The Tragic Story of How an Addiction Podcast Grew into a Recovery Community
After the overdose death of a ‘Dopey Podcast’ host, a founder shares the show’s unlikely path to popularity.
Image courtesy 'Dopey Podcast'
This article originally appeared on VICE Canada.
The friendship that spawned the Dopey Podcast began in March 2011, when two self-described addicts met in the smoking section of Mountainside Treatment Center, a Connecticut rehab encompassed by lush greenery. Dave, an ambitious, sharp-witted, and inquisitive Jewish waiter working for a Jewish deli and Chris, an endearing, sweet and goofy American-Irish Catholic with impressive writing chops. Dave from Manhattan and Chris from Boston, the two became fast friends and made their long-distance friendship work. After being discharged from Mountainside, they both did what addicts do best and ultimately relapsed. (This is something I personally know all about. I've written about my own struggles here and here.)
Dave started smoking weed and popping pills, which seemed a manageable alternative to his previous heroin addiction, but naturally it led to disaster regardless. Chris’s relapse looked a bit different. Chris was managing a sober living house, looking after fellow addicts and confiscating drugs when necessary, until he locked himself in the manager’s office and consumed, smoked, and injected all the drugs he had confiscated. Heroin, crack, psychedelics, you name it, he took it and relapsed with a bang.
After the relapses, which happened at different times, Chris had acquired an impressive two years of sobriety and Dave five long and hard-fought months. With the friends now clean and in recovery at the same time, Dave, who had wanted to be a Howard Stern-esque radio host for some time, propositioned Chris with his latest project: a podcast where the two would tell their completely depraved, laugh-til-you-cry drug stories. Tales of total destruction that normies, or people completely removed from the drug world, might gawk at and find hard to fathom. For anyone who’s walked a mile in those shoes, and surely a few others as well, the war stories of their addicted pasts are wildly entertaining. Their chemistry is undeniable, hooking the audience and making listeners feel as though they’re sitting amongst friends. Just a couple of addicts keeping a bunch of other addicts company.
In the first episode, Dave and Chris claimed they were not making a recovery podcast. As Dave puts it in January 2016, the Dopey Podcast is “not about the next best thing, but about the last bad thing.” But as the budding podcasters early in their recovery evolved, so did the podcast. And as recovery became incorporated, it grew and gained traction, hosting guests like TV personality Dr. Drew, Howard Stern show comedian Artie Lange, and former Guns n’ Roses drummer Steven Adler, to name a few.
In that same opening episode Chris used his flair for storytelling to paint a picture of himself running away from a California rehab called Impact—a rehab that sends a shiver down the spine of anyone who knows of it. Men and women aren’t allowed to hold eye contact there for more than a few seconds—just one of their rules that’s as strict as the rest. Rather than give a full-blown spoiler, I’ll just tell you the story involves third-wheeling it with rehab Romeo and Juliet runaways, an unusual traffic block, and a full-sized rotisserie turkey. Naturally anyone who tuned in for that one wanted more. In a later episode, Dave told an intense seizure story with perfectly timed Mexican food delivery—not what you’d expect to come across as a crowd-pleasing yarn.
Dave and Chris did occasionally want to hear someone else’s voice too, so they invited friends to call in, read emails from listeners, and play voice memos from members of the Dopey nation, which is now nearly 10,000 strong and growing according to Dave. One of the most distinct draws is the candid nature of the material week after week and the way Dave and Chris engage with the listeners. It’s easy to see how their loyal following would feel like they really were a part of something bigger. At the end of each episode, Dave and Chris sign off with, “Stay strong, Dopey nation,” addressing their subnation of addicts both sick and recovering within a much larger nation that has been impacted one way or another by addiction, specifically the opioid epidemic. Then an original song written and performed by Dave plays, an anthem of the addict’s mentality with lyrics like, “I wanna see a learjet liner take a dive, just to show all of these people what it means to be alive.”
When the podcast made it to episode 100 in October 2017, the duo opened the episode by reflecting on the past two years, discussing the future for themselves and the podcast. Thrilled at having made it to triple digits, they talked about where they’ll be when they reach quadruple digits, in approximately four and a half years time. “I’ll be a licensed clinical psychologist,” says Chris, then adding, “statistics say that I’ll be dead.” An Instagram follower had recently commented jokingly that he couldn’t wait until the episode that Dave and Chris relapse, initiating a discussion about what would actually happen if they did relapse.
“One of us will get injured and get pain meds and take them while doing Dopey,” said Chris in a jesting tone that can only be heard as eerie and foreshadowing when you listen to it now.
On the morning of July 24, Dave checked in with Chris via text, prompting a response telling Dave he was sleeping, he was good, he was alive. Three hours later Dave received a call from Chris’s girlfriend Annie, informing Dave that she had just walked into their home and found Chris’s body. As for when Chris exactly relapsed is still unknown but the people closest to him, after incessant over-analyzing, think it must have happened after Chris tore a ligament in his leg on vacation with his girlfriend. He was showing her how high he could karate kick. The precise nature of his prediction during episode 100, although said jokingly at the time, is unnerving.
Chris died while studying to be a doctor, attempting to understand and outsmart the very affliction that killed him. Dave announced the news to a shocked and devastated Dopey community via social media. Chris’s funeral was held in a massive Catholic church in Boston, the guest book was filled with hundreds of signatures and the priest read messages from listeners all over the world. Dave was one of the pallbearers.
When a fellow inpatient at your rehab goes out and overdoses, you’re prone to sadness but not surprise. When your rehab counselor goes out and overdoses however, it’s an entirely different set of emotions. Someone with a certain level of perceived stability in their recovery, even considered an authority on the means to a solid recovery, isn’t expected to fall off in such a drastic way. A permanent way. A deep sadness and profound shock rocked the community, thousands of people that considered the podcast—the debauchery, the recovery, the banter, and Chris’s laugh—an important piece of their own recovery. Without missing a beat, Dave signed on and delivered the weekly episode, just days after Chris’s death. Dave said the two never missed an episode and he doesn’t intend to start now.
Since Chris’s death, the downloads have doubled. Listeners have been tuning in to try and make sense of Chris’s relapse and untimely passing. It’s been a jolting wakeup call and an unfriendly reminder of what this disease is capable of. Dave has hosted Chris’s girlfriend, Annie; many of Chris’s closest friends the evening of the wake, Dr. Drew returned, and Dave brought on his fiancé Linda for the first time in Dopey history. On Chris’s birthday, Dave declared the day the first Dopey holiday and called it “Chrismiss,” and released one of the lost episodes, the first of several that had been deleted per Linda’s request.
As for the future of the podcast, Dave will continue on, still vowing to release an episode every week. While initially, the focus was to be solely on drug stories, it’s apparent now more than ever that Dopey’s main focus will be addicts living in recovery.“ Dopey will always have drug stories. It will always be about drugs, addiction, and dumb shit,” says Dave. “But my favorite dumb shit is what happens in recovery, and living sober as a drug addict. It’s like a murderer working in a hospital.” Dave won’t be filling Chris’s seat any time soon and will solo host Dopey until further notice. Chris’s legacy will live on through the episodes, and the lives he touched all around the world.
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