Rosemary Keevil: “There is no need for perseverance if there is no adversity”

I believe resilience is perseverance under adversity and it has to be earned. There is no need for perseverance if there is no adversity. Adversity can take many forms, but any form it takes creates tumultuous stress and is powerful enough to take you down and keep you down. People who are resilient are able […]

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I believe resilience is perseverance under adversity and it has to be earned. There is no need for perseverance if there is no adversity. Adversity can take many forms, but any form it takes creates tumultuous stress and is powerful enough to take you down and keep you down. People who are resilient are able to rise about their trauma. Having done that, they have created confidence, creativity, resourcefulness, humility and a positive, but realistic, attitude.

In this interview series, we are exploring the subject of resilience among successful business leaders. Resilience is one characteristic that many successful leaders share in common, and in many cases, it is the most important trait necessary to survive and thrive in today’s complex market.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Rosemary Keevil.

Rosemary Keevil has been a TV news reporter, a current affairs radio show host, and the managing editor of a professional women’s magazine. She has a master’s degree in journalism, a sophisticated knowledge of alcoholism, addiction, and associated treatments and therapies, and two grown daughters with successful careers.

Her memoir: The Art of Losing It: A Memoir of Grief and Addiction will be published in October, 2020. Keevil lives with her partner and her sheep-a-doodle in Whistler, British Columbia, Canada. She has been clean and sober since 2002.

Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your backstory?

I grew up in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, and have lived in Switzerland (for school) and Tahiti (as a travel destination representative) and Dawson City, Yukon Territory, Canada (as a can-can dancer). I have lived in Vancouver, BC, Canada, most of my life. I recently moved to Whistler. It was once a funky ski-town, but is now a year-round resort destination with summer sports such as golfing, hiking and biking. Whistler Blackcomb is one of the Vail Resorts.

I have a Bachelor of Journalism and a Master of Journalism. I have had a number of jobs in the media, including:

– News reporting for CFTO-CTV in Toronto
– News reporting for The Globe and Mail national newspaper, Vancouver
– Co-launched and produced “The Michael Morgan Show”; also envisioned, co-launched, and hosted “The Rosemary Keevil Show” (Original, I know!) for CFUN Radio (CHUM National Radio Network), a live, drive-time, current affairs talk show in Vancouver
– Contributed to the critical success of Scarlett magazine for the professional woman (unfortunately, now defunct) after being brought on board at nascent stage of the publication
– Adjudicator for the Leo Awards for Excellence in British Columbia Film
– Public Relations for the Vancouver International Film Festival

When my children were two and five years old my husband died of cancer and my brother died of AIDS within six months of one another. I was able to keep it together (somewhat!) for six years while working as a journalist. While still high-functioning, I became an alcoholic and drug addict. Six years later, in 2002, I went into rehab and have been clean and sober ever since. I now work as an addictions’ journalist.

Can you share with us the most interesting story from your career? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?

There are many stories I can’t tell as they are X-rated, but one clear takeaway is: “Don’t ever swear or make weird faces near a microphone or a camera that you assume is not live.”

Within the first two weeks of starting to work at CFTO-TV, I was assigned to cover an internationally-reported story: an accident at the Pickering Nuclear Generating Station in Ontario. Fuel rods cracked releasing a deluge of radioactive water under the floor of the reactor building. The situation was brought under control, nobody was injured, and no radiation leaked into the environment.

My reputation did, however, undergo some damage. I was doing ‘Take One’ (This was not live.) of my stand-up, talking to the camera in front of the power plant. My voluminous, 80s-style, shoulder-length hair was bobbing in the wind as I stumbled over some words and then said, “Blaaaaaaaaaaa…Take Two!”

Well, as it turned out, the editor of the story used ‘Take One’ instead of ‘Take Two’, so my “Blaaaaaaaaaaaaa…Take Two!” went on air!

Within the week I was called to the upstairs office of one of the top brass of the station. Ted Delaney did not have much hair and had one crossed eye. He told me to sit down, tried to look right at me, and said: “Rosemary, you’re going to be a good reporter, but you got too much hair!”

Finally, I also remember an interesting ‘circumstance’ in the newsroom. There were two available reporters to cover the Dr. Henry Morgentaler court cases. Morgentaler conducted a high-profile campaign to secure legalized abortion in Canada and was at the center of the legal cases that brought this to fruition.

