CHARLOTTE, North Carolina
Robbie Shaw is trying to articulate a definition of “alcoholic” for a visitor to his Dilworth home. And by his own admission, the 45-year-old Charlotte native – who by all accounts would have been considered a raging alcoholic when he was younger – is going through a tough time.
“The reason is that it’s different for everyone,” says Shaw. “Someone might say, ‘An alcoholic gets fired, loses money, screws up relationships, ends up in a gutter.’ Well, sure, he’s an alcoholic. But then there’s the guy who has none of that, has tons of money, the family is actually pretty intact. He could still be an alcoholic. .
“It’s not about external consequences that make you, or don’t make you, an alcoholic,” he continues. The most important question, he says, is “What happens when you drink?” … How does alcohol affect you?
Shaw could go on and on about this topic, and he often does — for 45 minutes to an hour at a time, every two weeks, on “Champagne Problems,” the alcohol-themed podcast that he helped create and co-hosts with Patrick Balsley and Samantha Hampson.
Since its launch just under a year ago, the show has garnered a loyal following and strong reviews thanks to a variety of factors, from a wellness-focused approach that transcends the recovering community to a wide range of (often surprisingly notable) guests. to the honesty, accessibility and lightness of the hosts.
In another year, Shaw thinks the show might have a shot at being financially self-sufficient thanks to sponsors and advertisers.
He knows it won’t be easy. But he also knows this: Nothing is ever.
“IT WAS HELL ON EARTH”
Shaw is quick to suggest that her story isn’t all that unique. “That’s not even close,” he said, “to the worst I’ve ever heard.”
While this may be true, it’s worth pointing out that, first, he’s heard far worse stories about addiction than the average person simply because he’s been around far more alcoholics than most of us. ; and second, the fact that his story isn’t unique — that it might affect more people than you might think — is perhaps why it’s so helpful for him to share it.
At the end of last year, he devoted an entire episode of “Problèmes de Champagne” to his personal journey.
In it, Shaw recounts his early experiences with alcohol, as a sixth-grade student at Alexander Graham Middle School near SouthPark who fell ill, but “couldn’t wait to do it again” because being under the influence did him so much good.
He explains how he thinks mental health issues were passed on to him by his father, a depression sufferer, and claims that “alcoholism wasn’t passed on to me…everything that created the craving for alcohol on me. has been transmitted. “The onset of severe anxiety and depression in college, coupled with his alcohol addiction, caused him to ruin his relationships; developing habits involving other drugs; to sparkle in his role as a junior college basketball player at UNC-Chapel Hill; and take 7 and a half years to graduate.
His problems continued to escalate after college, reaching a crescendo with him in his late twenties – at the end of a 2006 bender that saw him kicked out of a friend’s house for being hammered , arrested for (his fourth) DUI, and getting the jerks while waiting to get out of a tank drunk. He says he swallowed his last sips of alcohol while being driven by an unknown person to a rehabilitation center in Los Angeles.
What flipped the switch for him?
“I really wish I could explain it,” Shaw told the Observer. “I think it just got to a point where it – you know, that’s the only way to stop something is to find that space in your head where you really don’t want it anymore. . .. For me, it’s those memories of that story that I told, of being in California and really being in those last moments of my last night drinking. It was hell on earth. was awful.
“So that’s how I got to this place. I never want to feel that again.
Just over three years after quitting drinking — armed with his freshly minted master’s degree from the University of Southern Maine — he was well on his way to becoming a licensed addiction counselor and clinical professional counselor.
He was eager to give back to the world.
“I FEEL LIKE I HAVE AN OBLIGATION”
Before he could get the certifications he needed to step into his new calling, he and his wife Ashley McDonell welcomed their first and only child, daughter Finley; and Shaw chose to put his plans on hold, to be a stay-at-home dad.
But around the time his daughter was 2 years old, Shaw suddenly found himself in trouble. Twice, following major oral surgery and the rupture of two discs in his back, doctors prescribed him opioids. Both times he ended up abusing them.
