Recovery freely available thanks to innovative addictions treatment service

Recovery freely available thanks to innovative addictions treatment service

Days before Sydney’s first lockdown, a Christian woman with lived experience opened a free outpatient centre for addictions. She emerged from its second lockdown with an additional centre. The new location at Uniting Church Lugar Brae in Bronte means there is now support for up to 100 people – with over 15 hours of free group therapy each week.

The Overcomers Place (TOP) groups are designed to support the vulnerable integration back into society for those suffering from any addiction; from alcohol to gambling, drugs, sex, and food – as well their family.

The trauma-informed sessions run during business hours as part of an innovative day model.  The Living Room, north of London, hosts a similar program that inspired founder Penny Wilkinson’s quest to recreate a service in Sydney to fill a critical gap in the addictions treatment market.

She saw parents and carers still receiving treatment and being able to go home and look after their families without as much disruption to their daily lives as most rehabilitation stays.

Getting and staying sober can be tricky because residential rehabs involve families being separated with limited visiting hours.

“It’s all in or out which can be brutal on those trying to readjust to a new abstinent way of life without safe support,” Penny tells Insights.

“It’s a delicate balance in those fragile early days when the world keeps pushing addictive behaviours onto those brave enough to go against the culture”.

Penny wanted to pave the way so that others, especially caregivers, could access the joys of recovery without the barriers she faced.

“In the 90s addiction was still seen as a moral issue. I was scared by the progression of my own alcohol addiction and it became harder to ask for help especially within my church community.”

“There was so much ignorance and misunderstanding about the complex neurobiology that is behind the root cause of addiction. The general line I was told was ‘just stop’ but sadly despite my adoring family I couldn’t. I had two roads. Keep going in silence or search for answers with God’s help.”

The options for Penny were either rehab stays or 12-step rooms – nothing in between.

Penny couldn’t leave her children and her symptoms were not severe enough to risk introducing new, potentially addictive medications. So, she sat in the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA).

“I was a long way from being a street drunk and it was hard to identify with the mostly older men in AA who’d gone to rock bottom drinking metho when I was still sipping chardonnay in beautiful glasses in nice homes. But eventually I did come to understand that my addiction was just as progressive as theirs.”

These experiences spurred Penny and her husband Andrew on and sparked an international search from answers.

Initially, the pair launched the Overcomers Outreach (OO) model, a monthly support group combining Christian scripture and the 12 steps. They started at St Andrew’s Cathedral in 2005, and have grown to more than 10 groups across regional NSW, Sydney and other cities.

Fast forward to early 2020, and The Overcomers Place was born, with the doors opening to its first daily service just as COVID-19 was making life difficult.

Despite the challenges the pandemic put in place, in just under three years The Overcomers Place has managed to help over 200 people take steps towards long-term recovery.

“Nothing is impossible for God and The Overcomers Place’s growth is testimony to that One that has all power,” Penny said.

“We have seen more than a dozen parents achieve over one year’s abstinence. This has allowed families to repair relationships and given sober parents back to their children. Christmas 2022 saw more than 40 parents sober on the day.

“No child deserves an addicted parent. My children say it’s such a gift to witness a meal or holiday and sports game without alcohol. It’s all been modelled to them through my sober life over the past 20 years.”

“I’m a Christian but my faith in God alone couldn’t cut it when it came to addiction recovery because addiction is a brain disease.”

“Just like faith alone does not cure a broken leg. God knew this back in the 1930s when he enabled the creation of the 12-step movement – what Scott Peck called the greatest miracle of the 21st Century in his book The Road Less Travelled,” Penny said.

Penny stresses that the window of opportunity to seize recovery can snap shut very quickly if sufferers don’t have savings or support to get sober. It’s because of this that The Overcomers Place offers a free service to ensure a lack of resources doesn’t stop anyone from getting the help they need.

The generosity of donors enables The Overcomers Place to pay its specialist counsellors while offering a free service.

To find out more, visit The Overcomers Place website.

Ashley Donnelly


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