The following story originally appeared in the Montreal Gazette's June 29/2018 edition, in the Inside The CFL feature, written by Hall of Fame writer Herb Zurkowsky:
REGINA — More than three years later, Rod Pedersen still tells the story when asked, almost as though it has become cathartic to relive his battle with alcoholism and the subsequent fight to become sober.
And each time the narrative becomes easier, each graphic detail of a life that was spiralling into self-destruction flowing more readily.
“They say when you can tell your story without crying, you’ve healed,” Pedersen said. “Most times, I can tell it without crying.”
Pedersen, 45, a big fish in a small pond, has been the radio voice of the Saskatchewan Roughriders for 20 seasons, a broadcaster at Regina radio station CKRM since 1995. And he easily could have lost it all.
The native of Milestone, Sask., a farming community (pop. 640) 50 kilometres south of Regina, began drinking at age 16.
Perhaps Pedersen was bored living in such a small town. Or perhaps it was the peer pressure. Or perhaps he succumbed to a genetic predisposition. His father, Jim, also a recovering alcoholic, drank for 43 years until 1974, and warned his son the condition might be passed down.
“I knew it was a potential problem. It was causing problems in my life early on. I just wasn’t willing to look at them,” Pedersen said. “I was drinking until I blacked out, and that didn’t deter me. I could not quit. The idea of reaching out and asking for help never donned on me.
“I thank God I never tried drugs. I wouldn’t be sitting here, talking to you today. I’d be dead.”
Pedersen, once the voice of the junior hockey Prince Albert Raiders at age 20, never drank before or during a Riders broadcast — the sanctity of that job in Saskatchewan simply too important. But he also hosts a daily sports talk show that, at one point, was simultaneously sponsored by three breweries, all of which readily made their products available at the station. And it wasn’t uncommon for Pedersen to broadcast the show from banquets or sports bars.
“It (beer) was like a magic tonic to me. I literally couldn’t get enough of it,” he said. “I wanted to drink to the point where I couldn’t move. I had it stashed all over the station. If I didn’t black out, I didn’t think I was drunk. The floor of my car vehicle was littered with beer cans. Shockingly, I didn’t think that was a problem.”
In summer 2014, Pedersen successfully auditioned for his dream job and was hired to become the radio voice of the Calgary Flames. And, when his drinking problem was discovered, quickly, he was removed from the position. That sent him into a deep depression — later diagnosed as anxiety disorder — and accelerated his drinking.
“If you thought I drank too much, just watch me. Now I’m going to drink more,” he remembered vowing.
The more he drank, the louder and more obnoxious he became. Once the life of the party, the funny guy with the one-liners, Pedersen quickly discovered none of his friends wanted to associate with him.
“That becomes the loneliest place in the world and, frankly, quite embarrassing,” he said.
Pedersen mixed anti-depressants with alcohol while on the job. He was frequently sent home from work and was forced by his employer to sign documents stating, were he drunk in public or at work, he would be terminated. Finally, in January 2015, drugs in his system and so drunk he was incoherent, Pedersen was suspended, told to enter a recovery program or he’d be fired.
“I gave them more than enough reasons to terminate me,” he said.
The first year of his recovery battle was the most difficult, Pedersen said, avoiding the temptation of reaching for a drink; the constant battle raging in his head between the good and bad voices, along with the craving for alcohol.
Pedersen will never say for certain the habit has been kicked. He wants to say it’s behind him, and believes that to be true. He proudly proclaims he vacationed at an all-inclusive Mexican resort last winter, not one drop of alcohol touching his palate despite the voice in his head arguing nobody would know if he had just one drink. What would it matter?
Pedersen continues to attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings once a week. He attended classes in the U.S., received a diploma as an addiction-treatment specialist and coaches recovering alcoholics three or four times each week. He also works in conjunction with the Betty Ford Center.
Most importantly, on Saturday night, after the Riders-Alouettes broadcast concludes, Pedersen will go straight home where his wife since 2012, Cindy, will await.
“A lot of people didn’t think I could overcome this and win the battle,” Pedersen said proudly. “That was the fuel, to prove them wrong. It’s a happy story, and the world doesn’t have a lot of them.
“Don’t give up on yourself, because I did. Anybody can be saved.”
Friday, October 12, 2018
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