Meet the podcasters bringing Alcoholics Anonymous into the digital age

Andrew took his life on July 2, 2012. He was 26 years old. Later that month, his father, Mark, hosted the 372nd episode of “Recovered,” an unofficial Alcoholics Anonymous podcast. There isn’t an official one.

His voice cracking with emotion, his sentences punctuated with pregnant pauses, Mark read from The Big Book, the fundamental text for AA, and played songs by Wilco and The Avett Brothers.

For many years, Mark and Andrew had both struggled with addiction. Both had sought help. Andrew entered the AA fellowship in November 2002 at sixteen years old. Six months later, Andrew confronted his father about his own alcoholism and took Mark to his first AA meeting. Mark stayed in. Andrew struggled.

Mark records the “Recovered” podcast alongside his colleagues in his late son Andrew’s bedroom on March 28, 2017. | Photo by Brittany Greeson

A 56-year-old engineer based in Canton, Michigan, Mark now records the “Recovered” podcast in his son’s bedroom. Four microphones dominate a space filled with reminders: Andrew’s dresser, clothes, wallet and cellphone; his Playskool cassette recorder.

Sharing Andrew’s story on his podcast, Mark advised his listeners, “[If] you feel like there’s no hope and you have no future, find a sponsor. And hold on.”

While other podcasters explore topics like true crime, politics, TV and film, Mark and his guests talk about their lives in recovery. They share stories about entanglements with law enforcement, finding a sponsor, managing lasting health issues, and avoiding alcohol during the holidays.

Back in 2007, when Mark started recording “Recovered,” there weren’t a lot of recovery-based podcasts out there. Many of those that launched had “pod-faded,” meaning podcasters had started them but then gave up on producing new episodes.

“Recovered” grew out of Mark’s practice of exchanging MP3 recordings with Andrew while he was still a high school student living at home. One day Mark was struggling with guiding a sponsee and Andrew planted the seed by suggesting he record a podcast on the topic of recovery.

Mark has been recording his podcast for nearly a decade now. It averages more than 50,000 downloads a month.

These days, he’s far from alone. Plug “AA” or “Alcoholics Anonymous” or “Recovery” into your iTunes search and you’ll find the options are abundant and growing. Like many of the podcasters who spoke for this story, Mark has asked that his full name not be used. For the 1.2 million people in the U.S. who attend AA meetings, anonymity is key. It has been so since the 1930s, when Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith founded Alcoholics Anonymous.

“That’s the way [AA] protects itself,” Mark says. “Because in the early history, people were on the radio speaking for Alcoholics Anonymous, and then they’d relapse and go get drunk. And the organization would take a huge hit.”

The first time Mark got drunk was at age fourteen. The occasion was his sister’s wedding. He threw up in the bathroom during the reception. He continued using drugs and alcohol throughout his life.

Upon graduating college, he married his high school sweetheart. When their kids were still young, he began looking forward more and more to his quiet moments alone with his TV, his hockey game and his beer.

He stopped for a year on his own. Then he had a beer. He began drinking in secret: vodka in a water bottle, Halls Mentho-Lyptus drops to hide the alcohol on his breath. The dual life made him increasingly desperate and miserable.

Meanwhile, Andrew, who had suffered from anxiety and depression, was injured on his high school wrestling team and discovered the joys of Vicodin.

“When he took the Vicodin, it just settled his whole world down,” Mark says. “Within a year, he was a full-on heroin addict. He was 15.”