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Becca Atkinson on Why Alcoholic Shouldn’t Be a Bad Word
Episode 3810th February 2022 • Podcaster Stories • Danny Brown
00:00:00 00:27:38

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This week, I sit down with Becca Atkinson, host of The Unashamed Alcoholic, where she talks with sober people using their platforms to speak openly about their journey with addiction.

This includes sports stars, media celebrities, and more, and who inspired Becca to openly talk about her own journey as a recovering alcoholic.

The Freeing Power of Openness

Becca shares how she didn't do anything by halves when it came to opening up about her journey as an alcoholic. Indeed, it was on a national radio station that she first got the courage to speak up, and she never looked back from there.

I wanted him to know he wasn't alone and he still had a fan in me.

When Bobby Ryan of NHL hockey team Ottawa Senators shared his own story of addiction, Becca wrote a letter to her local newspaper stating her unequivocal support for the player, and thanking him for his bravery in talking out This, in turn, enabled her own bravery.

The Expectation of Drinking

Despite more people opening up and talking about their own journeys with alcohol and addiction, it's still a very taboo subject for many. Becca feels this can come down to how we've normalized drinking - we're simply expected to start drinking at legal age - but we haven't yet normalized talking about addiction.

I was never told being sober is an option

The Conversations with Family

When Becca was going through her journey, it led to conversations with her family about what she had been going through, and the lengths she'd gone at times to hide that journey. It was interesting to hear how the different parts of the journey she was on led to very different conversations with her family, especially her two young children.

The Growth Process of Recovery

Recently, Becca posted a tweet about receiving an email from her ex-husband, and how she read the first line and deleted it, knowing she didn't need that negativity in her life anymore. As she says, this is a part of the recovery process, and a good indicator of how far she's come.

You just automatically start to do things that are better for you

Connect with Becca:

Contact me: danny@podcasterstories.com

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Transcripts

Becca:

Everyone drinks and drinking is normal. And if you can't do that for some reason, then you. Well, we call it a problem. We call it a drinking problem. Right. I didn't choose to have drinking problem. So it's these things that I couldn't help this. You didn't choose to have alcoholism, and yet you sort of are made to feel like, well, you failed.

Danny:

This week, I'm chatting with Becca Atkinson, host of The Unashamed Alcoholic, a show working to take the stigma out of alcoholism, addiction and sobriety. Becca, welcome to the show on this cold Canadian winter afternoon. How about you tell our listeners about yourself and your podcast?

Becca:

Thank you for having me. It's so nice to meet you after sort of being friends online there for a bit. It's nice to always see a face and in, quote unquote person. So the podcast, The Unashamed Alcoholic is really, you know, exactly what you said, designed to take the stigma and shame out of talking about a subject that a lot of people don't openly talk about or don't feel like they can. It was born in the fall of 2020 when I said for the first time publicly that I was an alcoholic. And I did that on a local radio show. And then I thought, well, that felt really good. How can I keep telling my story or feeling this feeling? I guess it felt so freeing to talk about something that I'd kept a secret for so long. And ultimately, what prompted me to talk openly about my story was an NHL player who played for the Ottawa Senators, who shared his story with alcohol addiction. And he inspired me. And so I thought, well, let's kind of stay in that realm of people who are well known and sober or well known and talking openly about addiction and recovery, whether they are in active recovery themselves or they're sober for whatever reason, and just keep those conversations going with people who have a lot of fans who people look up to, who people are inspired by and have those open conversations. And luckily, people accepted my request to talk to nobody like me. And it kind of got the ball rolling. And I've done over 35 episodes now, just over a year later. So it's really been kind of an overwhelming eye opening and a wonderful experience all rolled into one.

Danny:

And you were featured. I know you mentioned that you were kind of taken into podcasting, if you like, a follow up, a media interview, radio interview. But you'd also written a letter about the episode you listened to with the NHL player. And I'm wondering what made you write the letter? Was it just an appreciation that someone, as you mentioned, as well known as being so open about something that you could recognize and relate to?

