When do you have a problem with Alcohol?
Alcohol is one of those topics that most people just assume you drink, as Becca says. It has been so integrated into our culture that it can be hard to know where the line is and when you have crossed it.
Becca launched her podcast in 2020 to have conversations with celebrities and how they overcame their battle with Alcohol. Sharing her own story on the podcast and first on a local radio station, her podcast is an excellent example of the force for good a cause-focused podcast can have globally.
Canadian Center for Addictions
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Hi and welcome to CausePods, I’m your host, Mathew Passy. Here at CausePods, we have one simple mission to highlight the amazing folks who are using podcast as a way to raise awareness for good causes and make the world a better place, whether it’s in their own local community or their taking on global issues.
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All right, we are going to take you to our neighbors to the north, we’re going up to Canada. We are speaking with Becca Atkinson. She is the host and creator of the Unashamed Alcoholic podcast. It is all about working to take the shame and stigma out of talking about alcoholism, addiction and recovery through open and honest conversations. Becca, thank you so much for joining us here on CausePods today.
Thank you so much for having me. So let’s go back and I think a lot of people know what alcoholism is, but tell us a little bit about your story. When did you really start to take control of your alcoholism and, you know, turn this into a cause for yourself?
I struggled for a number of years thinking that I might have a drinking problem, noticing that I drank differently than other people. I think one of the big misconceptions is what does it take to be an alcoholic? Didn’t lose my job or go to rehab or get a DUI. It was just bothering me that I was always thinking about drinking. And it got worse through the years to your 20s where you’re that’s kind of you’re just partying all the time. And then as I got a little older, I still just couldn’t not drink every day, every night.
And when I had kids is really when it. Really came to the forefront that, you know, they’re supposed to be the priority now, not drinking, and I just couldn’t manage the two in my mind anymore because for so long, drinking had been the priority. And it’s all I thought about, all I planned about everything that was worked around that. And then when I had my kids in my 30s, that had to be put first and I just couldn’t manage the two.
So that’s when I knew something had to change. And as much as I tried myself, I couldn’t do it. And then I felt like a failure because I thought, why I can’t control this? And I thought, I can’t be an alcoholic because I’m not homeless. I don’t live under a bridge. You know, all these things that you think about, the stereotypes of what an alcoholic is until one day I just I knew I had to stop.
I couldn’t go on living like this. It was unfeasible to live like this anymore. I wound up going into a program of recovery 12 step program and everything kind of came fell into place after that. So it’ll be four years in July. And for the first three years, I was totally quiet about I barely told anyone except family and friends that I was I’d gotten sober. And it was great. It was awesome.
I was super proud of it, but I wasn’t something I was just like, yeah, to my neighbor or my colleague or anyone online. Hey, I’m an alcoholic. Did you know that? You know, I wasn’t it wasn’t something you casually talk about, but I was a new and better person and I was kind of frustrated by the fact that, like, I couldn’t just say why all these things had gotten better in my life. And so through sort of a series of events with sort of an anonymous letter to the editor and an interview that followed after that kind of with a hockey player who talked about his alcohol addiction, I just decided enough is enough.
If all these other people who are much more well known and revered than I am could talk openly about this, why can’t I?
And so I just decided to say that I was an alcoholic, kind of did it on Twitter. And then I thought something else has to come of this. I felt so and like a huge weight was lifted off of me after ruminating on it a bit for a few weeks, never in my wildest dreams that I thought I would make a podcast in my life that came to me. I thought I got to talk about this. I’m going to keep talking about this because it felt so good to talk about.
And I thought, how but how will I make it interesting with every episode? And I thought, well, I’ll talk to people who are well known in there and are sober and go from there. So I just started asking celebrities who are sober if they wanted to chat with me about their alcoholism or their recovery or their sobriety. And that’s kind of how it was born. And people someone gave me a chance and it’s kind of taken off since then.
So that was October twenty twenty. And here we are. I know.
Twenty episodes and congratulations on sobriety. And also congratulations on not having to hit rock bottom to recognize the problem and do something about it. Like you said, you thought to yourself, I’m not homeless, I’m not this, I’m not that. But, you know, for a lot of folks, it takes something that catastrophic to recognize that they have a problem and do something about it. And it’s interesting, one, you bring up the stigma that is attached with addiction and alcoholism and things like that, but especially with alcoholism.
