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March 5, 2021

From junkie to mental health professional, Cynthia has as lot to teach

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Mandy Nolan

While many of us are resistant, human beings are capable of extraordinary change. Cynthia Morton is testament to this. This best-selling author, blogger, lecturer and founder of the multi-award-winning Emotional Fitness Program wasn’t always the pinup girl for worldly success; in fact, Morton gained her knowledge from the ground up and, like a lot of addicts, she started right from rock bottom. Now 50, with an Australian of the Year Award, a Prime Minister’s Award for Excellence and the Pride of Australia Medal, Cynthia reflects very openly on her journey to emotional fitness.

‘I got clean and sober when I was 33. It was October 12, 1995 – I came to that morning. I had been using heavily for 18 hours, the kids had been taken to school, the house was like a war zone, there had been a fight. In the family I was the violent one, not with my kids, but always with my husband. He stood between me and my addiction.

‘That morning I came to and realised I couldn’t drink anymore. It had been 18 hours and I was done. That morning the vulture of suicide perched on my shoulder. I was skeletal I couldn’t take any more drugs and alcohol; I wasn’t eating. I thought, fuck it, I can’t stay, and then the vulture of suicide was like, what are you going to do? You have two kids. Then I thought of that film that was around at the time, Thelma And Louise, and I thought I’d put the kids in the car and drive off a cliff.

‘And that’s when a window opened up. I realised I was thinking of putting my kids in the car and driving off a cliff because that felt like my only option. That was the pivotal moment when I realised that I can’t do this. That was my first clean day.’

Cynthia credits the 12-Step program for helping her get clean initially. ‘I have nothing but positive things to say about the program. I look at them like the Ten Commandments, but I don’t believe it’s a one-size-fits-all approach.


‘What I have observed, in working with professors and professionals internationally and nationally in addiction, is that the addiction/trauma link is present in about 70 per cent of addicts. They have experienced some sort of heart trauma – there are the obvious, domestic violence or sexual abuse, but also many other things like sibling death or abandonment.

‘The other 30 per cent tends to be an inherited gene. So for me, sitting in the realm of 70 per cent after I’d done the program, I ended up feeling like failure, because my pain medication had been taken away. A lot of people don’t realise they are the walking wounded – that’s why there is such a high relapse rate.

‘When you took the alcohol away I was fucked,’ says Cynthia, a victim of sexual abuse at the hands of her father and a neighbour.

‘I was a single mum on a pension with two boys, I was now clean, but I couldn’t have sex because of the trauma of sexual abuse in my past. I was worse without the alcohol and I thought it was going to be better.

‘I always loved sex when I was drinking or drugging, but without drugs and alcohol separating the past off from the present, the memories were like sewage flooding in on me. I had to abstain and shut down my femininity.

‘I became a shut-down repressed woman trying to bring up these two boys and I thought, Shit! I need help! So I saw a therapist and then I started to document the process. I never set out to write a book but I did find that at two in the morning when I wanted to use or I had a horrific sexual dream I would sit on my driveway and write and it helped flush away the sewage of the past. The books then went on to publish nationally and internationally. Helping Hand was the first one.

‘I guess we end up teaching what we need to learn,’ laughs Cynthia, who now looks back on that woman she once was with respect and compassion. She has developed an Emotional Fitness program that works along the same premise as physical fitness.

Laws of humanity

‘Everyone knows that for physical fitness, it’s about diet, exercise and rest. It doesn’t matter who you are it’s the same things, and if you don’t master these things you won’t sustain wellness. It’s the same with emotional fitness. I believe there are three primal laws. I call them the laws of humanity. The first is called tribal support, the second is eldership and the last is self-care.’

It’s not just people with addiction or mental health issues who benefit from Cynthia’s wisdom; she believes all humans need to stay in check.

‘If you want to be a grand person, you have to keep going. You have to re-evaluate who you are. You need to keep skilling up. You need to move on and chuck stuff up. What I needed in my 30s was different from my 40s and then from my 50s. Your heart palate becomes much more discerning on the life journey!’

Cynthia Morton is a keynote speaker at the Funny In The Head Breakfast with comedian Mandy Nolan at the Ballina RSL on Thursday morning November 15. Tix are $35 from www.ballinarsl.com.au or 6686 2544 and all proceeds go to Lifeline Northern Rivers for their ASIST Suicide Prevention programs.


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