Inspired by NHL's Bobby Ryan, Gatineau woman steps out of the shadows

Gatineau's Becca Atkinson was inspired by Ottawa Senators winger Bobby Ryan to go public about her own alcohol addiction, and what it took for her to seek help.

Becca Atkinson decided to go public about her battle with alcoholism after Senators star set the example

Senators winger Bobby Ryan, left, and Becca Atkinson, who says she was inspired by Ryan's candour about his own struggles with alcohol addiction. (Becca Atkinson)

Ottawa Senators winger Bobby Ryan has struggled with his demons, recently taking time away from the NHL to get help for his alcohol addiction before rejoining the team in February.

On Monday, Ryan was awarded the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy for showing perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey.

In his acceptance speech, he talked about the ongoing work to overcome his addiction, and he encouraged others to reach out, as he has, for help.

Becca Atkinson says she used to plan her life around drinking. This is a picture from that time. (Submitted by Becca Atkinson)

It's not the first time Ryan has spoken candidly about his struggles with alcohol.

Now, his courage has inspired Gatineau's Becca Atkinson, 39, a public servant and mother who wrote an anonymous letter to the editor in March about her own alcohol addiction. 

This week, Atkinson retweeted that letter, but this time she revealed her identity.


Atkinson talked about her decision with Robyn Bresnahan on CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning. Their conversation has been edited for length.

Tell us why you wrote that original letter, and why you retweeted it with your name.

I was so moved and touched by his honesty and his courage to come forward. And then with him winning this trophy, there was so much talk again around his courage and bravery. I just thought, why can't I be honest, too? What is stopping me? So I thought, I'm going to put my name to this and post it. And it felt so freeing. It felt really good. 

In your letter, you thanked Bobby Ryan and said, "We're part of a club no one wants to join, but we're pretty darn lucky to be a part of." Can you explain what you mean by that? 

The big misconception around alcohol addiction is that you're down and out. You've lost your job. You've lost your kids. You've lost your house. And that could be the case, but it wasn't for me. You end up learning so much about yourself. I'm proud of who I've become and I don't want to be quiet about it anymore. It's shaped me into what I think is a better human being. You're so proud of the work and the struggle you've done. But the irony is, we have to be quiet about it, because of the stereotyping around alcohol addiction. 

Becca Atkinson with a souvenir from a Sens game. (Submitted by Becca Atkinson)

Can you tell me about the day that you decided to quit drinking?

It was a long process. As I had kids, the thinking about stopping got more and more prominent because it was affecting my life with them. I was planning [everything around drinking]. I was cutting bedtime [routines] and reading at bedtimes short with them so I could go back downstairs and drink.

I remember waking up after my grandmother's funeral and I was just so unbelievably hungover and I thought, how is this possible that I'm sick and hungover after a funeral? OK, I think I really have a problem. I was sick of that loop. Every single minute of my day was planned around drinking. But again, no one would look at me and think I had a problem. I had a marriage, a house, a job, my kids, everything was "fine."  So that's what I wanted to do with this [letter]. You've no idea who it's touching. Alcoholism doesn't discriminate. 

The fact my kids will never know me drunk is the best gift that I can give myself, and that I can give them.- Becca Atkinson

How did you stop? Did you get help? 

Yes. And I think that's the other part. We want to take away that shame around asking for help. Bobby Ryan got help and he openly talks about that. That's a personal journey for everyone. It just depends on what you need and how you want to go about it. I had incredible support from everyone around me. I found something that worked for me and that continues to work. It's an ongoing process. And I'll continue to do this for the rest of my life, because the second I stop paying attention to it, it's back in my life in a second. So I need to keep it as my number one priority.

It's been three years since you quit booze. How has your life changed? 

I couldn't imagine going back to drinking now because my life has changed so much for the better. This is going to make me emotional. I have a relationship with my sister again. I have improved in every aspect of my life that I can imagine. I would never, ever drink again because I know how much better my life is now. The fact my kids will never know me drunk is the best gift that I can give myself, and that I can give them.

Becca Atkinson, sober. 'I feel everything, good and bad, which isn't always great. But I live my life now. I'm truly living my life.' (Becca Atkinson)

How are those bedtimes now? How are those bedtime stories with the kids? 

Reading a story can still be painful, but it's much better. I look forward to having a coffee downstairs or eating ice cream and just watching my reality TV. But I'm present and I wouldn't change anything for the world. Now I feel everything, good and bad, which isn't always great. But I live my life now. I'm truly living my life now. 

What would you say to Bobby Ryan if you met him? 

Thank you. He's inspired me to step out of the shadow of shame. I'm really, really grateful for him. So thank you. I'm sure I'm not the only one he's inspired.

CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning

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