I received permission from Cecil to tell this story. It’s with gratitude to my former patient and new friend that I’m reporting on the recent events of his life.
To say that Cecil Leadinghorse was an alcoholic is an understatement. By the data collected through the state department of social services and local hospitals, Cecil was the most troublesome alcoholic in the state of Washington.
Prior to 2008, nearly every paramedic, firefighter, and emergency room nurse in two counties knew Cecil on a first-name basis. His alcoholic antics were the stuff of legends. It was common for him to be transported 3 or 4 times a day. Units were routinely dispatched for “Cecil sightings.” Some crews would see him staggering down the street and transport him without being dispatched to get him into an emergency room early in the shift so they wouldn’t have to pick him up at 3 in the morning.
EMT and Paramedic instructors took special time in their classes to teach crews how to properly transport Cecil. According to the state, his healthcare bill at the expense of taxpayers exceeded 10 million dollars by the mid-1990s.
In an effort to reign in the expense of treating homeless alcoholics in Tacoma, the two largest hospitals developed a jointly funded project called the “Sobering Center.” Staffed by one employee, it has 5 rooms designated as safe places for drunks to be transported to instead of a hospital. The rooms have mattresses on the floor and bathroom facilities. Guests are watched for several hours, then released to the community. This project was developed largely to address the problems caused by Cecil’s drinking.
If ever an alcoholic had earned the status as a legend, it was Cecil.
While transporting him from a hospital to detox two years ago, I had a God encounter of sorts. I asked God to give me some words that would forever change Cecil’s life. I felt that God’s sullied reputation in Tacoma could somehow be redeemed if He could get Cecil to quit drinking.
During the transport, God gave me a few things to say. When we arrived at Detox, I asked Cecil if I could share them. He said, “sure.”
I said that people had been calling him a worthless drunk all his life and he never believed anything different. I told him that every word spoken about him being a useless drunk was a lie and he needed to stop listening to the lies. I told him God didn’t make him a useless drunk. I told him that he would one day be a sober man of integrity that others would respect. I told him that people would look to him as an example of how to get free of alcohol. I basically prophesied non-stop for about ten minutes that Cecil would have a new future. He sat in stunned silence and said, “thanks.”
A little more than 6 months later, (in March of 2009) I saw Cecil in the emergency room. He was there for a minor injury. He was sober.
It was my turn to be stunned.
I went to the desk and asked the nurses about it. Four different nurses confirmed that he’d been clean and sober for almost 6 months.
Four months later, (July of 2009) I was talking with a Tacoma cop. I mentioned that I’d heard Cecil was clean and sober. He said, “yup, that’s a fact. We see him every day at 11:45 walking down 9th street to the Urban Grace church to his AA meetings. He looks like a different man.”
For over a year, I’ve wanted to find Cecil and ask what happened to him. In October of 2010, I spent one day following up on a few patients I transported and prayed with. While driving down Tacoma Avenue, I saw Cecil. I parked the car and got out. I talked with him for about 30 minutes. He gave me permission to tell his story and take his picture.
This is his story:
He told me of the time he lay dying while pounding on the door of the sobering center. He was desperately trying to be let in before they opened. After crashing from being drunk, he began vomiting blood. He thought it would stop, but the blood kept coming.
He tried to get the attention of the caretaker by pounding on the door, but she ignored him.
Filled with fear, he begged her again to open the door. When she did, she saw the blood and called for an ambulance. The crew took him to the closest hospital. He was rushed to the operating room they repaired his ruptured esophagus.
After coming out of the hospital it was time for a wake up call.
He thought about quitting his love affair with alcohol many times. After 23 failed attempts to get sober, he entered a treatment program. He was allowed to live in an apartment above detox.
One day, he went to Tim’s convenience store to get beer. They wouldn’t sell it to him so he cursed them out and left. He went across the street and bought a six pack but as he came out of the store, the police saw him and took it away. He cursed them out.
He looked around for his drinking friends but found none. He hopped a bus to the south end of town and tried to buy beer at 38th street, but they wouldn’t sell to him either. He cursed them out and left, a bitter man.
Lonely, empty and sober, he caught the bus back to Fawcett street. He had a stash of two bottles hidden in the bushes. He pulled them out and with determination in his mind never to drink again, he dumped them on the ground. He went back to his apartment and fell asleep.
Cecil remained in treatment, went to his group meetings and hasn’t had a drink in more than 2 years. His life of addiction is finally over.
He has buss passes to get around town but he doesn’t use them much. While driving through town I see him hobbling down the sidewalk with his walker from time to time. He loves to walk.
He can be seen every day going to the Urban Grace church where his AA group meets.
He even has a car; a mid- ‘90s Pontiac that he paid cash for. But he doesn’t use it much. He prefers to walk.
Cecil knows he’s a role model of sorts. He won’t tell alcoholics “Just do what I did.” He believes we’re all different and what worked for him, may not work for them. But he knows he was one of the worst alcoholics ever and he knows that if he was able to do it, anyone can.
I can’t say that Cecil has an intimate relationship with God at this point in his journey. He’s still sorting things out after a lifetime of abuse, addiction and confusion. But I believe he’s closer than he was a few years ago.
Some changes take more time than others.
It is a journey. We take one step at a time.