Today is my 50th birthday. I should not be alive. I've come close to death many times, 99% of those times I was under the influence, usually alcohol. Aside from too many spin outs in cars, both as a driver and passenger, I almost drowned twice.
The first time was in Cancun. Me and my girlfriend played some really hard tennis early in the morning, it was the only time that the temperature was below 95 degrees, the rest of the days that month, July 1995, were around 100 degrees or so. And I basically sweated out all of my body's electrolytes. And then like was our daily routine, we went out to the beach to lay there while ordering 'buckets of Coronas' which is just what it says: a bucket full of Corona beers with ice. And so, after a couple of these buckets, I was ready to show off, by swimming out 100 yards to a coral reef, a little island out there in the ocean. And so, being really intoxicated I just jumped in, and 75 yards out I just suddenly lost all my energy. I mean, I felt like I was drained of any strength, could not move my arms or legs. It was due likely to replacing my body's electrolytes with Corona. Not a good idea. And I was going down, I was sinking, and I remember I inhaled a big breath of air to stay buoyant. That was all I could do, and I looked back at the lifeguard, who was WAY back, too far to do me any real good, and I was sinking again and down to where my mouth was underwater and I couldn't yell for help, but I could wave for help. I remember the lifeguard stood up as though he was gonna jump in, and I had barely the strength to wave for him. Then my ego kicked in, I mean damn, I really would rather have drowned before I'd wave for help.
This is my fatal weakness, I cannot reach out for help, cannot.
I didn't see my life flash before me like some people say happens right before death, but I had a brief vision of my funeral and my family sitting there crying. And then all the shadows underwater seemed like sharks. It was really a terrifying few moments. Very scary! Really!
Suddenly it was like WHAM! I just seemed to get some burst of energy ... or was I being pulled? Somehow I ended up on the coral reef. The lifeguard sat back down. I was really
Today, 20 years later, I cannot swim in the ocean farther out than 4 feet deep. If the water gets up to my neck I start to feel panicky. I'm glad I didn't drown that day, my first real brush with real death. It's terrifying. I used to joke about death, like "Ha ha, I'm not afraid to die." No, I am very afraid to die and I can only thank my Guardian Angel for pulling me to the reef.
My 2nd brush with death, I wasn't under the influence or anything, I was sober. I was under the influence of my ego, though. Kinda showing off, the ego thing. And so this time I almost drowned, at Great Falls in the Potomac River. It was my first kayak lesson, the instructor was an 18 year old kid but he was good enough to try out for the Olympic team. And there's this one rapid, right where the water comes over the fall, it's called "The Hole" (photo at right). What the "Hole" really is, it's a white-water phenomenon called a 'hydraulic'. These are very dangerous to mess with, only for expert kayakers who paddle into the hydraulic barely, which causes their kayak to stand up on the front end and then get 'spit' back out. It's called 'surfing the hole." It's really dangerous to be sucked into a hydraulic, even the most buoyant logs can be held under for minutes at a time, and so of course a person with wearing a life preserver vest wouldn't stand a chance.
So, I had only had 2 hours of lessons, my first time in a kayak, and aside from paddling around the only notable skill I learned was how to bail out when my kayak goes upside down. I surely didn't know how to do the 'Eskimo roll' where you basically do a complete rotation under water and back up again. I still can't do this, I get stuck upside down & bail.
And my instructor and I for some reason decide we need to go 'surf the Hole'. Remember, 18 year old expert kayakers don't always have the best judgement. But he surfed it a few times, and said to me, "Now it's your turn."
18 year old kid daring me... hell yeah I'm gonna do it! I'm an idiot. I should be dead.
And I paddle into the 'Hole', and immediately turn over, and I bail out underwater, and the Hole spat out my kayak, but not me! And yeah, I'm going under, and pop up and under again, and pop up again, and I looked at my instructor who by now had a horrified look on his face, I think he was thinking I was gonna drown. He paddled in, and I popped up enough to grab the front of his kayak, but slipped off, and he's yelling, "Grab my boat and hang on!" looking even more scared now. And I grabbed the front end of his kayak and again slipped off. And one more time, and grabbed his kayak, and finally held on tight enough, he back paddled out away from the hole. Yes, it was terrifying. Being upside down underwater in a kayak in the Hole. And 2 decades later, yeh I can get in a kayak, but only on calm water. But, the slightest ripples and I get this panicky feeling.
Some other brushes with death? Hmmm, I nearly overdosed a few years ago.
I wasn't trying to die but I didn't care if I didn't wake up. At the time life really sucked.
And late one night, after 25 drinks, I took a handful of Klonopin pills, maybe 25 of them. I don't know why I did this, other than I knew this would really put me to sleep. At the same time, I knew it was dangerous to mix Klonopin with alcohol. And I felt like my life sucked. My wife left with my kid a week before, I don't know where they went, she did this 2 or 3 times a year. And I didn't have a job. A lot of things sucked. Anyway, it was very dangerous. Klonopin is a tranquilizer, of the benzodiazepide class of drugs. A lot of people die from mixing benzo's with alcohol, due to an effect called 'synergism'. Basically, it means 1+1=3. Benzo's interact with alcohol and they intensify each other's effect, to the point one's respiratory system shuts down. I didn't really want to die, but I didn't care if I didn't wake up. That's as basic as I can explain it.
I didn't die, but 15 hours later I woke up. And went to the liquor store.
And that night I drank even more alcohol and took even MORE Klonopin. And I still woke up the next day. Again, I didn't want to die, but I also didn't really care if I never woke up again. I knew then about benzo-alcohol synergism, they teach us these things in Rehab.
This 'flirting with death', in 3 days I went through 100 Klonopin pills and gallons of booze. And really it's a miracle I survived.
I shouldn't be here today, celebrating my 50th birthday.
I'm going out now, to a 12-Step meeting, which I should do every day, forever.
I'm pretty good at attending these when I get my head back on straight.
Like it is now.
I'm glad I'm alive.
I think my friends are glad too.
I'm sure my son is glad too, wherever he is.
Thank you so much Guardian Angel!