Have you ever cheated the alcoholic death you deserved? I have. I can tell you fuzzy, intoxicated stories about at least a dozen times when I should have died. So when I talk about my sobriety saving my life, I am talking about two things. I am talking about a return to health and the reversal of the long, slow, gradual slide toward my alcoholic demise. But I’m also talking about the fact that I no longer cheat certain alcohol-induced death.
That second one – the acute, not the chronic – that’s the kind of alcoholic disaster that we don’t think or talk enough about. That’s the kind of death that our friend, Cheryl Kuechler, stared in the face a couple of weeks ago. That’s the kind of sudden, tragic, immediate, heartbreaking death that Cheryl’s sobriety saved her from.
I hope you’ll stick with me. I’ll get to Cheryl’s story in a minute. First, I want to talk about you and me.
When I was in high school, I passed out in the woods behind our house. I came home from a party extremely drunk, and was waiting for my father to go to bed before I planned to slink into the house. I didn’t drive that night. That’s not the tragedy I avoided. I passed out in a driving, 35 degree rainstorm in a pile of leaves. I “slept” there for hours. When I awoke, I was so cold I was barely functioning. I dragged my lifeless body inside. I survived.
Did you have any similar experiences in high school? Did your fun experimentation ever get out of hand?
In college, I flirted with death on a regular basis. On one particular cold and rainy night, I found myself wandering around an unfamiliar part of town an hour or so before dawn. I had blacked out. I had absolutely no idea what had preceded my predicament, and even less of a clue about where I was. As conscious awareness returned, I was so lost and disoriented that finding my way home was hopeless. I was under age, so flagging down a police officer for help was out of the question. I walked and walked and walked. In the pitch-black of night, I had no way of knowing if I was walking toward or away from home. I was so cold that I could feel my brain shutting down and my pulse slowing. I didn’t deserve to survive that drunken night.
Did you ever deserve to die in an alcohol-soaked young adulthood?
I moved to a big city, and lipped off to big and dangerous men on dark streets in the middle of the night. I got married and drove drunk too many times to count. We had kids, and I drank myself to oblivion when I was taking care of them. Sometimes I thought I was invincible. Other times I was too selfishly drunk to think. Many times, I put myself in positions where death was more likely than survival.
Did your death-defying behavior follow you into your 30s and 40s? Did you marry someone who could not be trusted with the safety and protection of your children? If you think about it – really, really think hard about it – are you lucky to be alive and reading?
On December 5th, Cheryl Kuechler’s house caught on fire while she was in bed drifting off to sleep. She heard strange noises that stirred her to attention. She was two years sober. Had this event taken place two years prior, she would have died in her bed that night. Instead, her sobriety saved her and her house. She called 911 and battled the flames with a garden hose until the fire department arrived.
The fire was extinguished, and Cheryl was told to go back to bed. She was uncomfortable in her smokey home with inches of water on the floor, so she went to her daughter’s house to sleep. She awoke at 5:30am with an uneasy feeling. She returned to her home to find smoke rolling from the attic. The fire had not been properly extinguished, and her house was ablaze again. Had this happened two years prior, and had she somehow survived the first fire, she would have drank herself back to sleep at home, and died in the early morning hours of December 6th.
If there is any doubt in your mind that her sobriety saved Cheryl’s life, then you’ve never experienced alcohol abuse – either as the drinker or someone who loves a heavy drinker.
Think back to all those times you narrowly avoided death. Think back to all the times you realized you had a close call, said a little prayer of thankfulness, and moved on without much further thought. Think hard about them for a moment.
If you had been drunk in Cheryl’s house on December 5th, you’d be dead.
Cheryl saved her house, twice, with garden hoses until the professionals arrived. But a lot of very serious damage has been done. The electrical wiring is fried, and the fire destroyed load-bearing structural beams in her ceiling. Because of paperwork issues with the title that were never tended to by her late husband before he died, Cheryl was unable to get insurance on her home. She has many tens of thousands of dollars of fire damage, and no way to pay for it.
But she has her sobriety. Her sobriety saved her life.
My sobriety saved my life, too, and that’s why I feel like Cheryl will always be a kindred spirit – a sister in enlightenment. Her near-tragedy could have been my tragedy. How about you? Do you feel the same way?
Rather than be thankful it didn’t happen to me, and turn away without another thought, we are doing something about it this time. We are doing something for Cheryl and her beautiful little 827 square foot home. We are collecting money from our readers and listeners to help Cheryl rebuild and return to her peaceful sobriety.
Will you help? Will you take all the times you avoided disaster yourself, and pay them forward? Will you make a donation to get Cheryl back home?
Our organization, Stigma, is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, and your donation is fully tax deductible in the United States.