RYAN: So I’m excited to introduce you to our next speaker this afternoon. This is Christine Stapleton. Christine is a reporter at the Palm Beach Post and she’s been writing for a long time about mental health and recovery. We’re really grateful that she’s here at SRCCON:WORK. She’ll be giving a talk now and running a breakout session here in a few minutes. Drawing on her experience with addiction and depression over the course of 40 years as a working journalists. So I hope you get a chance to talk with Christine while she’s here.
A few things you might ask her about would be biking, scuba diving and she has a dog, named Mr. Dog. I know nothing about Mr. Dog than that. He must be a perfect gentleman, I’m sure. So right now, Christine’s gonna come up and she’s gonna share a little bit about newsroom culture. How it makes it hard to spot the point where substance use turns to substance abuse. So please help me welcome Christine.
CHRISTINE: Give me a second here. I’m going to put this on because I’m just going to talk all day. All right. I’m Christine, I’m an alcoholic. I’m also a journalist. I’ve been a journalist for almost 40 years. And I’m going to start on August 27th, 1998. That night I went to a party — an open-bar party which I really got invited to. So I was looking forward to it. I met with colleagues, an editor, and a photographer. We proceeded to get thoroughly trashed. I don’t have a lot of recollection of what happened that night. I was a black-out drinker.
But I do remember the morning after. My neighbor came over and I was tremendously hungover. Knock on the door, and said, are you okay? And I was like, not really. And he said, I was really worried about you because when I woke up this morning and went out to get the newspaper, your front door was wide open and your underwear was strewn about the front yard.
So you can laugh if you want.
[ Laughter ]
It’s kind of funny in hindsight. But that was the point in my drinking career and drug career — I’m an alcoholic, but I’m a drug addict, too. Alcohol is my favorite drug so don’t think that I have any — I’ve done it all pretty much.
So anyway, I decided — I was at a point where I was sick and tired of being sick and tired. So that was the day that I quit drinking. So now I have, like, almost 19 — what do I have, 19 years — clean and sober.
[ Applause ]
But I just — I was 12 years into my career at the Palm Beach Post. I’ve been there 31 years. So I had been a reporter for 12 years there, and also, you know, done some other journalism in other places while I was involved in my drinking career. So I was 12 years sober — or I was 12 years as a drunk at the Palm Beach Post before I got sober, and nobody during that time said anything to me about my drinking or drugging. And I don’t know if it’s just because they’re scared of me or it’s just a taboo subject but I wish somebody had.
Drinking is a part of journalism. It’s a part of our culture. You know, we live really hard lives. Journalists are hard people. We don’t make a lot of money. If you’re here to make money, skedaddle because it ain’t gonna happen in journalism. This is a calling. We live hard nights. We ask really hard questions. We work long, hard hours. We know this. We drink like fish and we cuss like sailors. I cuss like a well-educated sailor.
[ Laughter ]
But it’s a part of our culture. I mean, if you want a source to talk, you go to the bar for drinks. If you want to know who somebody is, you go to the bartender and you ask the bartender, who’s that? You know, you want to stop hearing the sound of a mother’s screaming as she’s watching a sheet being pulled over a bloody child over the ground because that’s what you did that afternoon, and you covered that story. You’re going to go home, and you’re going to drink, like me, a couple of bottles of chardonnay, or drink a six-pack of beer. You’re going to do something to deal with that sound so that you can sleep.
And after decades and decades and decades — in my case, four decades — of dealing with that, you’re going to encounter a shitload of stress. And I don’t even know how to convey it besides just cussing outright.
But anyway, alcohol is a part of our life. Drugs is now also a big part of our culture. I’ve just spent the last two and a half years dealing corruption with the drug industry, and I came home very latew one night and found my roommate dead with an opioid overdose. So I have some experience on the drug front, too. So if anyone wants to talk to me, feel free afterwards because I’ve kind of touched it all. But I want to tell you a few things about having — being an addict and an alcoholic in the newsroom, and dealing with addicts and alcoholics in the newsroom.