Becca:

Yeah. So the letter, February, March 20, got it. The time just seems so weird now when you think about years and the last few years. I wrote, well, when he first said what he'd been doing for the last few weeks or months that he'd been away and that he had sought help for alcohol addiction, I wrote a letter to the editor of the Ottawa Son, and I said that he wasn't alone and that he still had a fan in me and super awesome that he spoke about this because it would inspire a lot of people. But I signed it anonymously because I thought, I can't put my name to this. Even though I was congratulating him for publicly saying it, I wasn't doing the same myself. And then in the fall, so much had changed in my life personally, in those short months, I'd gotten divorced and I'd moved out and I was just feeling so free and confident. And when he was back in the news, Bobby Ryan, the NHL player, he was back in the news to receive an award. And he mentioned again the overwhelming support he'd received when he had spoken about this earlier that year. And I just thought, yeah, why can he talk about this? And I should be able to do the exact same thing. So that's when I went and publicly posted that online, I said, I went back to the letter to the editor, which is kind of how it all started, and said, this is me. I'm no longer ashamed to say that this is who I am. And that's really what started the whole thing rolling. And it really is someone who took the time to share their personal story that inspired me. And I just hope that that's what happens in some of my conversations with people, you know, that people look at these well known authors or musicians or actors or whatever they may be and say, hey, yeah, I think I can talk about this, too. If you can do it, so can I. And even if it's not about you personally in recovery or addiction, I think it's something admirable. I think it's something educational. So I think the audience isn't just people who are in recovery themselves.

Danny:

And I think that's a key part. I know like you mentioned earlier, we've known each other online on Twitter. We've spoken a few times. But I know your audience on there are appreciative of the fact that it can help not just people in recovery, but family members, friends, colleagues that recognize this person may need help and doesn't want to talk about it. And I think that's key to your point there. It's not just about the person, obviously, that's important, but it's not about the person going through it themselves at that time.

Becca:

Yeah, that's so key is that when I first started out, I thought, well, someone listens to this and feels like they're not alone, then that's great. And if they get a better understanding of what an alcoholic can look like, because for so long I didn't think I was an alcoholic because I wasn't an older man under a bridge somewhere. I was a 40 year old wife and mother. And I had a good job and all these things that I couldn't be an alcoholic. So I try to bring the awareness around. It can be anyone. And I think my guests help show that, too, because these are people who are famous people. And yeah, like, you know what, they still have an addiction or, you know, they're still working through something or they choose to talk about this to help create that understanding and respect around something that we just don't talk enough about.

Danny:

And you'd mentioned there that obviously you guess they are well known celebrities, sports stars, authors, media personalities. And I'm curious what the process? You said earlier that how am I going to get people like that on the show? Me. But obviously they come on and they talk and they open up and they offer their experiences to help others going through that. And I'm curious what the process maybe at the start of your show compared to now was like for trying to approach these well known people, to bring them on, to talk about a difficult topic at times.

Becca:

The very beginning was I used Twitter to try and reach out to people. And once I kind of got three guests who had done this show with me, that helped my credibility immensely to be able to get more people. So just having one person was just like, well, this has changed the entire process because now I can craft that an email now around who I've had on who I've spoken to and that sort of thing. So that helped. It all depends on how accessible they are. Are they online? Do I have to go through an agent or a publicist or a manager or something? How easy is that to find? It's not always easy. You know, I put requests out there. I never hear anything a lot of the time. Sometimes people are really keen and eager and it's wonderful. It hasn't changed a lot other than who I can list in that request email that I've spoken to, which again adds to the credibility I have people now guests suggest other people who they might know. Lots of people send me DMs and say, hey, I saw this person just celebrated six years sober. Have you contacted them? So I get a lot of really welcome suggestions from followers, too, which is awesome because sometimes I haven't heard of the person. So it's really people are kind of doing the job for me in a way now. So that's fun. But it's hit and miss for sure.

