Sober coach and mental health advocate Rod Pedersen hopes his personal journey of battling with alcoholism can make a difference to help others to find a way to recovery.
The Drug Strategy Action Committee in Swift Current hosted two events where the former voice of the Saskatchewan Roughriders shared his story.
A community presentation took place during an evening event at Walker Place on April 7 and he spoke to Grade 9-12 students at Swift Current Comprehensive High School the following morning.
“I don’t find it difficult at all,” he said after his first presentation. “From the moment I gave my first speech about getting sober. You heard it, I lived 25 years in shame and guilt and I’m not going to live the next 25 that way. So if it helps somebody along the way I’m going to do it.”
He struggled with anxiety since a young age, but he only realized he was suffering from mental illness after he began his recovery. He discovered alcohol at the age of 16 and it became a magic tonic that made it easier to talk to people and also took away his anxious feelings and fears.
His drinking habits became worse over the years until his life was completely taken over by alcohol. An opportunity in 2014 to become the voice of the Calgary Flames never materialized because someone warned the team that he was an alcoholic. After that disappointment he drank even more and he received a warning at work, but it made no difference.
He had no more joy in life and went to see a doctor, who prescribed anti-depressants without addressing Pedersen’s excessive drinking. He started to use more pills than the prescribed dose, because he thought it will help him to feel better.
The use of anti-depressants and heavy drinking caused his rock bottom on Jan. 26, 2015 at the radio station, when he went on air in an intoxicated state. He was suspended and his first day of sobriety started the following day, when he was told to either get into recovery or lose his job.
He spoke for the first time in public about his alcohol addiction at a recovery day event in Regina in September 2016. He was surprised by the positive response and he was contacted by people from across Canada who told him how his story helped them not to drink.
Since then Pedersen has realized he can make a difference by sharing his story, and that there is no shame in doing it.
“The whole province knew I was a drunk,” he said. “So who cares if the whole province knows I got sober, and when you talk about the stories of losing my NHL dream because of alcohol, I look back and say it’s the best thing that ever happened to me years later, because it caused my rock bottom and got me into recovery. I am one of those guys that says everything happens for a reason and the past is the past. My regrets are behind me, and life’s great now and I would tell anybody just thinking about making a change like this, to do it, because I don’t regret stopping drinking, that’s for sure.”
He believes it is important to speak to young people about mental health issues and alcoholism, because he knows what that experience was like when he was their age.
“There weren’t the resources back then when I was a teenager, there just weren’t, but there are for kids now,” he said. “So the reason I’m talking to so many people, in particular young people, is I don’t want to see them lose their dreams and I definitely don’t want to see them lose whatever is dear to them, their families.”
He still remembers an important moment in his life when he was nine years old. A speaker at his school warned students not to do drugs, and that advice has prevented Pedersen from ever getting into drugs, even though there were many opportunities over the years.
“I lost enough, I didn’t lose it all, thank God,” he said. “But that guy, when I was nine, who told me not to do drugs, I don’t even know his name. He saved my life. If some kid can look back and say this guy one day in Swift Current told me this and that’s what I’m going to do and it changed my life, I would like to pay forward what he did for me.”
He did not plan to become a sober coach, but it happened and he is now the founder and CEO of Pedersen Recovery. He has a diploma as a drug and alcohol treatment specialist and he is a trained interventionist.
“When I was getting training in New York to be an interventionist I told the lady that was running it, I don’t belong here,” he recalled. “I’m a football announcer drunk from Canada, I don’t have 27 letters behind my name like all the other people here. And she said ‘You were invited here for a reason; this is happening in your life; get out of the way, let it happen.’”
Pedersen pointed to his “One Day at a Time” wrist bracelet, which symbolizes his approach to life since he started his recovery.
“Every dream, every goal I had I blew out of the water because of my own actions,” he said. “So everybody asks me now what’s your goal and I don’t have one. Every morning when I get up out of bed I try to be a good person. I help people and you know what, it’s going pretty good, but I don’t know what’s next. I didn’t plan to do any of these things that are happening in my life, but they feel good and I’m following with what feels good.”
He believes the legalization of cannabis was a bad decision, and he hopes the taxation revenue will be used to fund prevention and recovery programs. According to Pedersen there is still a shortage of aftercare programs in Saskatchewan and elsewhere in the country. The presence of sober homes in communities can make a difference to assist individuals with their recovery.
“They need to stay sober and they’re in a sober community with other residents, which is great,” he said. “It’s the best way to get sober, and as long as they’re sober they can live in there as long as they want, but if they relapse they get 15 minutes to get their stuff and move out.”
He hosts the Pedersen Recovery podcast, which is also something he did not plan to do since he started his own recovery. He speaks at treatment recovery centres around the country and people suggested he should start a podcast.
“I started it with just people in sports and entertainment, and it ended up being some pretty big names telling their story of recovery,” he said. “All of a sudden they started playing these in treatment centres across the country to the members. It’s people telling their stories, and I know one thing. When public people come out with their stories of recovery, it makes the average Joe saying if he can do it, I can do it. I hear that all the time. I have people writing in Facebook saying if it’s cool for Rod Pedersen to be sober, it’s cool for me to be sober. So doing those interviews helps me stay sober, and what I hear is that it helps others.”