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Rocky Rails to Sobriety

by Chris Guenzler

My drinking had gotten totally out of control. The Demon Liquor had taken control of my life. It controlled every aspect of my daily living. I would come to, eat breakfast if I could keep it down and drive to work. On some mornings I would have to pull off the side of the road and vomit. I managed to get to work every single day but now I was suffering from slight DT's. My hands would tremble and one very bright child even noticed and I would lie, saying that I was cold. I had him fooled but who was really the fool? Once work was over, I would head straight to the liquor store to start my afternoon of drinking. I could hardly hold the bottle still and sometimes it took me to use both hand to pour that first drink. My hands were shaking so badly until I got that first drink in me and I returned to normal or what normal was in my sick mind. The shaking would stop and I would drink that first drink very quickly.

Being what I became I could not stop with just that one drink. I then would have one drink after another. When I went through that first pint of Kesseler Whiskey, I would make up an excuse to go someplace to get more. Onwas that I was going down to shoot a picture of an Amtrak train. I would take my empty camera bag and return with it full of more liquor and mix. Sometimes I saw a train other times I knew there was no train due but no one else knew that at my house. Another trick was to wear a jacket and sneak it in under it or there was always my bedroom window which I used in many different ways. I would use my window to get liquor in or I would piss or vomit out of it at night. I went from being a very honest person to one who lied whenever the need arose. The disease of alcohol had its name all over me but I just denied it.

If I did not feel like eating, I would say that I was sick, more lies. I stopped eating so my weight began to drop. I locked myself inside my bedroom and drank every night away. Drinking was now a seven day a week ritual. The term "lost weekend" should have had my picture by it. I spent more daylight hours passed out than I did functioning. Weeknights I would pass out earlier and earlier. Knowing that I had to get up for work, Breath mints, Bianca, Clear Eyes and mouthwash all became regular additions to my daily life as I attempted to cover up my drinking. Who was I fooling as most people close to me knew I had a drinking problem and I would not admit it. I was the fool being fooled.

I would call up friends to come over and if I had not passed out well before they came over, I would be miles out of the gate before they arrived. I would not share my supply of liquor with them, I always made them bring their own. My friends would make fewer and fewer visits. Who could blame them, they came over to see Chris and get an out of control drunk instead. Did I care? No, I was controlled by the bottle and it was making my life a vicious cycle of: come to, go to work, drink, and pass out over and over again. Train riding was only something I would do to see Bruce up in Sacramento and drink heavily both ways on the train or on an occasional San Diegan with major drinking taking place. My life was like a train running wild down the rails of life, something had to stop it.

It was like any other morning in the last two years, I came to, tried to keep some Fruit Loops down with no techno colored vomit and managed to drive to work following all my ritual cover up tricks. I was hung over although some Tylenol helped and after snacking at lunch my thoughts were obsessing on the first drink of the day. We were doing an experiment in Maureen Angle's science class, I cannot remember which one but it had the idea to try the experiment, get a conclusion, repeat the procedure and if you got the same conclusion repeat it one more time to see if you got the same results. I managed to get most of the way through sixth period before I snuck out to the bathroom to throw up my snack and managed to return to class. I headed home, first stopping at Santiago Liquor to get the usual pint of Kesseler Whiskey, then home to my room to start the daily ritual of drinking.

I locked my door and with my hands really shaking poured that first drink and gulped it down. Within five minutes, I threw it back up. A thought hit me square between my eyes. I just had a result. I repeated the process and next drink, same result. Third drink, same result. Conclusion, the alcohol was making me sick. I had the proof, with my mind not believing it at first. I must have drunk enough to stop my hands from shaking because they were perfectly still. Must be a touch of the flu my mind thought. I fixed another drink, not the 60%/40%, but a 20%/80% mixer and managed to keep it down. That was followed by the contents of the rest of the bottle and then I passed out about four thirty in the afternoon. I came to about seven forty five with my stomach in shooting pain. What could be causing this? I had not heard of a flu strain like this. I thought back to my experiment from earlier in the day and I had the result, could I now believe it. I laid there in the darkness of my room with only the clock radio giving off any light thinking. On January l7, 1995 at eight thirteen P.M. Pacific Standard time, I finally admitted to God that I was an alcoholic and would he please help me. I felt a moment of peace for the first time in my life in a verylong time. I prayed with an honest heart for the first time in years asking him to guide me through this problem. I started to feel better, developed a plan of action and then fell asleep.

The next morning I woke up with a purpose in my life for the first time ever and I was a man on a mission. I had breakfast and drove to McFadden where I knocked on the rear locker room door with Rod Napier answering. I sat down and confessed to Rod that I was an Alcoholic and asking him to come with me to talk to our principal, Brenda McGaffigin, to get me some help. We went up to the office and learned that Brenda would not be back until lunch. I saw that Maureen Angle's door was open and I told her the results of my experiment. She said that she would do anything to help me. Next I went to my room and saw Hedy. She always knew I had a problem but kept quiet out of loyalty and friendship. The morning passed by quickly and at lunch Rod, Hedy and I were sitting in Brenda's office where I confessed that I was an alcoholic and that I needed help. Brenda understood my problem and was very supportive saying that she would do anything to help me. We called the District Office and I spoke with Dr. Champlin who told me what to do. He gave me a phone number to call at UCI Medical Center to make an appointment to get me started on the road to recovery. Brenda let me use her office phone and I called UCI to set things up. I was grateful for all the support that I was getting. I finished the day and went home bypassing the liquor store for the first time in years. When I got home, I told my mom and dad who were overjoyed with my news.

