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The Phone Call That Saved (and Then Changed) My Life

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Bottom line…Switchboard saved my life.

Switchboard of Miami is a volunteer organization with liaisons, contacts and links to nearly everything people need in there critical times of crisis.

They do not get a lot of fanfare, or publicity usually, but because of the thousands of people they have helped through the years they are very well networked. Word of mouth. From people just like me who at one time thought their lives were over.

One of the areas Switchboard has helped literally hundreds of people with is the horrible feelings of depression that can lead to suicide. Switchboard has stopped hundreds of people like myself from taking that drastic move.

And I’m one of those people.

The kind volunteer telephone counselor that answered the phone on April 13, 1993 literally saved my life. No joke… no drama here… just the actual facts of that terrible night.

You see I’m what’s known as a “recovering alcoholic.” From the 1973 to 1993, I was a compulsive drinker and steadily heading to the bring of total disaster. It took me till 1993 to finally hit my personal bottom, but when I did, as far as I was concerned, I’d literally and completely destroyed my life and everything I’d accomplished up to that night.

I’d been a successful performing musician most of my life. Not famous, just successful. I worked my “art/craft” for close to 30 years and never ever worried about any other kind of career move as I could comfortably afford to live the life I’d chosen. Drinking all the time day and night, partying with everyone, living essentially how I wanted to with no regard for anyone but myself.

As everyone knows who’s ever had to deal with the Devil as they say… things started quickly to go bad. Got worse and culminated one night when I’d been homeless for two years, and reliant on the charity of the few friends I still had to let me sleep on their couches, shower in their apartments and try not to drink every day for nearly two years and of course failing miserably.

Then came a day when I’d once again failed to keep my promise to myself and my friend to not drink. Got wasted and passed out. I had only one thing I was asked to do that day. 

I was supposed to go down to the elementary school a block away from the apartment and pick up and walk home a mutual friend’s small boy. She was a hard working waitress who worked the usual awful hours of a restaurant, and needed someone to pick up her kid after school, park him at the desk to do his homework till she got home. Short walk and about 1o minutes of actual human contact, and then I was free to pass out and continue to sleep off my drunkenness.

Couldn’t even manage that. At 5:30 my friend came home from work expecting to see her friend’s kid happily sitting at the desk doing his homework. Instead she found me passed out on the couch drooling and no child.

Yes, she freaked. Called her waitress friend to ask if she’d already picked up her kid. Waitress said no, wasn’t he there with you?” 

That panicked reaction was enough to wake me up and we both took off looking for the child. He was nowhere to be found at that moment.

At that very moment I made the decision. I could no longer live with myself. And in the usual drunken way people with alcoholism sometimes rationalize our thinking, I justified my decision to end my life with the crappy, self-serving ideal that: “It was one thing if I wanted to destroy myself with alcohol, but if my behavior had cost the life of a mother’s baby, then even God himself would never be willing to forgive me my trespasses.

And of course the next thing I did was go buy a quart of beer. I began walking and walking and walking. Crying openly and not caring if anyone saw this as no one wanted to be anywhere near me to begin with. I was filthy. Still to this day, I don’t know why some passing patrol car didn’t just stop… I was a mess.

Evening came and it got dark, and my mental state got progressively darker as well.

As I was walking, stumbling, crying and otherwise acting the fool, I saw an oak tree in the middle medium of the street and across from there was a Walgreen’s/liquor store.

That’s when everything became very clear and very easy. I knew in a flash exactly what and how to do it. No one would know or care, and at least this world would be rid of one more rotten son of a bitch. A bastard who couldn’t even be bothered to pick up a friend’s child from school a block away from where he was staying. Who would miss someone like that?

Then the miracle happened.

There was a phone booth. (Yes, remember those things?)  And I suddenly remembered “Switchboard of Miami.” I’d actually called them before but wasn’t ready to sober up. Remember the old comedy club joke.. “Suicide prevention, please hold?…”  But for some reason I just thought, “Call them…”

I called 911, and they transferred me to Switchboard. I don’t remember who I spoke with, but something in my voice made it clear I wouldn’t stay on the phone long and it was a serious matter. The operator knew better then to tell me to wait for EMS… they are wise and well-trained people there, and they are street smart as well. He did ask me to hold for just a few seconds, came back on the phone and told me directly that a local rehab would take me in and was waiting for me. Somehow, someway I knew this person was in fact worried about me and wanted to help me. Don’t ask me how my scrambled half drunk wet brain knew this, but it was something in the “tone” of his voice that said I care about you. Please don’t die.

I used the money I had for the pills, booze and Coca Cola to pay for a cab. It was the old  Dade County Detox Center, not the new fancy area of Jackson Memorial Hospital they have today.

But I made it there, and begged the lady at the window for admittance to please help me. They made me wait and wait and wait (I thought when in fact it was only a half hour) and took me in. I did my time there for nine days. While there on my third day they allowed me to make a call. I called my friend and she told me the child was fine. He had waited around for a while, then simply walked home using short cuts he knew and was waiting at the house when his mom and my friend showed up there. Miracles, miracles miracles. And for me daily prayers of thanks to God as I Understand Him for keeping the child safe, and pulling me away from the “Abyss.”

That was 23 years ago on April 13, 1993. I have not had one single drop of alcohol since that day. 

How did Switchboard of Miami Help me? I’m alive and thriving today, with the most wonderful woman in the world by my side, writing, recording our own original music. I am sober, and enjoy and relish every single second of every day I wake up. Think that answers the question.

I owe my life, my sobriety and all the blessings that have come since then to those wonderful, tirelessly hard working, dedicated beautiful people that make up Switchboard of Miami.

Thank you for saving my life.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.

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Image via Thinkstock.

Originally published: January 5, 2017
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