First thing you need to know about addicts and alcoholics is we do not like to be called on our shit, whether it be drinking, or our drug using — I hope there aren’t any kids in here. So if you are going to confront a colleague about their drinking or drug use, understand that you will probably never speak to that — very likely, you will never speak to that person again because I know that if somebody had approached me, I would not have spoken to them again.
The only alcoholics and addicts that are going to be receptive to you saying something to them are the ones who are on the edge of getting clean and sober anyway. They’re the ones on the edge of being sick and tired of being sick and tired. There was a guy that I worked with, very brilliant reporter — God, such a good writer — and he was clearly an alcoholic.
And I sent him an email one time telling him, hey, I’ve been sober for so many years and, you know, just concerned about you and if you — if you ever want to talk or anything, you know, just let me know. And he sent me back an email, “Don’t ever talk to me again. Don’t ever speak to me again. Don’t ever look at me again.” And I didn’t, and a year later, he was dead of cirrhosis.
And it was interesting because two of the top editors at the newspaper were trying to help him. They obviously knew nothing about alcoholism or drug use because they said to me, I said, hey, I’d like to help Michael if I can. If you guys — if you think of anything I can do because they knew I was going to recover. But they said, we went over to his house and got rid of all the alcohol. And I was like, really? Do you think that’s going to keep Michael sober — by taking all the bottles out? But that should be a lesson to any of the managers out there. This is a very prolific — and it’s a disease.
As a manager, I think managers should know about alcoholism and substance abuse and how to recognize it. It’s just not something that we can sweep under the rug anymore and I really think as a manager, it’s part of your responsibility in taking care of your employees and your workers to watch over, not just their physical health but their mental health. If somebody came in limping badly, or could barely walk, you would say something to them. It’s hard to do when it comes to mental health issues but as a manager, you’re responsible for doing something about that.
So, anyway, that’s one thing you want to know is that you’re probably gonna piss somebody off really bad, they may not talk to you again but you may have saved their life but I can tell you as an alcoholic, that nothing will ruin a drinking career faster than somebody calling you on your drinking, do you know what I mean? Because from then on, you know that somebody knows. You know, because for some stupid reason, that nobody notices our drinking! So, you know, bringing it up to someone is gonna really ruin your drinking career because they’re going to be — next time you drink and they see you, they’re going to be like, oh, man, that person thinks I have a drinking problem! So what if you’re an alcoholic or what if you think you have a substance-abuse problem?
First, if you’re asking that question of yourself, you might have a drinking or drug problem because people who don’t have drinking and drug problems don’t ask that question of themselves usually. So, you know, alcoholism is self-diagnosed. You can’t go have a blood test and they go, “Whoo-hoo! You’re an alcoholic! Here is some medicine.” So it’s something to be mindful of because if it’s going to get diagnosed, you’re the one who does it.
What happens when you decide that you are an alcoholic? What you are going to do? You can go to treatment. You can go to meetings. But you’re going to have to deal with what happens in the newsroom because — if you’re going to go to treatment, you’re going to be there for probably 30 days. And HIPAA prevents your boss from telling the rest of the newsroom why Christine is gone for 30 days. But we’re reporters — I mean, hello. We spend our lives trying to figure out shit, you know? Where that person is. So you can pretty much rest assured when you get back to the newsroom, everybody is going to be looking at you and probably knowing that, you know, Christine’s in treatment!
So that’s something you need to think about if you go to treatment and you come back to the newsroom, what you are going to do? What you are going to say to your colleagues? How are you going to respond to all this? Are you going to be out? Are you going to out yourself? I did. And I asked myself really seriously not just about substance abuse but — but I have not just depression, I’m bipolar. You have to think really long and hard about what you are going to say when you walk back into that newsroom. I mean, we like to think that we’re all enlightened and shit and liberal. But I can tell you there’s a lot of people in newsrooms who still think we’re pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps kind of people and you cannot pull yourself up by your bootstraps when you are severely depressed.