Danny:

You'd mentioned as well earlier. It's such a difficult topic at times and it still has that stigma around it. And I'm curious why you feel from your own journey and the people you've spoken to on your show, why it's still such a stigmatized topic like mental health can be a stigmatized topic to talk about. I'm curious why something that pretty much everybody does after being a certain age, like a rite of passage, hey, I'm 18. I'm going to go out and get a beer or something. It's easy to make that decision. But why is it difficult, you think, to talk about it?

Becca:

Well, I think you kind of just said it in your sentence there. It's because it's something we're all expected to do. And so when you can't do it, it feels like you're a failure, then you don't want to talk about it or admit it. So I think that kind of is sort of ingrained in our society, in our culture, that everyone drinks and drinking is normal. And if you can't do that for some reason, we call it a problem. We call it a drinking problem. Right. I mean, I didn't choose to have a drinking problem. So, you know, it's these things that I couldn't help this. You didn't choose to have alcoholism, and yet you sort of are made to feel like, well, you failed. You failed. It's something we're all expected to be able to do. So it's kind of just the idea of getting around that mindset because there's a lot of people who just choose to be sober. A lot of people choose sobriety, and even then people judge them like, well, why would you do that? Why on Earth would you not drink? So it's that conversation that there is no real reason why we can't talk about it. And that's why I just kind of was just like when I started talking, I thought, why haven't I been talking about this? Why can't I talk about something that I'm proud of, the irony that I could talk until the cows came home about drinking or getting drunk or how hungover I was, how that's all acceptable. But the second you want to talk about being sober or I'm in recovery or I'm an alcoholic, no, we don't want to go there. It's like a fine line our society accepts and don't cross it. It's more of just like and that's why part of my conversations, I want them to be lighthearted and humorous and fun. We can talk about a serious subject, but in a way that people can be engaged and interested in, about a subject that we're not supposed to be talking about. So kind of bring that more light hearted side to it.

Danny:

And it's interesting you mentioned that. I've seen it happen before, like in restaurants or whatever, where there's been a part of people and maybe someone you've not seen for a while from, say, school or work or whatever has said someone's getting around in and the vast will go, what you haven't, I'm not drinking. And that person gets weird stairs from the person that's putting the order in or whatever. And it's strange how to your point, why we feel it's okay that someone might say, give me a beer and two whiskey chasers, and I might have this afterwards. And nothing said about that. But then when someone says I'm not drinking, I'm just having a Coke, then it's like the Spanish Inquisition. I'm not sure why that is.

Becca:

Yeah, exactly. I mean, that's the idea that we assume everyone drinks in our society and it's a clutch your pearls moment. When someone says they don't drink, you're just like, Why wouldn't you? And I did that for a long time when people weren't drinking or chose not to drink that night or whatever. But why wouldn't you? And it's just that mindset, we've been taught nothing else. Like I was never taught being sober was an option growing up. You just get to a certain age and now you drink. There was just no other choice. Like that's what we do and we just really aren't taught that. So that's why I always go back to saying I'm really glad my kids will through me see the option of someone who doesn't need to drink to have fun or get through a long day or go through Christmas or whatever it may be that they'll have that example of not drinking you mentioned.

Danny:

Obviously all your guests, they have a shared connection of either their own journey with addiction, alcoholism, or people who have been through it. Of all the episodes and the guests that you've had so far, is there one that's maybe stood out? And if so, why in particular that particular episode?

Becca:

I think there's something different with each guest and each story that, you know, I'm grateful to have been part of that conversation. I have definitely some guests who revealed something maybe they hadn't before or it was a more emotional conversation than others. But with each story, with each conversation, with each guest, I feel like I walk away with something new or something I've learned. And so I have an appreciation for every single one in a different way. So I can't pick just one episode. And I think that that's important for listeners too, is that each guest and each conversation really does bring something different to the table because every story is so different. Every person's story is so different. While it's maybe similar questions, we do cover different angles and different perspectives of it. So, you know, I think everyone each one brings something unique and something I walk away with something personally, and I hope the listeners do too.

