This editorial will appear in Tuesday’s print edition.
Ten years ago, News Tribune readers knew Nicholas Cecil Leading Horse as the poster boy for the price society pays for street drunks and addicts. In his case, it was an estimated $2.4 million.
His story was a revolving door of dysfunction. He’d get drunk on cheap alcohol and pass out. Someone would find him and call the fire department, which would respond and transport him to a local hospital emergency room for treatment. He’d go into detox or rehab, get out, start drinking and the cycle would begin all over again.
Leading Horse’s craggy face was all too familiar to firefighters and ER personnel, and his care was a costly drain on public and hospital resources.
But in September 2008, he almost died when his alcohol-ravaged esophagus ruptured. And that’s when he decided to live. He checked into rehab, and this time it took.
Today, sober at 64, Leading Horse is a poster boy of a different sort: for what can be accomplished when someone decides not to give in to the booze – and when support is in place to help with that decision.
Ironically, Leading Horse’s story played a big part in creating that support. It helped galvanize creation of the Sobering Center of Tacoma, a round-the-clock facility that provides a safe place for homeless people to sober up – and have access to the kind of services and transitional housing that could lead to long-term sobriety.
His story also was a factor in creation of Tacoma’s Alcohol Impact Areas – where sales of cheap, high-octane booze are forbidden – and restrictions on panhandling, which is how street inebriates often pay for their habit.
During this Thanksgiving week, when we look for things for which to be thankful, we don’t have to look very far.
We can be thankful that there are people who care about society’s outcasts and created ways to help them. In doing so, they have saved lives and improved the quality of life for the community at large.
And we can be thankful that Cecil Leading Horse chose to be the only one of the six children in his family not to die drunk. This man, who almost died from alcohol abuse, now leads Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. If this most hard-core of drinkers can turn his life around, there is surely hope for others.