A colourful life

Dianne Dempsey | Bendigo Weekly | 15-Jun-2017

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When a precocious youth living in her hometown of Slough, England, Jenny Valentish self-published a fanzine, Slapper: The Groupie’s Guide to Gropable Bands.

It gives you a fair idea of where her interests lay in those days.

Since coming to Australia from England several years ago Valentish has continued to work as a journalist, specialising in profiles. 

And while her profiles for Fairfax and publications such The Monthy and The Saturday Paper are much more sophisticated her subject matter is often around the same topics – sex, drugs and rock and roll.

Which leads us to Valentish’s recently published memoir  A Woman of Substances:  A Journey into Addiction and Treatment. 

Nervous about revealing the details of her misspent youth, Valentish said her background – writing about people who live life on the edge – made her relatively comfortable with the process.

Valentish was motivated to write her memoirs not only because of her own experience of addiction but because she believes there has been little acknowledgement of the impact of addiction as it specifically relates to women.

Her contention, backed up by a strong body of evidence, is that drugs of addiction and alcohol affect women differently in terms of their physiological and psychological makeup as well as social circumstances.

Her research is thorough and convincing and Valentish said it was a huge privilege to go to the experts – one of the benefits of journalism. 

Importantly she relates the impact of sexual abuse on girls which not uncommonly results in mental ill health and addiction.

Valentish said her prime motivation for writing her book was to “speak to women who were struggling”.

“There is a real stigma around women taking drugs and alcohol,” she said.

“They are considered more tragic than male addicts.” 

Her other observation is that Australian culture is particularly conducive to drinking. 

“A lot of the drinking is based around women,” she said.

“You have wine o’clock, drinks at lunchtime, after work, at every point of the day.”

Valentish is currently doing public speaking around the topic of addiction and says she gets much satisfaction from  it.

“Women often come up to me after I speak and ask about a friend’s problem or their own,” she said.

She says however she doesn’t like to give advice. 

Her own process of recovery was facilitated by trying several avenues of help including AA and counselling.

“I suggest that people seek a professional who specialises in addiction such as a psychologist or counsellor or an organisation such as AA,” she said.

“I would also say to women that they need to be prepared for setbacks when dealing with addiction.

“The important thing is to keep trying.”

Jenny Valentish will be a guest speaker at this year’s Bendigo Writers Festival, August 11 to 13. Tickets are on sale now at bendigowritersfestival.com.au

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