After struggling with a gambling addiction for a significant period of his life, Allen Christensen wanted to raise awareness for addiction and adversity to help reduce the stigma surrounding mental health. Supported by two of his brothers and a close friend, Christensen started the Addicted to the Game podcast to speak candidly about his own battles and with other guests who have been through similar situations. Christensen spoke to AFLPlayers.com.au shortly after launching his podcast about his experience with addiction and the importance of speaking out.
How did the idea come about to start the podcast but also to have your brothers and close friend join you?
The idea probably came about because we all love Ice Hockey and all listen to a podcast and talk about it. I was listening one day and there was a guy on there who spoke about how after his hockey career had finished he became addicted to painkillers and over-the-counter medication. I was listening to him speak and thought it was amazing to hear him speak about his addiction but also how open he was. I thought, you know what? I should just approach the boys and we can have some fun with it but have our overarching theme of ‘talking smack and fighting back.’ That’s where the initial idea came from.
You spoke a little bit during the start of your podcast about wanting to create awareness for addiction and adversity that arises out of addiction, whether that be for the person themselves or someone close to them. How important was it to make that a clear focus of what you want to achieve with the podcast?
It was really important. If I wanted it to just be about addiction and myself, I would’ve just made it about myself and I would’ve been the only one on it. By having my brothers and a mate on it, it gives an overarching theme and support to all of the people who are affected by addiction. What I want to get out of it, is that yes I might be the AFL player on it and I can use my voice as a platform, but it isn’t just about me. It’s not my podcast, it’s me, my brothers and Jimmy. At the end of the day, I might be driving the media but hopefully people can listen to it and hear the other voices and the other opinions and really understand that it isn’t just about me, but everyone else.
How important was it having the support of your brothers and Jimmy on the podcast when you made the decision to go public about your gambling addiction?
I think that was another thing that I liked about the podcast was that I was able to control my own destiny and what came out about it, what was said and what I wanted to talk about. There is always going to be stuff that we won’t talk about in the public because at the end of the day there are people who are affected by this who probably don’t want their name involved or don’t want to hear about it. That’s just the way it is but I think with me being able to control what’s out there, people can listen to it and get out of it what they will. I like that part of it.
You were incredibly open and honest and covered a lot of your journey. How challenging was it for you knowing you’re in the public and that people could be affected by what was said?
I think with my experience over the past four years (in recovery), my friends and family and the boys at the footy club in Brisbane, I’ve been pretty upfront with them the whole time about my challenges and what I’m dealing with. It wasn’t too hard to talk about it with the boys. At the end of the day people will judge it for what they think it is going to be and that’s for the public to decide and making their opinions of it. It’s been four years so it has been a long time, which is why I did it now because I was finally ready.
You also spoke about this in your podcast a little bit, but how did moving to Brisbane allow you to acknowledge your experiences and begin a recovery process?
Probably just the way they were pretty accepting of it. When I opened up to them they were accepting of what was going on and it was no-brainer. I knew I had support mechanisms up there and that was pretty much it. I knew I had to remove the triggers from my life to stop betting and that was as far away as I could get without going to West Coast or Fremantle. It was a tough decision because I’ve grown up in Geelong and playing there I had so many good memories. It was a tough decision to leave but at the end of the day it’s been a good decision for that.
It’s been four years since you last placed a bet, and you mentioned it in the podcast too, but how important has structure and day-to-day progressions been to help you?
Absolutely! I don’t think I can look too far into the future and as any addict will know it’s just day-to-day life. Some days, especially for me around spring carnival, I’ll have my ups and downs and it can get pretty tough. Like I said, for anyone who has an addiction it’s an ongoing battle and you’re never truly over it. It’s about putting those things in place so you don’t do that again.
For your own progression in your recovery, how important was it to speak up to acknowledge and recognise what you’re going through and what you experienced?
That’s I think why I got my brothers and Jimmy on the podcast. It gives it a bit of normality to it. There are a lot of people who go through addiction and other adversity so to have Aaron, Luke and Jimmy on it, it gives the listeners a sense of empathy. It’s important to have them on there for that reason. I’ll keep saying it, I might draw people to the podcast, but I think it’s more fascinating to hear what the others will have to say over the coming weeks.
What can people expect from future episodes?
A big thing we’re trying to get is that the people we’re interviewing aren’t just high-level athletes but we’ve got a soccer coach from Albury-Wodonga region who has battled a gambling addiction, we’ve got a couple of horse trainers who dealt with me during my addiction, we’ve got an Olympic swimmer, a triathlete. We’ve got a wide range of people coming on and I think that will give it some really interesting listening. That’s the thing around sporting clubs I think it’s really improved with people speaking out about their mental health problems. We’re just another outlet where we can talk about that stuff. We’ll also be talking about footy and hopefully I can give some insight into what it’s like being part of an AFL club. I think that will be a pretty cool drawcard. My brothers can be a bit simple sometimes (laughs) but they’re pretty entertaining. That’s what we’re basing ourselves on, we like talking smack and fighting back. I think that sums us up pretty well.
Thanks for the chat, Allen. I look forward to tuning in to the rest of the series.
No worries, thank you.