‘Humbly overwhelmed,’ Suppelsa returns from rehab

Back after a month away for alcohol rehab, veteran Chicago anchorman Mark Suppelsa says he chose to go public with his private struggle because he felt viewers were entitled to know the truth.

“Somebody who people expect to be there fairly regularly doesn’t go away for 35 days without their having a right to know what happened,” he told me Wednesday. “And on a selfish basis, it’s one of those things where I’d rather everybody have an idea of what I’m really doing than trying to guess and guess wrong.”

For the first time since May 4, when he surprised friends and colleagues with the announcement that he was entering an alcohol recovery program, the 49-year old Suppelsa returns Thursday to the 5 and 9pm newscasts he anchors for Tribune Co.-owned WGN-Channel 9.

“It’s the right time to get back,” he said, specifically citing his eagerness to resume his investigative reporting work with producer Marsha Bartel.

Suppelsa admitted himself to the Hazelden Addiction Treatment Center in Minnesota early last month after declaring in an open letter: “Simply put, I have been abusing alcohol at the end of my work day as my family slept. It was my secret and I became very accomplished at hiding it. . . . I do my best to function at a high level and I know that it is my responsibility to correct anything that potentially interferes with my family or my work.”

He returned over the weekend and reconnected with his family. “My wife came and picked me up at Hazelden on Sunday and we had a wonderful drive back,” he said. “It’s a long drive — about seven hours or so. It was a delightful time, reacquainting, so to speak, with the ‘new me,’ if you will. I also needed some time with my kids and family these first few days. Of course it’s never enough. But I am eager to get back to work now.”

His ongoing recovery program will require him to attend weekly “after care” group counseling sessions in Chicago. For that he’ll be absent from his 5pm newscasts on Wednesdays for several months. “My bosses have been incredibly understanding and flexible with this,” he said.

A Chicago television news star for two decades, Suppelsa spent 10 years at NBC 5 and five years at Fox Chicago before joining WGN in 2008. A graduate of Lincoln-Way Central High School in southwest suburban New Lenox and Marquette University, he previously worked at KSTP-TV in Minneapolis and WFRV-TV in Green Bay, Wisconsin.

Despite his openness with the public, Suppelsa said he feels no pressure to serve as a spokesman or role model for what he still considers a “strictly personal” matter. “Obviously it’s not totally private, because I didn’t make it private from the start. But no, there’s no educating anybody in the world that I’m in. I’m an alcoholic. And as I was taught, just keep your side of the street as clean as possible and take it a day at a time, and the rest will follow. Don’t try to clean anybody else’s street because you can’t control that. I’m not here to educate anybody. I’m here to get better,” he said.

The outpouring of support Suppelsa has received — including thousands of letters, emails and messages on Facebook and Twitter — has proved an unexpected source of strength: “I was not prepared for it all, and I am humbly overwhelmed. There’s no way I can thank everybody individually, but it was all wonderful and extremely encouraging. I couldn’t be any more grateful.”


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Laura Baginski, Editor (@TimeOutChicago)