The News Director called the two us into his office and said: “Which one of you would like to cover this landmark story?” Well … we were both very pregnant at the time. I just jumped at the opportunity!

What do you think makes your work stand out? Can you share a story?

What stands out is that my work exists at all despite personal tragedy and addiction. I was a media personality with a loving husband and two adorable, little daughters when my husband was diagnosed with terminal cancer and my brother was diagnosed with AIDS in the days when that was a death sentence. Their subsequent deaths had a profound effect my life, not the least of which was being swallowed by the grips of alcoholism and addiction.

I am living proof that one can be high-functioning — I was working fulltime as a current affairs, radio show host — and self-destructing simultaneously.

I am also living proof that there can be a very fulfilling and productive life after addiction.

I went back to work as the editor of a magazine, received my Master of Journalism and wrote my memoir. I must say that all that trauma provided much of the fodder for The Art of Losing It: A Memoir of Grief and Addiction.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

There is not one iconic mentor, but there have been gems of wisdom shared with me along the way.

– Patrick Brethour: British Columbia Editor for The Globe and Mail newspaper: Don’t ever lose that hint of insecurity. It gives you that invaluable, competitive edge.

– Fictional or nonfictional storytelling is an intrinsic human characteristic, which has taken various shapes and forms over time: visual stories such as cave drawings; the oral traditions of passing down stories by word of mouth from generation to generation; written, printed and typed stories; and today’s explosion of storytelling with everybody serving as a verbal, audio and visual documenter of our times. Advice on how to tell a good nonfiction story:

– Ted Steubing, former Vice-President of News and Public Affairs, CFTO-TV: “Tell ’em what you are going to tell ’em. Tell ’em and tell ’em what you told ‘em.”

– Derwyn Smith, former News Director, CFTO-TV: “If in doubt check it out. If still in doubt leave it out.”

Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. We would like to explore and flesh out the trait of resilience. How would you define resilience? What do you believe are the characteristics or traits of resilient people?

I believe resilience is perseverance under adversity and it has to be earned. There is no need for perseverance if there is no adversity. Adversity can take many forms, but any form it takes creates tumultuous stress and is powerful enough to take you down and keep you down. People who are resilient are able to rise about their trauma. Having done that, they have created confidence, creativity, resourcefulness, humility and a positive, but realistic, attitude.

When you think of resilience, which person comes to mind? Can you explain why you chose that person?

This is not original, but the first person who comes to mind is my dear mother, Helen Parrett. What a survivor! She ran a household of four kids and four pets, all with an alcoholic/workaholic husband and only a few pennies to rub together. Despite all the challenges inherent in her circumstances, not the least of which was my emotionally abusive father, she was resilient. One of Mom’s forms of resilience materialized in creativity at 3:00 in the morning. Mom would get up in the middle of the night to write, a habit I have inherited.

She wrote a syndicated column for “The Tely,” as the The Toronto Telegram was popularly known at the time. The column was called “Suzanna’s Family Fare.” Readers would write in with household hints, such as how to rid your prized cherrywood coffee table of that unsightly white ring created by a wet glass or coffee mug. Answer? Toothpaste. The kicker is that Mom was not the least bit domestic, another trait I have inherited!

I would get up with her and study. I still remember the sound of the clickety clack of her Underwood typewriter, and the taste of hot tea and warm toast topped with melted butter and a layer of brown sugar. I also still remember cramming for my history exam about the coureur des bois. What I don’t remember is exactly what they were. Wikipedia clarified it for me: the coureur des bois were entrepreneurial French Canadians who travelled the interior of North America and traded, usually with the First Nations peoples, for furs such as beaver. This marked the beginning of the North American fur trade.

Has there ever been a time that someone told you something was impossible, but you did it anyway? Can you share the story with us?

I am my own worst enemy. I never thought I would survive the onslaught that life doled out to me in 1991.

I also never thought I could quit Ativan, Zopiclone, cocaine and fine, white buttery wines such as Bâtard-Montrachet and Rosemount Chardonnay.

Did you have a time in your life where you had one of your greatest setbacks, but you bounced back from it stronger than ever? Can you share that story with us?