“‘Whoa, that makes me feel a little different,'” Shaw recalled thinking to himself. “’I can get used to it.’ All of a sudden, every time I don’t feel so good, ‘Oooo, I know something that makes me feel better. … I want to feel different right now – “he snaps his fingers” – now. Because I hate how I feel right now.
Fortunately, he says, he recognized and fixed his problem before it became destructive. He says he hasn’t taken pills in years.
And after re-entering recovery, Shaw was ready to try helping others again. But instead of advising, he decided to go into coaching – sobriety coaching, recovery coaching, family recovery coaching, wellness coaching, etc. , essentially, saving lives.
He even started to believe that he might have a book in him.
“From the day I was born until today, alcohol has played a role in my life,” says Shaw. “With that…I thought, Man, I’m in a unique position. I’m not sure I can find out more about alcohol. That’s not true, but that’s the way it is. … And I feel like I have an obligation, a responsibility, to share those things.
He started trying to write it about three years ago. Early in the process, however, he sought advice from an author friend, and that friend had a suggestion: if he hoped to maximize a book’s audience, he should be seen as some sort of authority who had some sort of of Next.
So this person asked him, how about a podcast?
FIND SUCCESS — AND A SENSE OF PEACE
Shaw quickly warmed to the idea and started taking it off in earnest at the end of 2020.
He was introduced to his first co-host – Balsley, a Charlotte-based alcohol and drug counselor and recovering alcoholic, himself – through mutual friends. Then, after deciding the show shouldn’t be about two white men who don’t drink, he brought in Hampson, a licensed clinical addictions specialist in the area who drinks.
After a lot of brainstorming, he says they decided to avoid making it a podcast about how to quit drinking, but instead approach the topic “from a wellness perspective.” Let’s look at this from a perspective that everyone can get on board with. Let’s not just say, “It’s about alcohol and how bad it is for you.” Let’s give information. I want everyone to know everything you can know about alcohol, so you can make a rational decision about your relationship with it.
Now, with the book squarely on the back burner and the podcast about to turn 1 year old on April 4, “Champagne Problems” seems to be hitting its stride.
Shaw says it averages around 1,600 plays per episode, with top episodes averaging nearly 3,000 plays. According to data from industry website The Podcast Host, this places “Champagne Problems” in the top 10% of podcasts by listenership.
On Apple’s podcast website, it has a 5 out of 5 star rating based on nearly 200 reviews.
And guests have included singer-songwriter Edwin McCain, who appeared on the show in January, and activist-writer-filmmaker Jean Kilbourne; Shaw says they also recently taped an upcoming episode with three-time Olympic gold medalist and volleyball player Kerri Walsh Jennings. (In case you were wondering how they managed to attract this caliber of guests, he says it’s a combination of having a huge network of helpful friends and the fact that the podcast’s unique approach has been a key launch point.)
Oh, and believe it or not, Shaw hates public speaking. This has always been a source of anxiety for him. So after pushing the recording of a podcast, it comes off with a big natural rush.
Any other way he’s getting high these days? Take brief cold dives in 45 degree water.
“So here’s what I figured out about how to get a rush that isn’t artificial,” Shaw says. “It takes pain. Think of it in the sense of running a marathon. You suffer from it. It is not easy. It hurts. The pain, the courage, the mental anguish that you have to go through to push, push, push, push, just to get that reward in the end.
But while he says he is finally, at 45, done with mind-altering substances – having recently overcome other addiction issues not related to alcohol – and while he says he has really grown with every setback he’s overcome, he admits he’s far from having all the answers.
Which, he says, is fine.
“Anyone who lives in this world and leads an honest life knows that’s not realistic and we’re all struggling,” Shaw says. “Nobody got it. That’s what I want people to know is that you’re not alone. You’re not weird. There’s nothing wrong with you. J “I’ve been through all those things we just talked about, and I’m still struggling. Why? Because that’s life. There’s nothing wrong with me.