And you’ve got to understand if you go into a newsroom after an extended absence, and say, hey, I was depressed, there are people that are going to think you’re a weak person. And that was my fear and I was kind of a badass. I was really worried that when I came back in — hey, I had a nervous breakdown. I’m sure Erin can identify completely with this. You think that you broke it. You think that people are going to think that you’re a loser, and that you’re weak and everything else. And then they’re real cautious about — how are you — how are they going to act around you. I mean, you need to be ready for this whether it’s depression or substance abuse if you’re out. And the other thing is I was far enough along in my career, I was in my 40s. And wait — maybe I was in my 50s — well, anyway, I was pretty far along in my career. So I was making this decision on whether to come out or not, a lot of my friends said, don’t come out. Don’t tell them that you are an addict — or an alcoholic, and don’t tell them that you have depression, because remember what happened to Jane Pauley. You guys are too young. She was this newscaster and she came back out in the ’80s saying that she was depressed. And it was a big hoo-ha. But people said you know, Jane Pauley was a mess. So I decided I was far enough along in my career where I could come out and say — and maybe I would help somebody.
So I was real open about it but I’m going to tell you: think about your situation, okay? Think about your age, where you are in your career and who you’re working with, what your boss is like, what your coworkers are like before you make the decision to be all open about your substance abuse, or depression, or any mental health issue. And I hate to say that because I’m like the biggest cheerleader for getting rid of the stigma and everything, but it’s out there, and I would hate to see somebody, you know, out themselves and then relapse or, you know, worse. I’m droning on and on. I’m speaking too long here. So let me move on.
So those are a couple things you need to think about. I also want to touch on a couple of other things that happened. Once I got back, I learned — I did a lot of therapy, also and one of the things I learned was mindfulness, which is like a real Buddhist kind of thing. But in it, for me, as a journalist and as an alcoholic, mindfulness means that I gotta watch myself. Why — I’m not drinking anymore — you might want to ask yourself: why am I drinking? How often am I drinking? What am I drinking? Who am I drinking with? What time of day am I drinking? If you start suspecting that there’s maybe something wrong, same way if you’re using pills or whatever. I gotta watch my body. Why am I drinking? Is it because I’ve been covering this horrific story for the last two weeks. In my case, the opioid epidemic and I come home and my roommate’s dead on the floor? Why am I doing the things that I’m doing?
And the other thing that’s helpful and I’m going to wrap up here. When I got back, I got what I call a spotter. And I had an editor in the newsroom who I trusted, she’s a wonderful woman and I went to her when I came back and I said, hey, obviously, I don’t see things — because when I’m getting manic, I think I’m brilliant. I asked her, can you reel me in when you see me losing it? And she’s been wonderful. And she’s done that a few times and kissed me off severely but she was absolutely right.
So if you can find someone in your work environment who you trust and maybe will act as that spotter for you, or find someone that you can at least talk to about this stuff, and someone who can keep your confidences, I really recommend that. It’s almost 15 minutes. Talk to me. I’m going to be here the rest of the — if you want to talk anything about substance abuse, alcoholism, my experience, drug abuse, overdose, anything. I’m here. My email real quick is — I’ll give you my private email, it’s christinestapleton58, which was the year I was born, @gmail. Send me an email. I’m on Twitter. Contact me however you want. Thanks very much!
[ Applause ]
RYAN: Thank you, Christine, so much for sharing your expertise, your personal experience with us. With y’all just help me appreciate Erin and Christine one more time?
[ Applause ]
So we’ve been talking about some hard stuff. I want to call out, again, the resources that we have available to you as attendees and one more maybe on our website if you would like to access an AA meeting in the area, there’s information on our logistics page or you are absolutely welcome to come talk to me, or any staff member and we can help you find that resource. Right now, we have enough time for a short break and then we’re going to move into a couple sets of breakout sessions where we can talk some more about how we can support colleagues. How we can take care of each other, how we can take care of ourselves. So I’m really excited about these breakout sessions this afternoon. Thank you all for being here.
[ Applause ]