My biggest setbacks are documented in a 309-page story, which is my memoir: The Art of Losing It: A Memoir of Grief and Addiction

Did you have any experiences growing up that have contributed to building your resiliency? Can you share a story?

I grew up in Toronto, the youngest of four children (boy, girl, boy, girl: only five years between all four of us) in a chaotic household with an alcoholic dad, an enabler mother, two cats and two St. Bernards.

I was bullied, probably because I had buckteeth, which gave me a notable lisp. Paw, paw Wothemawee Pawwett (translation: poor, poor Rosemary Parrett) could not say her r’s or her s’s. I went to speech therapy sessions every Wednesday afternoon from kindergarten through grade three to fix the lisp. Then, in grade seven, I got braces to fix the buckteeth. (Thanks Mom!) When I think back, I was not aware of my speech impediment being related to my being bullied. In fact, I went into broadcasting as a career. Go figure.

What’s more, my Mom insisted I talk to everyone about themselves. I grew up asking people questions — my friends sometimes call it “interrogating.” My mother used to always tell me to “draw people out” whenever I had the opportunity. This would mean that if I ran into somebody I knew on the bus ride home from school, like our neighbor Mr. Lynch, who was a University of Toronto professor, I couldn’t just be shy and daydream. This nagging voice inside my head would urge me to go over and “get him talking.” When I was a bit older and feeling awkward going to teenage parties, Mom suggested I approach the most boring looking boy and start a conversation by “getting him talking about himself.” Hence, I have always been the one to ask the questions. Everybody has a story. And I became a reporter.

What I learned from this is that doing what you should do and not just what you want to do builds confidence which, in turn, helps provide a solid base for resiliency. I also understood early on that people like talking about themselves. If you want someone to like you, get ’em talkin’ about themselves.

Dad was a taskmaster — using my siblings and me as his workforce. He owned properties which he rented out and he always made us kids do the fixing up and the redecorating, such as painting and wallpapering. We did the cleaning too. Bathrooms became my specialty. I learned from this experience that a reliable roll-up-the-sleeves work ethic builds confidence in oneself and in those around you. Dad used to say, “Shoulders back and don’t mumble,” which at first blush may seem trite, but it’s true. My career as a journalist has reiterated how a strong stature and clear diction breeds self-confidence.

Resilience is like a muscle that can be strengthened. In your opinion, what are 5 steps that someone can take to become more resilient? Please share a story or an example for each.

1) Take small steps. If a goal seems too overwhelming, consider tackling smaller challenges first:

I had a goal to run the New York Marathon, but it felt daunting. I had read a tiny blurb in The Globe and Mail about the Malta Marathon in Three Days, which entails three shorter runs to equal a 42 kilometer (26 miles) marathon over three days.

I rounded up a film crew (producer and shooter) and headed off to the tiny and very historical, Mediterranean island of Malta. Not only did I complete my first marathon, but I had a blast with the film crew and shot the first part of the pilot episode of “Body & Soul: Spiritual Awareness Through Physical Challenge.” This show explored the human spirit’s remarkable ability to overcome adversity — using the body to boost the mind.

The next year I ran the New York Marathon and it turned out to be one of the highlights of my life. My goal was to finish it in under four hours. My time? 3:56:11!

2) Learn from mistakes:

A year after my husband and brother died, I accepted an invitation from two colleagues to become a partner in a video production company. I contributed financially and worked hard as the executive producer for two years only to have my two partners call it quits. My money went down the drain. I felt taken advantage of and ripped off.

What I learned from this was that I should have given the initial investment more thought and been more assertive when my colleagues informed me of their decision to fold the company. I could have been more forceful and pursued running the company without them.

3) Keep your side of the street clean or accept your role in negative circumstances:

Scarlett magazine for the professional woman was a wild critical success. It was not a financial one. I was the managing editor and my colleague was in charge of sales. As near as I could tell, I was doing a stellar job and he was not, as it was not making money. I let the magazine fold and blamed my colleague.

What I realized, after the fact, with this experience was that I played a role in the financial failure of the publication. I could have taken off my editorial cap and tried on a sales’ one. I could have pursued ad revenue as well instead of thinking I was simply editorial and above all the messy dollars and cents stuff.

