Sunday, April 21, 2019

AN INSPIRATIONAL VOICE OF REASON


By: Darcie Khounnoraj
Kipling Citizen

"The conflict is that so many people will show up and listen to you speak about the Roughriders, they all yell and scream and go crazy and that's good, but the recovery/mental health aspect isn't as sexy or glamorous so it's a quieter group, yet you're having a bigger impact," Rod Pedersen, known as the Voice of the Riders, shared in Kipling, SK this month how he uses his voice to help those with addictions and mental illness versus the play-by-play commentary. "The only problem that I have is that I wish more people would speak up because addictions and mental health affect everybody in some way but nobody wants to talk about it."

Rod Pedersen kept the target audience up to date across Saskatchewan for 30 years with the play-by-play commentary for sports fans. Visiting the Kipling community, Pedersen presented his story to more than 120 people at the Kipling Community Centre on Sunday, March 31 sponsored by Kipling Ministerial and Gee Bee Construction.

On Monday, April 1, the Kipling School students (grades 7-12) listened attentively to Pedersen as he spoke of his struggles with alcoholism and the detrimental state of his well-being and the divide in his family while he lived with his addiction.

"I couldn't wait to get to Kipling because this is what my passion is now. I still do the sports banquets because they help raise money in communities, but I'd rather do this!" Pedersen smiled. "If somebody asks me to speak on Recovery, I will show up and speak. Because I'm so new at it, we'll find out in the years ahead what the impact is because I don't know what impact it is having (right now).

"The reason why I'm getting so many opportunities to speak is because it's very rare for somebody to stand in front of a room and say what all their deficiencies have been as a human being - it's so rare - but I don't mind because the worst is over for me as far as I'm concerned!"

Pedersen stated, "I used to have to drink six beer in a half an hour before I went on stage but about 5-6 months into recovery - with alcohol no longer an option - I found a new way to deal with the stress of public speaking. I didn't have that anxiety anymore 'cause I found the tools in recovery to do it. So that was a big change in me. The fact is there really isn't any stress at all. I created it in my head."

Pedersen has spoken to the public for more than three decades but it hasn't always been easy. As a child, Pedersen heard stories from his father who quit drinking 'cold turkey' when Rod was 2 years old. Pedersen spoke of how his father warned him of the dangers of drinking and smoking, noting that he avoided smoking because he disliked his father's bad habit - but drinking was another story.

Pedersen shared his own battles with anxiety, sleepwalking and moods that destroyed relationships and friendships - the early signs of addiction and mental illness.

As a young hockey player, Pedersen described himself as a person with big dreams in the sports industry, knowing early on that he wanted to be a voice heard on the radio. While attending college, his road to addiction began at parties equipped with a variety of drugs and alcohol, peer pressure and the idea of a carefree lifestyle. Although he stayed clear of the drug scene, Pedersen found himself in countless scenarios of blackouts and drunken state into his adult years.

Into his 30s, Pedersen admitted having a negative attitude about his life and the people he shared it with. He recalled a time when he was offered free bar tabs at party scenes just because of who he was.

"The opportunity was there and no one ever stopped me. One day I finally said 'now is the time - I'm going to be like Dad and stop (drinking). But I couldn't," Pedersen described. "It had me in its grasp. I felt trapped in alcoholism and it wasn't nice."

Pedersen admitted that there was a time in his life that he lost the will to live, stating 'I really didn't want to live but I really didn't want to die either.' He lost his ability to motivate himself in his career and personal life, his relationships with family depleted and his life was spiralling out of control.

"I got a prescription for anti-depressants but was never told to stop drinking. I found out that not a pill in the world would change my addiction or the mess I'd made of my life," Pedersen shared. "I had two options when I faced an intervention: Door A - accept the help, go into recovery and save my life or Door B - keep going the way I was going, but be terminated from my job and lose my family. I chose Door A."

While in recovery, Pedersen learned that he not only had an addiction, a disease, but that he also lived with a variety of mental illnesses. An assessment revealed depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, attention deficit disorder, and addiction. "It was a snapshot of my whole life," he said. "I wasn't angry when I found that out at all. It totally described my whole life to that point."

Now as a trained Interventionist, and through recovery, Pedersen has seen the worst of the worst. He advised that addictions come in all forms including alcohol, drugs, food, sex, video games and more. People become trapped in addictions due to boredom, stress, money issues, limited self-control and to escape their lives.

"People can see that you are struggling but until you decide that you don't want to live that way anymore, they can't really help you. You really have to want to turn your life around - the resources are there," Pedersen assured, adding that the support system also has to stay focused on recovery.

"When the family says enough is enough, they need to be a united front. If there is one weak link in the chain, everything goes down."

As a Drug & Alcohol Treatment Specialist, Interventionist, Mental Health Advocate and Sober Coach, Rod Pedersen's voice will still be heard across the province, only now he speaks up for those with addictions and mental illness.

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