It’s I find it tricky because not only is there the the stigma of, oh, this person, you know, their life is falling apart. But on the other side, you have your the people who enjoy alcohol who are like, oh, but it’s just a drink, like, it’s fine, you’ll be OK. And like that peer pressure doesn’t exist with other addicts. I feel like it really is coming at you from both sides trying to, you know, fight back alcoholism.
Yeah, you hit it actually. Two things. One is the rock bottom. There’s the sort of illusion that you have to have lost something or been arrested or whatever to have, quote unquote, a rock bottom. This is, again, a creation of our cultural stereotypes. What did we see in movies? All that stuff that you have to have this huge moment and whatever. But for me, I think it was there wasn’t one moment. It was a it was years of pain and suffering and of this nonstop hamster wheel in my head going, why can’t you control this?
Why can’t you stop this? Will I drink today? No, I won’t. I won’t. I won’t. And then I do. And then I won’t. OK, Monday to whatever it just constantly I think that never ending narration my head was worse than like a one instance of like being arrested for drunk and disorderly conduct or something like that, like this. Never for years that went on in my head. I think that’s worse than what people imagine to be a rock bottom.
The other thing is, yes, the societal pressure of drinking. Right. It’s what you said right there is like. It touches on this assumption that everyone drinks and that you should be able to drink. So now I go about my life unless people want to hear the podcast or whatever, it’s assumed that I drink until I tell someone otherwise. Right. Let’s assume that everyone in our society drinks alcohol because, like, that’s just the way it’s become.
It’s unless you say otherwise, you’re assumed to drink. And then if you don’t, it’s like you either have a problem or like, well, why would you choose to be sober? Because lots of people just don’t drink too.
I don’t drink often.
Right. I’ll have a beer here and there. I’ll have a drink here and there. But I don’t really drink. And when you go places and drinking is just part of the social norms of what you’re doing, it’s like, oh, I want to go like I’m OK. Like, Oh, are you an alcoholic? It’s like we always we have to jump from it’s OK to just not drink to this person must be dealing with something. So there you go.
Talking about that shame and stigma and that’s why it’s so important. So I have to imagine, too, that, you know, you were sober long before we were getting into it, but you decided to work on this podcast in the middle of a global pandemic, too. And I imagine a lot of addiction and problems surfaced for people as a result of being cooped up and out of work or isolated, whatever, all those different things. And so I’m wondering how that played into some of the early episodes and some of the early content that you did for the show.
Well, you’re right.
I think, you know, I’ve seen I see every day a new article or someone says somewhere online that they’ve been they’ve noticed they’ve been drinking more in the last year than they ever have in their life. And it’s because, one, everything’s depressing and sad. And that’s how people cope generally to where at home all the time. So it’s just there’s no cut between your day of work and your day at home. So it’s just become easier to just drink earlier.
And more often we’re not socializing all that stuff. There’s many reasons I’ve had people personally tell me that. I see. I just there was an article this morning that said, you know, I realized I had a drinking problem during the pandemic. So personally, I think about this a lot. I commend anyone who stopped drinking during the pandemic because the isolation is very hard. And if you want to be part of a recovery program, for the most part, they went online.
So to not have that the fellowshipping aspect of being in a recovery program because you’re on a zoom, it makes it certainly different. I was being part of mine. Mine’s been on my 12 step meetings every Tuesday night. I’ve been online since last March, but I know everyone there. It’s I’m not a first timer, so I can’t imagine how difficult it would be to kind of find these things and join them and without having done that before. So I commend anyone who’s gotten sober during this because it’s just been an immensely difficult for the episodes.
Everyone who I’ve spoken with to date was sober for many years before, except for one of my guests was Mia John.
And I spoke with her about the the difficulties of getting sober and staying sober in the pandemic because specifically of the meetings, the 12 step AA meetings going online, like there was some difficulty around that. She talks about that. So, you know, outside of that, everyone else was years sober or kind of had gotten sober before we kind of went into lockdown. But, you know, I kind of find it a blessing and a curse for me personally.
