For many years, Westwood native Dan Sullivan struggled with alcoholism that started with experimental drinking as a youth and escalated into more serious drinking as a young man.
Now the 43-year-old, recently of Franklin, who in December celebrated 17 years of sobriety, is using the Internet to help others going through the same struggle.
Sullivan's podcast, "Just For Today," is the No. 1 sobriety program on iTunes, according to the show's production company, Hipfire Productions, based in Melrose.
"Our first show aired on Jan. 1 of 2007. We posted 103 shows in 12 months," Sullivan said, noting that his top downloaded sober podcast, aajustfortoday.org, gets about 18,000 hits each month.
Reaching thousands of recovering alcoholics with the message of staying sober "one day at a time," Sullivan began recording his podcast - a kind of program available for downloading from the Internet - from the basement of his Franklin home; now he creates the program from a new home in Rhode Island, to which he moved in December. He talks with others dealing with alcoholism, and conducts interviews with authors and other professionals also helping alcoholics recover.
"I just want to be a voice in the wilderness that's willing to talk to you about my pain and stupidity in alcoholism and that there is life afterwards. This isn't a lifelong sentence. You didn't come out of the womb drinking a beer or a scotch ... you had a time in your life where you lived without alcohol and you probably lived pretty good," Sullivan said.
The former radio sports show broadcaster who now holds two jobs - one as a sales representative for a computer services company in Rhode Island and one as a part-time karaoke host - says his goal is simple.
"I don't want to make any money from this. I just want to help other people get sober," he said. "My goal is, if I help one person, I'll be happy, and everything else will just be gravy."
Sullivan decided he wanted to help others like himself about 14 years into becoming involved with Alcoholics Anonymous.
"I'd gotten so much from the program, I was trying to figure out a way to give back," he said.
One day, while trolling craigslist.com, he came upon an ad looking for ideas for podcasts. He called the number and suggested podcasts about marriage and sobriety. The company that placed the ad, Hipfire, told Sullivan to work on the sobriety podcast idea.
"They said to put together a pilot show and they'd decide whether it was something they might want to start up," Sullivan said.
"A podcast is like an on-demand radio talk show," executive producer Rick Schettino, of Hipfire Productions, explained. "This content is not commercial enough for a radio station to take on, but the Internet makes that a moot point because you don't have to be in range of the radio station nor even in the same country. And you don't have to be available at the time that they broadcast the show to listen in. It's at your fingertips on your computer or on your iPod 24/7."
After answering the Hipfire ad, Sullivan cranked up his recording equipment and "just started talking" about his struggles with alcoholism and about sobriety. "And an hour later I was still talking, so I shut it down, and put a beginning and an ending on it," he said.
"When Dan contacted us about doing a sobriety podcast, we realized that there's a huge need to enable people like Dan to do their thing," said Schettino. "There are plenty of challenges that we all face. It's hard to care much about topics like global warming when your own life is in shambles. We need a healthy population if we're going to solve the problems that we all share."
The first week, Sullivan said, he got an e-mail from a man who said "this is great. It's helped me a lot." Now, Sullivan said, he gets e-mails from all over the nation and the world, including Australia and South America.
Sullivan is known only as Dan on his podcast - he withholds his last name in keeping with the philosophy of AA. He stresses that his podcast is not meant to be a replacement for professional help or AA meetings. The show is not affiliated with AA.
"Basically, it's a bridge. It's not a substitute for a meeting, it's a bridge," Sullivan said.
He doesn't present himself as a professional, Sullivan said, but rather as a voice of someone who has gone through it.
"I'm just telling you (on the podcast) from my experience what's worked (to stay sober) for 17 years," he said.
Sullivan revealed that he had his first drink when he was in sixth grade. "Nothing serious, but as I got into my middle to late teens it got more serious," he said. "I drank from about 16 to 27, when I got off the train."
During his struggle, he said, "I lost the respect of family and friends, lost jobs, and money... I had no emotion, nothing but doom, death and despair in my life. I didn't know what I was going to do."
"I got to the end and I was dying and I said 'I don't want to check out at 27 years old,' " he said.
While he has been sober for 17 years, Sullivan admits it remains a struggle, which is the reason the premise for his show - one day at a time - is so significant not only for him, but for others like him.
"I have one responsibility today and that is to not take a drink today. All I've got to do is not drink today. It's getting into that mindset of making the most of every single day that you have and making sure that you don't screw up by having a drink."