Only six years ago I was a shell of who I am now.
In fact, at times I find it hard to recognise the person I am reminded of looking at old photographs and Facebook memories.
The only thing I truly can still connect with is the depth of my desperation; a feeling that thankfully I no longer have, but I will never forget, reports news.com.au.
I hope that this feeling will stay with me forever as a self-awareness tool to prevent me from ever being in that position again.
In 2011 at the age of 38, I hit rock bottom both psychologically and physically.
As a result of the numerous personal challenges, I was facing my already baseline anxiety turn into clinical depression, agoraphobia and a dependency on medications to help me survive.
Of course, there was also the elephant in the room — using alcohol 24/7 to medicate my way through each day.
My first marriage had ended, I had custody issues, my daughter was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, I had toxic friendships, financial insecurity and an extremely battered sense of self-worth.
My weight plummeted to 47kg and my health issues were extensive.
I even had a few trips to the emergency department where I was advised in no uncertain terms that my health was at such a dire point, my life was hanging in the balance.
I was fighting to survive each day, literally.
The alcohol had long been a crutch, from a "wind down" at the end of the day to a "calm the nerves" before an event or situation that made me feel uncomfortable.
For a long time alcohol was my friend, my reliable coping mechanism and perhaps even my saviour.
But it was no longer working for me. It was not so silently killing me.
At the beginning of 2012, in a bid to get help from my family, I moved interstate with my new husband and two children.
It was a long slow process of recovery and quite frankly, in the beginning, definitely not a conscious one.
I participated in some intense counselling, slowly came off all prescription medications, started the process of sobriety and all that comes with that.
I came to the conclusion that the only way I was going to be able to survive this and ensure this new way of living was sustainable, was to replace my unhealthy defaults with healthy ones.
My specialists suggested exercise, so I reluctantly joined the gym.
Honestly, at that point in time this decision was purely made to suffice my family's overwhelming desire for me to stay on track.
I had little knowledge or understanding as to how this simple decision was going to be possibly the strongest catalyst in my recovery.
I was introduced to a personal trainer who changed the way I challenged life as a whole.
Having made unsavoury choices himself in his life previously, he reinforced the ideal that everybody deserves a second chance and that I was capable of much more than I believed if I simply gave myself a chance.
In the beginning I was far from fit. The training was basic and my ability to cope was minimal.
But without the alcohol preventing my natural coping mechanisms from kicking in, I had one thing I hadn't had in a long time.
How I found courage
With every challenge I conquered physically, I also grew strength mentally.
I quickly learnt the significant correlation between good physical health and strong mental health.
My training intensified, my confidence grew and with ongoing support of my family and surrounding myself with fit, healthy and happy people, suddenly this lifestyle was something I craved.
But the best part was that I found that when I applied the same sense of discipline to other areas of my life, my coping mechanisms to deal with the everyday issues also increased.
There is so much to be said for the benefits of exercise and fitness for a person in recovery.
Most of us have just depleted our bodies of any kind of natural endorphins and lowered our serotonin production through depressants like alcohol.
And in saying that, most of us have probably not been routine focused or self-disciplined for a long time. That natural state of self-care doesn't exist in addiction.
Some of the immediately tangible benefits of exercise in recovery include reduction in drug and alcohol cravings, stabilisation of our neural networks, reduction of stress, decreases in blood pressure and stabilisation of our sleep cycles. Not to mention it is an immediate psychological distraction.
Some of the less spoken about benefits of exercise in recovery include feeling worthy again, having self-belief, enforcing structure and routine and giving you the strength to move forward, one day at a time.
I still suffer from bouts of anxiety. But this lifestyle and a good training session will, on most occasions, make this dissipate within hours.
I generate my own natural response to calm myself down by routinely looking after myself and MOVING.
From my own experience I learnt the importance of having somebody believe in you, because sometimes you need someone else to believe in you before you can believe in yourself.
One week after my 40th birthday, I commenced my personal training qualification and decided it was time to pay it forward.
Through sobriety and fitness, I have finally found purpose and meaning and I now have an opportunity to teach others that the impossible is possible.
I have the pleasure of watching people grow and develop not only physically, but mentally and seeing how this positively affects every other part of their life.
Being physically fit gives you the ability to face life's challenges from a healthier perspective. Creating habits that work 'for you' instead of 'against you' takes commitment and support and I thrive on being able to lead by example and show others how to do this.
At the age of 45 I have competed in several bikini body building competitions and also work as a fitness model.
I'd even go so far as to say I believe I have a greater sense of self-assurance than what I did in my 20s WITH alcohol.
A fit life creates a strong mind and a strong mind can create the life that you have always wanted, WITHOUT the artificial filters.
Not a day goes by that I am not thankful that I dragged my cowered head and punctured heart into that gym.
• Justine is a mum of two who runs The Life Factory. Follow her on Instagram @jusswhitchurch