I went through a separation last June, and so I’m going out into the dating scene for the first time ever in my life sober, which is terrifying. I’ve never dated anyone sober before in my life. So I’ve found that the restrictions of the pandemic and everything, I’ve had no pressure to be out socializing in a restaurant and bar, all these things that are close and you can’t go do where I am. So I found that that’s relieved. Some pressure as someone sober doing something for the first time new, I have some breathing room to get more used to that idea.
So maybe I think that there’s people who are newly sober can have that as a think of that as a positive to all this.
Why podcasting? I know why you wanted to talk about this. I know why you want to raise awareness. But what made you decide I’m going to let you broadcast. Right? Like, it’s fairly easy, but it’s not that easy. So why did you decide to go down this road? Did you have any background in media, anything like that?
No, I actually I went to I have a degree in mass communication from university, but that provided zero help with this.
You know, it’s funny, I’ve thought about that a few times since doing this, like back to the moment in the period, a few weeks in September when I went on a local radio show and said, I’m an alcoholic to now what? And starting the podcast and I don’t know what where the Bleep went to podcast. Why? It’s like I think just something must have just. Hit me and I because I was just like, what can I do as one person, your home?
Like, what can I do? I can’t just suddenly go speak in schools or to groups or whatever. How will I spread the message? And I thought, like Twitter, social media, it’s just not it’s not enough. And something just dawned on me where I thought I can talk to people who are well known and we can use their platform and spread the message. And I think somehow I must have just connected the dots and came up with Podcast Me Anything thought, well, this will be easy.
And and then hours and hours of work that go into from the beginning was a lot more than it is now, you know, learning how to edit and, you know, all the things that need to go into it.
I mean, I have to find guests to like it’s a basically a second job that I’m not being paid for. So, you know, it is a lot of work, but I get a lot of great feedback from and personally, it helps me in my own recovery to to constantly be talking about my alcoholism.
You know, we talk to a lot of folks about their podcast and getting started and some of those early questions. And instead of boring everyone with kind of the same question, I think the question that a lot of people would be intrigued to ask someone like you is you’re just starting out and you’re getting celebrities, right. You’re getting these big name folks on the show. And so many people I see in these various Facebook groups are always saying, well, how do I get a big name person?
And so I’m just curious, like. Without having anything to show for it originally, how did you approach these celebrities, how did you convince them to appear on your show?
I’ve thought about that a lot, too. Like why how did how did anyone ever say, yes? You know, a lot of it comes down to when you’re in recovery, you are supposed to give back. So you’re supposed to spread the message and turn around and help someone else. So I think a lot of people see this as kind of doing their service somehow, like you’re helping spread this message of sobriety recovery. It’s I’m not just saying, hey, I’m a huge fan of yours.
Let’s hang out and chat like there’s a lot of people. Yes, I am their fan. And so it’s fantastic that I get to talk to these people. But the ultimate goal is to talk about a really important subject. And so I think for them, they’re more than happy to talk about that because it’s only going to help someone else who maybe they were once in that similar position and saw someone who they respected or admired talking openly about this.
And so I think the ultimate goal is to help other people. So, you know, it’s not just it’s not super self-serving or just promoting something or whatnot. You know, you had to be pretty shameless. I had to be pretty shameless at the beginning. And just I use my Twitter to just ask them because I know other method of it. And now I can find them through other publicists or managers. But through the first few, I was just on Twitter and, you know, João Franco from below deck.
Medda gave me a chance and he was my first guest. And once I kind of got some credibility with a few real human guests, got a bit easier. But people were really quick to say yes, like Theo Fleury, you know, people who do this for further. This is what they do now. Chris Herren, the NBA former NBA player, you know, this is what he does. Same with the flurry like the NHL start. This is what they do now with their lives.
So they’re more than willing to have these conversations, which I just I can’t thank them enough for talking to little old me about this. It’s I just think it’s lovely.
So given 20 episodes in. Right. You have a little bit of a media background, but everyone podcasting, what has been the biggest lesson or takeaway from this experience that you would want to share with somebody else thinking about launching a podcast? Well, a few things.
