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Trekking Kokoda to 'give back'

Trekking Kokoda to 'give back'

Trekking Kokoda to 'give back'

9 September 2019

By Naomi Singlehurst

Thirty-six years ago, successful international author, speaker and educator Dianne Todaro-Wells finally found the help she so desperately needed.

With her feet badly bruised following an hallucination-driven leap through a second-storey window from The Salvation Army William Booth House (residential recovery service), the then 21-year-old was carried back to the complex by her father who told staff, “We love her but we can’t help her, she’s all yours.”

Although heartbreaking at the time, Dianne now understands that her parents were at their wits end with their wild, young, drug-addicted daughter.

Trauma and understanding

While Dianne refuses to use it as an excuse, she says the complex childhood trauma she experienced did play a major role in her journey to addiction. Dianne says she not only struggled from years of strict, punitive family discipline but had also suffered sexual assault during her childhood and teenage years. “My potential stopped at six,” Dianne says. “At the time I was beginning to shine as a young ballerina.”

By the age of 21, Dianne had developed a physical addiction to weight-control drugs, sleeping tablets and narcotics. “I was unable to ask for help, but I did pray,” she recalls. “I looked up to the stars and just said ‘help’. I wanted to get off the treadmill and cycle of going nowhere in addiction. I went into William Booth House reluctantly, but they told us when I arrived that I had a really serious disease and if I didn’t do something about it, I could die!”

On admittance she was given a copy of the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous and asked to write out Chapter 4 word for word, describing how the 12-step program works. “I thought, ‘why the hell would they make you do this’, but I found out it really works,” Dianne says. “What I also came to understand is that addiction is a three-fold disease that affects people – physically, spiritually and mentally.”

The journey

As she progressed in the residential program, Dianne says: She says: “Only then did I start to reconnect with the young girl I was always intended to be in this world.” Within 12 months of being in the program, she was one of the first women to go to Selah Farm (Ourimbah, NSW) a new Salvation Army facility at that time.             

“I did get the education around addiction. I did learn about myself and I started to see that I had an illness, but I also had an opportunity to get on with my life. I was intelligent, I was smart and if I did want to do something with my life, I could,” she says. “The Salvation Army also provided education to support my parents to love me, and to more healthily support me without the harsh discipline.”

Dianne says she found herself finally with hope and a direction. She began her training as a primary school teacher and went on to teach for 30 years. A career change to being a professional writer began when her daughter reached her early teenage years and saw a need for better books on the subjects of sex education and puberty. Her first two books for young people have now been published in 10 languages around the world.

The circle of care

“Thirty-six years ago, The Salvation Army saved my life,” she says. “My life is miraculous. I am an ordinary person who has experienced extraordinary events in my life, and I believe I now have a duty to shine.”

Today, Dianne regularly sponsors women going through 12-step programs and still visits William Booth House to encourage participants. In 2018, she was awarded the Parenting 2.0 Global Presence Humanitarian Award for her work in sex education internationally, particularly with young people in India.

The proud mother of two is also a passionate Salvation Army supporter and ‘Honoured Friend’ (pledging a gift to continue the work of The Salvation Army in her Will). Dianne also shared her story at a 2019 Red Shield appeal launch event to help others understand and support the work of the Salvos.

Although she is “terrified”, Dianne is about to embark on the 2019 Salvation Army Trek for Hope (walking the Kokoda Trail in Papua New Guinea).* She sees it not only as a chance to support the work of The Salvation Army, but the next step in her personal growth, including recovering from a serious car accident that required multiple surgeries.

“I see this challenge as the next stage in reconnecting back with my body,” she says. “I was given a life by The Salvation Army. I was given an opportunity and I jumped into my life and the purpose for my life, which is living my life to the fullest!"

*To learn more about The Salvation Army Trek For Hope Kokoda 2019, please visit:



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