Interview with Robin McIntosh
Robin McIntosh is co-founder of Workit Health. She is an experienced entrepreneur, designer, and technologist, and in long-term recovery.
She has founded multiple companies, and has worked across startups, brands, and business communities over the past ten years, with a focus on consumer, health and wellness. Most recently, she co-founded Workit Health — the world's first online addiction care program, with fun, evidence-based exercises and 1:1 support from recovery coaches. Workit is a labor of love.
Interview with Robin McIntosh
Liv: Let’s kick off with a food question: What have you had for breakfast today?
I had breakfast in New Orleans at the Daily Beat (highly recommend it!). Yummy cacao, agave, banana & cocoa shake plus their Morning Bowl (quinoa, egg, avocado, tomato). This is atypical, as normal I scarf down a Kind Bar & a La Croix on my way to the office!
Robin on Recovery
Liv: Moving to your story, you recently told me that you are in long-term recovery. Tell me about the moment you got help—what led to that moment of clarity?
I believe pain is the cornerstone of growth. My moment of clarity was when I woke up bleary eyed with a pounding headache the morning after Christmas 2006. I opened my eyes to my Dad telling me I had to leave our family until I got sober. I’ll never forget the despair I felt, being cast out by the people I loved most in the world. My sister Cassie (now a part of Workit!) drove me to the bus stop and gave me $20 and her pair of knockoff Ugg boots. It was the dead of winter in Colorado, and I had been wearing flip flops. I was only 21, and terrified. In California, I finally plugged into a community of women who embraced me with open arms. I’ve been sober ever since.
Liv: How did you choose to recover?
Good question… not sure I ever chose it once and for all. It’s a daily reprieve for me, dependent on all that I do to keep myself upright on this earth. I choose to recover by taking action. For example, today I choose to recover by eating breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and staying present with my long-term partner Beau. I also called my cofounder (my Workit Wife) Lisa to give and get emotional support, and I sent my grandmother in Toronto a card just because.
Liv: Moving on to Workit Health. You co-founded the company with Lisa McLaughlin, who you had met in the substance use recovery community. From that informed perspective, you designed your program. But before you tell me about the program, can you explain what you observed to be missing in the traditional addiction recovery community that led to your pioneering your online program?
I could answer this question in hundreds of ways! What’s missing in traditional recovery? Clear, science-driven processes, transparent outcomes, safe, women-led spaces, a variety of options for the person seeking help. There are so many ways we could do better.
Lately though, I’ve been thinking about the impact of Tribe.
Before entering traditional twelve step programs I was “institutionalized” eight times. Meaning I went to rehabs, detoxes, and various inpatient residential programs. Upon every “graduation” I'd return to my singular, isolated life, and I’d immediately start drinking. I couldn’t stay sober. I was alone.
This brings me to that morning I talked about, my moment of clarity. When I got on that bus, the first thing I did was make my way back to California, where I knew a few people who were living in Newport Beach, women who were newly sober. Like a puppy I begged them to take me in, then I basically followed them around and did what they did until I felt what they felt. They welcomed me with open arms, and loved me through all the mistakes and triumphs.
With Workit, we constantly ask ourselves: how do we enable these experiences, faster? How do we plug isolated individuals into caring communities of likeminded individuals?
Community and connection make all the difference. Everyone needs a tribe.
Liv: Most traditional modalities require continued maintenance and support group meeting attendance. What is your perspective on maintenance, given your program is 90 days? What kind of support do you provide for continued recovery?
Our extended care is evolving as I type, as we are constantly looking for new ways to support Workit graduates. Currently, people have the option to enter a two year Workit maintenance program called Onward, and attend local Workit Together meetings. Once you’ve entered the Workit World, we want you to know you always have a community of support.
Liv: At the moment, your plan is available via employers, do you have any plans to roll it out to others so that anyone can use it?
Yes! We have some very exciting things brewing, and we will go live with them later in July. Hint: we’ve put our heads together and come up with an innovative way to fight the opioid epidemic. Stay tuned!
