, newsreader Talitha Cummins woke up in her neighbours’ front yard, her keys dangling from their door.
She was three or four houses down from her home. In her intoxicated state in the darkness, Talitha believed she was trying to open her own front door.
It was a big wakeup call. But there was more to come.
On the surface, Talitha, now 36, had it all. She was an accomplished TV news reporter, came from a loving family in Brisbane, and was obviously beautiful and polished. But she was an alcoholic, and no one – not even her Seven Network colleagues – knew she was drinking up to four bottles of wine every night.
Talitha never drank at work, only in the evenings. Despite having hangovers that could register on the Richter scale, she would still wake up at 5am and go for a run before her shift. Talitha was, and still is, the consummate professional.
“Television is this bright, shiny, fabulous façade,” says friend and fellow journalist Chris Bath. “When you’re a news presenter you put on a mask. She fooled everyone.”
Talitha was often hungover at work, and believed in a “bizarre way” that some of those workdays were her best. “I wasn’t my true self, I felt comfortable hiding in that fog,” she tells marie claire.
Shy and anxious from a young age, and ashamed of feeling that way, Talitha started drinking at 14. Alcohol, she recalls, helped her come out of her shell. “It made me feel like I wasn’t shy anymore.” By age 15, she was binge drinking up to three times a week. It soon became a way of life, and didn’t affect Talitha’s stellar journalism career. She grew into a high-functioning alcoholic.
One night soon after a relationship breakdown, Talitha overdosed (on an undisclosed substance), which lead to the bittersweet diagnosis of depression. She now knew she had been self-medicating with alcohol. “I hit some pretty big lows, and that was because I was depressed.”
"It made me feel like I wasn't shy anymore"Talitha Cummins
Talitha was first inspired to quit alcohol after interviewing Chris Raine, founder of Hello Sunday Morning, a support network and online movement for ‘alcohol behaviour change’.
“He had taken 12 months off drinking, and blogged about it. He had a great year… I thought, ‘Maybe there is life after alcohol’,” says Talitha. “I would like to say that’s when I stopped drinking, but I didn’t. It was a few years after that, but it did plant the seed. There were worse times ahead for me.”
The tipping point came when Talitha uncharacteristically called in sick two days in a row. The chief of staff sat her down, asked if she was OK. When Talitha said she wasn’t in fact OK, admitted having a drinking problem and needed help, her boss arranged counselling and encouraged her to go to Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). Talitha went to AA every day for 90 days. The support of her colleagues and the idea of losing her job was the motivation she needed to get on the wagon. A few months later, in 2013, it became a very public struggle.
“I posted a blog on Hello Sunday Morning, where I had sought help to get sober, and basically it posted to my public Facebook profile,” recalls Talitha, who revealed all on Australian Story Monday night. “It was in the days when you didn’t look at your phone every eight seconds to check social media – you had to go to your computer. It just blew up. My blog post had attracted so much attention, and so many people said, ‘Thank you’. It really resonated. I thought, ‘I can’t take this down now’. In hindsight it was the best thing to have happened.” Around 800 more people signed up to the Hello Sunday Morning community almost instantly.
Talitha’s story has a very happy ending. In the last four years of being sober, she has met “the love of her life”, Ben Lucas, married, and had a baby. Their son, Oliver, was born 10 weeks ago. She started dating Ben, a fitness professional, three months into her sobriety. “It was the first time dating without alcohol, and it was terrifying,” says Talitha. It was after they went for a run on New Years’ Day – of all days – that Lucas was inspired to relinquish the booze as well. “It gave me a lot of strength knowing there was someone next to me, helping me,” she says. The couple were engaged within 12 months, and eloped to New York. “She was a recovering alcoholic but she was still the most strong, thoughtful and well put-together person I had ever met, and I wanted to spend the rest of my life with her,” Lucas told Australian Story.
Now, as a mother, Talitha says she is the happiest she’s ever been.
While Talitha was nervous about the show airing on Monday night, she was buoyed by the support of both the public and friends, and hoped it would make a difference to the lives of others grappling with alcoholism.
“In the last four years I’ve learnt so many lessons, and I’m in a public position with the ability to help people. That’s why I did Australian Story.”
But there’s no finish line when it comes to sobriety, says Talitha. “I haven’t arrived at four years of sobriety and started celebrating, like, ‘Hey, I’m no longer an alcoholic’. It will be an ongoing thing for the rest of my life. It’s something I’ll have to work on. But I now can’t stand to lose everything I’ve got.”
Talitha says she does still feel tempted to drink. “Yeah, there are times when I just want to have a drink, and to be a normal person who can have a couple of glasses of wine, and for that to not escalate to 100. The reality is, I can’t. Drinking is just one thing I can’t do in this world. I can do so many other things.”
Find out more about Hello Sunday Morning here.