I finished the rest of the day sober but could not sleep at all that first night. Having a sleep problem is a common side effect of quitting drinking. The next day, I worked a half day and then went to UCI to be evaluated. The doctor gave me high marks saying that I could still work and would only need an outpatient program. He gave me a prescription for sleeping pills and that night I slept soundly. The next day, the first treatment center that I called said they only did full time care and no outpatient. It became a game of telephone tag with me losing and getting very frustrated. Here I was trying to get myself sober and trying to take care of my problem with no one wanting to help me. I was getting the run around and did not like it at all. A five night a week program in Fullerton said that they would take me but with the forecast of heavy rains, I didn't want to risk my life driving back and forth on Interstate 5. I now valued my life. More phone calls took place but at least I was not drinking. The weekend came and went. I then had conversations with Tustin Hospital who said that they would start a day outpatient program just for me.

So on the 13th day of my sobriety I started my four hour a day program at Tustin Hospital. I was given a clean bill of health by a doctor who examined me and spent three weeks in treatment. I was there mostly for the education and what an education I got. I was with other alcoholics, heroin junkies, crystal meth users and speed demons. I graduated from the program to a once a week nighty aftercare meeting. While I was there I did the first three steps of AA's twelve step program. My friend Scott Weber took me to my first AA meeting at 6 am at the hospital and I started to attend that meeting every day. I did the 12 Steps with them at a Sunday Night Meeting which was the best thing that I could have done for myself as it allowed me to shed so much unwanted emotional baggage. There is a line in AA that says "You will be amazed when you are half way through!" The Truth, I have been amazed all the way through.

My life changed for the better almost immediately. Instead of passing out and coming to, I now fall asleep and wake up being able to taste things. Getting out of bed, I am now so full of energy and I enjoy my days. I am so much more aware of my surroundings now. Living has become fun again and I have come out of my shell. I am alive and enjoying life. There was only one question left in my mind, could I still ride trains sober or would my train riding days be over?

There would be only one way to find out so on the 25th day of my sobriety, I made a short round trip to Fullerton. I boarded the Amcafe like normal and walked up to the counter like I always did and ordered. Out of my mouth came the word "Screwdriver". The attendant looked at me funny and asked if I really wanted one of those? I asked what did I say and he replied "Screwdriver." I said, "Give me one of those minus the vodka." We both laughed. He asked if I had just given up drinking and when I said "Yes", he said that he had over five years of sobriety. I had just made a new friend. I made my round trip to Fullerton and walked off the train sober and amazed.

My first night time train ride was the last southbound train to ever stop at Del Mar, CA The station was being closed only to be replaced by a new station in Solana Beach which would be a trailer until the new building was completed. This was because the new Coaster Commuter Train Service was started and they needed stations with ample parking so when Del Mar would not do anything, Solana Beach built a new station and now would have Amtrak Service. I took Train San Diegan 582 south reading the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous. At Del Mar, I walked around the station building one last time before train San Diegan 587, the final northbound train ever to use the old Del Mar Station pulled in for its last time. I boarded and with that train San Diegan 587left Del Mar on time for the final time. I then came up with a plan never to drink on a train again, Rule G. Rule G states that: "The use of alcoholic beverages, intoxicants, narcotics, marijuana or other controlled substances by employees subject to duty, or use while on duty or on company property, is prohibited." If I followed this while on a train I would never drink again, God willing. I went one step further for the rest of my life. My new policy is: "No drinking under any circumstance in life! If I never broke that rule, I would stay sober for the rest of my life, God willing! The next morning I rode the first southbound train into Solana Beach. Now if I could take a little longer trip how about something even longer.

The long President Weekend was about to happen, so I booked a trip up to Sacramento on the San Joaquin Service to my brother Bruce and his family for a visit with my new found sobriety and a sober Chris. Since I was in Sacramento, I decided to ride the new Capitol Train to San Jose and back. We ran on time until Fruitville Road south of Oakland where a gentleman threw himself in front of the train which had brand new California Cars and a new locomotive to commit suicide. With over 163,000 miles of train riding, I was finally on a train that had hit someone. The train went into emergency and out of the rear door I could see the body. I learned later that the man had been drinking before the accident. People do not understand why someone would use a train to kill themselves, but I do. Passenger Trains run on a schedule, so the person just picks a train and if it runs on time, there is a good chance then they are all set. All the passengers got the chance to go around the San Jose wye before we pulled into San Jose. The return trip to Sacramento ran on time as did my San Joaquin two days later without me even thinking of having a drink. With that I returned home to a new school district rule that I had to use up almost all my vacation days I earned by the end of the school year. This started me planning my 1995 Spring Break Trip.

Now look at all that I accomplished since I become sober that is on this web site. No longer the slave to the bottle, I am free to explore the planet by rail. Thank you for Mrs. Angle for the science experiment that saved and turned around my life. Thank God for my sobriety.