4) Accept and move on:

As it turned out, one of my teenage daughters was going through an extremely difficult time at this point, so it was important that I had the time to focus on her.

5) Build up your social support systems:

Research studies have shown that social support, or a significant caring other, are the best predictors of resilience. This is according to Dr. Jill Hayhurst from the University of Otago, New Zealand, who found in her research that encouraging feelings of self-efficacy “encouraged feelings of resilience.”

I have been a member of Alcoholics Anonymous since 2002 and believe that one of the reasons for its success is the resilience that the support group of similar suffering (and then thriving) individuals builds.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

In AA meetings I often hear the same reaction from newcomers when they do their first set of steps: “Everybody should do these steps, not just alcoholics.” The 12 Steps are grounding, have a profound effect on one’s outlook on life and keep your side of the street clean. They also rid one of nasty resentments, which are the root of much negativity. The world would be a kinder, gentler place if every adult would tackle these steps every few years. I have chosen to illustrate steps four to ten:

Step 4) Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves:

When I was working at the radio station hosting the early morning drive-time current affair show, I was also addicted to cocaine. I was a high-functioning alcoholic and drug addict. I only once snorted a line while at the station (in the bathroom). This was a huge source of shame and guilt. I wrote this down as one of my “wrongdoings.”

On a personal level I was consumed with shame and guilt for being an alcoholic and addicted mother for six years of my daughters’ upbringings.

These are just two examples of the lengthy list of wrongdoings in my fearless moral inventory.

Step 5) Admitted to God [or whatever higher power one believes in], to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs:

This is tough and terrifying, but when I released my demons in front of my sponsor I felt like John Coffey in The Green Mile when he lifts his head, opens his mouth and a torrent of tiny black insects fly out.

As a result, I felt light and liberated and truly understood, “and the truth shall set you free.” (Bible: John 8:31–32)

Steps 6 and 7) Were entirely ready to have God [or whatever higher power one believes in] remove all these defects of character [that were revealed in Steps 4 and 5], and humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.

Step 8) Made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all.

Step 9) Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others:

I set up a meeting with my former boss at CFUN Radio and apologized that “I was not in harmony with myself when I worked here.” He just looked confused and said, “I’m not sure what you’re talking about. You were great.” But I felt relieved and grateful that I had addressed, and therefore released, my guilt and shame.

I apologized to my children for my stoned and drunken behavior of six years of their lives and continued (and continue to this day) making living amends by being a clean, sober and present mother.

Step 10) Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it:

This can be as simple as being crabby with the cashier at the checkout counter at the grocery store because there is a big lineup and you’re in a hurry. Before you leave the store, pause, think about what you’re going to say, turn to her/him and say, “I’m sorry I was rude. I know this is not your fault.”

This type of inventory taken on a regular basis clears the detritus from the brain and makes room for grace.

We are blessed that some very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

Comedian, actor, author and former heroin addict Russell Brand of Take Him to the Greek (former husband of Katy Perry). Brand has channeled his considerable talents, brains and energy into advocating for mental health and drug rehabilitation. I absolutely love his cause, his personality, and particularly his irreverence (i.e., See Brand’s version of the 12 Steps of AA below), and I would love to ask him to read The Art of Losing It.

Day 1: Are You A Bit F*d?

Day 2: Could You Not Be F*d?

Day 3: Are you, on your own, going to ‘unf*’ yourself?

Day 4: Write down all the things that are f*ing you up or have ever f*d you up and don’t lie or leave anything out.

Day 5: Honestly tell someone trustworthy about how f*d you are.

Day 6: Well that’s revealed a lot of f*k up patterns. Do you want to stop it? Seriously?

Day 7: Are you willing to live in a new way that’s not all about you and your previous f*d up stuff? You have to.

Day 8: Prepare to apologize to everyone for everything affected by your being so f*d up.

Day 9: Now apologize, unless that would make things worse.

Day 10: Watch out for f*d up thinking and behavior and be honest when it happens.

Day 11: Stay connected to your new perspective.

Day 12: Look at life less selfishly, be nice to everyone, help people if you can.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

– Facebook: The Art of Losing It: A Memoir of Grief and Addiction

– LinkedIn: Rosemary Keevil

– Twitter: @RosemaryKeevil

– Instagram: rosemarykeevil

– Pinterest: rosemarykeevil

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