One, if you’re looking for guests, don’t take rejection personally. There could be all sorts of reasons why they can’t or won’t do your show. It was really hard at first to have people who I know and admire and like a fan of say no, that was really hard, but I can’t take it personally. They don’t know me. Who knows what the reason is? So don’t take rejection personally, you know, I guess just have fun with it.
I for me, I never wanted to feel like I have to be doing something. I have to do this or I have to edit or have to whatever. Like, I don’t want it to ever feel miserable. A lot of time I kind of get down on myself and go, this goes out into a void. Is this even making a difference? Is this worth all the time I spend to it? And then I’ll get one email from someone that says, you know, I listen to this episode and thank you for sharing this message and whatever.
So, you know.
If you have the passion behind it, you know that it will all be worth it, really constant and consistent message over gifts from so many people, which is just to say, if you believe in it, if you are passionate about it, if you stay consistent with it, it will all work out.
And, you know, success is measured in a lot of different ways and find what your level of success is. That doesn’t have to be reflected in just downloads. You’ll be much, much happier for it.
So as part of everybody’s appearance here in CausePods, we always like to ask them about a charity or calls that is important to them today. You’ve given us two to look at. One is the Center for Addiction and Mental Health up in Canada. The other is the Canadian Center for Addictions. I know you don’t have a direct tie with either of these organizations, but why would you want people to support these two stellar groups as part of your appearance on CausePods today?
Well, I think both are due different, excellent, different work. Canadian Center for Addiction and Mental Health is so much so much amazing research going into addiction and mental health that they’re putting out there for all different purposes. And the Canadian Center for Addictions is they offer a residential program. So, you know, I always want to be able to offer people an option of where to look for information, where to go, if they need help, if they have questions about themselves or a family member.
These are two spots where you can sort of start, you know, because AA or, you know, a recovery program isn’t necessarily something that works for everyone or the right first step. So outside of just contacting me, which anyone can do if they have any questions, I like to direct them to some pretty, you know, just standard information as well. These two groups are offering lots of information and help if you need it. Fantastic.
Well, we’ll have a link to both of those here in the show notes for this episode, which you can find at CausePods.org or right here, wherever you are listening to this episode of the podcast. And so, like always, we just want to say, if somebody else is hearing this, maybe they’re battling with addiction, maybe they have a different cause. They’re thinking about the best way to raise awareness or to, you know, engage in the battle on its behalf.
Maybe thinking about a podcast, what would be your best piece of advice to them?
Could be technical or could just be more, you know, generic advice in general, talk with people, you know, and talk talk about what you know, be honest, talk about yourself, your passion. People want to hear real stories, you know? And so I think this what this show is fantastic because you’re talking about real, honest stories. And I think that that when people are talking about addiction, people are talking about mental health, they want to hear themselves.
They want to hear stories that are similar and feel comforting whenever people want to do something similar. Talk about you have a podcast of similar nature. You know, those honest, open conversations. You talk from your heart and talk about what you know.
Can’t get easier than that. Folks, we’ve been chatting with Becca Atkinson, host and creator of the Unashamed Alcoholic. You can learn more at the Unashamed Alcoholics podcast. Once again, we will have a link right here in the show, notes or wherever you listen to your CausePods podcast. Becca, thank you so much for joining us here today and just for being such a great example and for the battle you’ve overcome.
Thanks for joining us.
Thank you so much for having me. Thanks for listening to this episode of CausePods. If you’ve been inspired by the work of our guest, please check out the show notes of this episode in your podcasting app or at CausePods.org.
There you will find links to their show, their website, their podcast, links on Apple, Google, Spotify, as well as a link to support the charity that they highlighted here. In this episode, you will also find a CausePods.org Barletta subscribe to this show on your favorite podcasting app, How to sign up to be a guest on this show and a link to our Facebook group, which is going to have special resources just for the folks who are podcasting for a good cause.
And I can tell you right now, we’ve got one great deal from our friends at Pod Page, but you’re only going to learn about it and get that special deal if you are a member of the Facebook group for CausePods. And before I go, I should say thank you in particular. The show is edited and produced by Ben Killoy of the Military Veteran Dad podcast. And what a great job he has done. And all this is made possible because of the great support that I received from Shannon Rojas here at the podcast.
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If you want to learn more, go to CausePods.org. Thank you so much. And we will see you next time on CausePods.