Danny:

Obviously, you mentioned as you got the strength and the courage to start the podcast, fall on the interview with the Nicholas at the time you've gone through, or you were going through some big changes in your life. Obviously part of that was going through a divorce and your mom too. Is it three kids? I believe your monthly three kids. I'm curious too. Sorry, your mom to two kids. What was it like for your family to be with you on a journey prepodcast. And obviously now you diluted to it that you're glad that your kids get to see you as you are now and what that means.

Becca:

That's a really good question. And I think for my parents and my sister, I don't think they realized how much I was keeping sort of hidden away as part of what I was on a self discovery journey in recovery. And I don't think they realized what I'd gone through leading up to getting sober until I started openly talking about it. I hadn't talked to the kids about this at all until I started the podcast. And then when I started the podcast, a few months into it, I thought, I think I'll tell them actually, one of my guests, Bronwyn Wyndhamberg from Real Houseways, Orange County, she had said that her kids were well aware that she was going to AA and in meetings and all this stuff. And I thought, yeah, that's really inspiring. There's no reason why I can't tell my kids this, too. So I told them about the podcast and the name of it and all this stuff, because partly why am I keeping this from them? And also I want them at a young age to have an understanding that the word alcoholic isn't a bad word, like your mom is an alcoholic. That's not a bad thing. And so to change that mental connection of that word to how we associate it with for them at a younger age. So I think for them, they'll never know me drunk, so they'll only know me sober. So it's a different perspective they'll have. And now for my parents and my sister seeing me now with the podcast and how I really don't keep anything secret now, everything I share everything online. I think my mom sometimes doesn't want to read what I write on Twitter, but it's been really freeing. And I think that ultimately they support me and are very happy to see this life that I'm living now. So I feel very, very, very supportive. So it's wonderful.

Danny:

And that could be also to removing the stigma that's a new generation coming through that talks to the friends about. There's nothing wrong with this topic that we should speak more about it. That's awesome. That's the journey there on now as well. And you mentioned it about being open and everything. And that's one of the things I do like a lot when I see your tweets come up online and when you're interacting with other followers or you're talking to others that are asking you something, you are very open and you don't shy away. You don't hide away from anything. And the other night, I saw a tweet, but you got some Gruent responses, too. I saw a tweet from you about you'd received this email from your ex husband, but this time you didn't really care. You didn't even bother opening. I don't need this drama. I was like, God, how big a moment was that for you? If you like, on your ongoing journey and your continuing journey as to becoming a stronger you that identifies what's good for you and what's not good for you?

Becca:

I'm glad you brought that up, because it's something that in the moment, I just sort of instinctively like I saw the first line and I was like, no, I don't need to read this. And that's it. I put it aside and deleted it. And when I told my boyfriend about that and I sort of talked again about it last night and it was just like, you know, he said, doesn't that feel good that you're at that point where you can just put that aside and that's it. And it really only was sort of further reflecting through that tweet and through conversations days later that I realized how something I just done really quickly felt really good and still feels good three days later that I had the strength to do and sort of didn't really know it. And I think that that's part of the growth process and in recovery is that you just start to automatically do things that are better for you. And only on reflecting later do I think, yeah, that actually is a really good Mark of progress. And I'm really proud of myself to give myself a little more credit for that. Before Becca would have got John back and read it and then felt bad about myself. But whatever is in there and then wanted to respond and maybe when it started to get engaged and now I don't need this because as I said in the tweet, I don't need to care about this anymore and I need to look out for me. And I'm number one. So to have that automatic that's what my automatic train of thought is. No, I matter more, and I know what I need to do. It is a really great feeling that I'm glad I can share, and I'm glad that you see the feedback, you see the kind of the support that comes in with that, because other people have been in the same situation and know how that feels. And that's really that's what I think I get the most out of the Twitter community is people who understand exactly what you're going through, whether they've been in it themselves or not. It's a really supportive community online there.

