Ralph Sara hits the big time.
“This is my studio,” Sara said, pointing to a rectangular PVC pipe frame draped in blue moving blankets. “It’s the bedroom.”
He laughed as he showed off the setup from his Anchorage apartment, but it’s actually bigger than his last studio.
“You know, when I first started doing the podcast, I was next in the closet,” he said.
Sara, who is Yup’ik and from Bethel, calls her show The Anonymous Eskimo Recovery Podcast. It features interviews with people on their recovery journeys. When Sara started, in 2020, he had just left residential treatment, was attending many Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, and was trying to mend his relationship with his family.
“When I started the podcast, I selfishly did it for myself,” he said. “I thought, ‘This podcast is going to hold me accountable’ because if I do this podcast, I can’t do it when I’m drinking or else it’s just a prank.” You know, I lie to everyone, so I can’t do this.
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Sara describes herself as a chronic relapser. He said he wanted to be sober but always found reasons to drink. Then he got a felony DUI while riding his motorcycle and ended up in another residential treatment center. Finally something clicked.
“I didn’t want to lose anything anymore,” he said. “I didn’t want to lose my family anymore. You know, my children, my loved ones. He paused and then joked, “And material things of course.”
He decided to finally open up to one of the clinicians. He spoke and wrote about his past.
“I spent a lot of time in treatment,” he said. “So I wrote and wrote. I wrote it kind of like a book.
Sara thought a book sounded like a big project to try, but a podcast might be doable. When he left treatment, he searched for Indigenous recovery podcasts and found none. So he threw his. He knew that listening to people’s healing stories was helpful and would keep him on the right track.
At first, to attract guests for his show, he scoured social media posts and asked people who wrote about their recovery journey to come on his podcast. Some people said no simply because of the show’s title – Sara’s humorous dig into both AA and the language change. Now he says people are approaching him to participate in the program.
“People are starting to take pride in being in recovery and showing others that they are not alone, that recovery is possible and that it is possible to help others by sharing their stories. “, did he declare.
Since mid-2020, he has produced over 60 episodes and spoken with people across the continent and near his home. One of its most recent episodes features Napakiak’s Jeff Egoak. The two men first met in Bethel years ago and then again when Egoak worked at the front desk of the treatment center where Sara got help.
During the episode, Sara told Egoak, “To see another Native American working there, helping out — it just meant the world to me.”
Egoak replied that he wanted to cheer people up when they enter the center. He greets the natives in Yup’ik to make them feel more welcome.
“I’m glad I was there to inspire and help,” he told Sara. “And you know I’m a very big advocate for sobriety.”
For the podcast, Sara said he speaks primarily with Indigenous people because their voices are underrepresented in the recovery world.
“Being Indigenous I think and having this podcast gives other Indigenous people a voice that they never had before because it was so frowned upon to talk about what you’re going through,” he said. .
He feels like when he was growing up, people couldn’t talk about their traumas or their mental health issues.
“You can’t cry if you’re an aboriginal man, you know?” he said. “You can’t talk about things that bother you or hurt you. You must be a strong and stoic person, right? »
Sara, a lifelong musician, submitted a book about his life to the Rasmuson Foundation using what he wrote during treatment as well as plans to write an album to go along with it. He won one of their 2021 Individual Artist Awards. That’s when he had to move from the closet to the bedroom, so he also had room to record music.
He’s still writing songs and working on the book. It is a long but healing process.
“It’s kind of therapy for me to let it go back up and then let it go again,” he said.
Sara said he hopes his story helps people, just as the podcast has helped him and his listeners by reminding them that they are not alone and that healing is possible.
This story is part an ongoing solutions journalism project to Alaska Public Media on the destigmatization of mental health. The project is funded by a grant from the Alaska Mental Health Trust but is editorially independent.
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