What Employers Can Do To Help Employees With Addiction
Liv: You encourage employers to look through the lens of addiction recovery. Can you elaborate on that lens, and how that perspective would change perceptions and attitude toward those in recovery?
In his book Chasing the Scream, Jonathan Hari urges people to stop thinking about individual recovery, and start thinking about “social recovery.” We couldn't agree more.
The first thing we do when rolling out with a new client is conduct a “Kickoff” meeting which starts with empathy exercises. Our brilliant head of content Cassie stitches together stories based on real employee Glassdoor reviews, and we have each stakeholder around the table read one out loud. The same themes always arise: I feel pressured to drink, I feel lame that I don’t, my coworkers are always going for long martini lunches. I’m isolated. I’m alone. I’m different.
More often than not, our clients are shocked, and moved, by this simple exercise. Bravely exposing true suffering and bringing the stigmatized into full view is so very powerful.
Lisa’s email footer reads:
There’s a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in. —- Leonard Cohen
Our goal is to let the light in!
Liv: You talk of empowerment, to your employees, and your enterprise partners. You said, “We want the way we’re speaking to users, even from the first moment, to talk up to them, not down to them,” What does empowerment look like? And how does that impact users and people in recovery?
In art school we talked quite a bit about “dumbing down” design. Ultimately, bland work disrespects the individual by assuming a lack of intelligence, or wit.
With Workit, our content is smart. Our design is elegant, and our language is direct. Every piece of our program is crafted by patients as designers, and our end goal is to pull people out of that deep loneliness we’ve all felt as suffering addicts. Our world so often condemns the addict, treating us like criminals and morally reprehensible scoundrels. Alternatively, we offer intelligence, love, and a community that holds you accountable.
Liv: In relation to wider change, you stated, “We see big corporations with established cultures begin to make a shift in thinking that is mindful of employees who might be struggling with addiction... “They’re adding mocktail bars and are starting to focus on how they can help their people sooner through great workplace design.” How can we in society be more mindful of people in recovery?
It’s all about awareness. I believe that at the core, nobody wants someone to feel ostracized or triggered. We don’t pressure others to drink and use because we are bad people -— nine times out of ten, we simply don’t know better.
I think the biggest move we can make as people in recovery is to come out of the closet and live loud and proud. It’s up to us to build the world we want to live in :).
People ask me ‘How hard is it to accommodate non-drinkers?’ I think it’s similar to supporting vegetarians: You provide some great menu options, and at no point do you get on a chair and throw meat on everyone.
Liv: Back to you! Let’s move on to your physical recovery—how has your relationship with food changed in recovery?
I’m in recovery for alcoholism, anorexia and bulimia, therefore my relationship with food is incredibly different than it was before!
When I first entered recovery from an eating disorder, I saw food as the enemy. Then, slowly, I started to see it as nourishment. Now, years and years later, I see it as my right as a human being, something to be enjoyed and shared with people I love.
Liv: How has your relationship with your body evolved?
I used to agonize over my body, I was never satisfied. Over time, I’ve learned that this is basic projection of my stress, anxiety, etc. So, if I take care of my anxiety and other emotions in healthier ways, I find the byproduct is self love. And that includes body love!
Top Five Recovery Tools
Liv: Last, what are your top five recovery tools?
- My Workit Wife, Lisa! She’s my cofounder and Co-CEO, and my lifelong soul mate. I love her with my whole heart, and I can’t go one day with out her support. She’s my rock.
- My friends and my two sisters. Calling them, laughing with them, getting weird together. They are everything to me, and I rely on each of them day in and day out.
- My recovery community in Oakland, where I live. Knowing I have a tribe makes all the difference.
- Our Workit World. We are building the world we all deserve, and every day I’m grateful.
- Finally, my partner Beau and my dog Sampson. Beau is extremely sexy (and he may have had a hand in proofing my answers to your questions.)