KUSA - Cold is not the word I would use to describe that January night back in 2002 in rural Minnesota. Bone chilling is more like it...and I'm not just describing the weather.
A dimly lit, damp basement is where I found myself, surrounded by empty schnapps, rum and vodka bottles along with crushed beer cans. The attention of the room, however, was my small group of friends huddled around our friend Tom.
I couldn't tell you how many drinks Tom had that night; it was enough. He was unresponsive, eyes glazed, body limp. Tom was in trouble. We were terrified. Finally, one of us called 911 and got Tom to the hospital. They had to pump his stomach. He was in the ER overnight.
I was a senior that year - and this was the first, and only time I've had to deal with alcohol poisoning - but I will never forget it.
Sobriety Court is a story reporter Will Ripley and I started shooting in April of 2012. This topic is very important to me. When we think of addictions, drugs are typically what come to mind. Yet we tend to forget about the last legal drug served in America. It can ruin lives and relationships.
Covering this was eye-opening for me, much like that day back in January 2002. The stories I heard from recovering alcoholics were incredible. Waking up every morning and having a drink. One person said he's already gotten five DUI's. Another said he became sober before he was able to legally drink. The common theme - they were all in a period of self destruction and all agree Sobriety Court was the constant that has helped them. However, out of all the people we talked to, no one's story hit us harder than 32-year-old Shawna Bauer's.
Two years sober, the journey she took to get where she is now is remarkable. It was hard to concentrate on shooting this story while listening to hers. Shawna, a complete stranger to us, explained how she used to get drunk every day for years. She poured out every detail. Pictures and photo albums were abundant in her room, but she couldn't remember most of them because she was too drunk when the photo was snapped. The moments and people she's lost in her life are tragic.
At her house, I kept thinking of this quote I heard when someone described himself as an alcoholic:
"I don't understand people who have one drink. I don't understand people who leave half a glass of wine on the table. I don't understand people who say they've had enough.How can you have enough of feeling like this? How can you not want to feel like this longer?"
Most of us, me included, know how to have a beer with friends or a glass of wine with dinner. Shawna didn't. She would recount how she would consistently choose alcohol over the things in her life that were more important, including her baby boy. After I finished editing our piece, on my drive home, it was a bitter cold night just like 2002. I thought of Tom.
I went to college with him. He had problems with alcohol and drugs during that time too - but he never addressed it, never asked for help. One day, he just disappeared. I heard he went to rehab, cleaned up, but fell off the wagon again. I haven't seen him in years. What I remember most is the kid was a genius.
He could barely study for an Algebra test, but walk into class the next day, finish the test first, and ace it. We all knew he was the smartest out of all of us. He would go on to big things. Then Alcohol entered his life.
Last I heard: he was selling cooking knives. Watch our story on Monday. Hopefully, the story of Shawna's will inspire you to help out someone you know has a problem with alcohol. Do it the way I never did for Tom - be a friend.