Danny:

And I think that's your part about the support and the community that's around you, obviously on the topic, it's empowering them as well. So it goes back to your other point about your podcast. And the guest stories isn't always about the individual going through the journey at the time. It can be about their community, their immediate circle, and seeing your strength and how you respond to that encourages their circle to do the same for their family member or their friends. I think it's super important. And I was stuck to a what was it stoked to see the fact that you received that email, obviously. But I was stoked to see the response that you gave to it and then the responses you got, which A reinforces your strength and why you did it. And B, just like, hey, don't mess with Becca because she's got a whole circle here ready to pounce on you if you come up with this crap.

Becca:

Exactly. It's a sort of wonderful feeling to feel kind of I know I did something that felt good, and then I go and I get to share it and I get to have all these wonderful people sort of validate that. And it's such a nice feeling to know that there's always something new. There's always some new discovery and recovery, which is fun. It's really a journey that never ends. There's always something new. I'm learning about myself in this case in point. This was it. I learned something new I'm capable of doing, which is wonderful.

Danny:

And the show you mentioned at the very start the show launched, I think it was the fall 2020 when the first episode came out. So I'm curious, what are your goals for the future of the unashamed alcoholic? What's next for the podcast?

Becca:

You know, I think I'm just going to keep plugging away and finding guests who want to share their stories, and I'll just keep doing it until it's not fun anymore. And right now it's fun, it's enjoyable, it's fulfilling, it's satisfying, it's helping people. It helps me every time a little bit more. So until that's not happening, I'm just going to keep going. I don't have any specific goals in terms of building the show. Of course I'd love more people to listen, but that's solely for to help people. I mean, there's no other reason behind it. So all I can do is just keep putting out episodes and hopefully someone who was in my position or has a Becca somewhere in their lives, that helps somehow. That's all that matters.

Danny:

And I can attest to that. That definitely being the case. I know in one of your recent episodes, The Gas, I'm trying to remember the gas. I apologize. But he joked that he'd gone out to become an alcoholic just so he could get on a journey to not be an alcoholic who could appear on your show with the recent gas. I don't know. That was like a joke that you made at the time, but I thought that was hilarious. And just like testimony the people, how open they are with you and how your friendliness and how your approach allows them to be that kind of open.

Becca:

Yeah, that was Chad Richardson. And yes, that was very funny and very flattering.

Danny:

So, Becca, I really enjoyed chatting with you today. And I know people that are on their own journey or their friends and colleagues that have gone through the journey and family members with them will get a lot from yourself online as well as your podcast. So where would be the best place for people to connect with you to either listen to your show or connect with you? I know you're very active on Twitter for example. Where would the best place be for them?

Becca:

So the podcast is on all platforms Google, podcasts, Spotify, Apple, anywhere you get your podcast the unashamed alcoholic can be found you can also find it just by Googling my website where I put the podcast. Is there any speaking that I've done any other shows I've been on that's the unashamed alcoholic you can find it ashamedalcoholic. Ca and on Twitter which is the only social media platform I have because as an addict I have to manage how many things I'm into. One is good. So on Twitter I'm at unashamed.

Danny:

Alc that's awesome and I'll be sure to drop all of these links into the Show notes. So you're listening on your favorite podcast app. Head to the Show notes as normal. If you're on the website they'll be immediately under the episode so make sure you check that out and that will link you straight over to Becca's site, podcast and on Twitter. So again I really appreciate you coming on today, Becca and I know there'll be a lot of value for the listeners in today's episodes. I appreciate you. Thank you.

Becca:

Bye. Thank you so much for having me. I love the conversation.