Steamboat nurse publishes story of son’s triumph over alcoholism
March 12, 2012
Steamboat Springs — When he was 6 years old, Christian Appel started to take note of his father's alcoholism. At that time, the child didn't know much about the disease that would keep a tight grip on Keith Appel for two decades. But he knew it caused everyone pain.
The fabric of Christian's story started with single words and progressed into paragraphs as he grew older. He started to write about his father's addiction to alcohol and the multiple DUIs, financial struggles, jail time and instability the disease caused.
Christian's words captured the hurt, but later they would be used to heal after his story became a book.
"When people read my story, I hope they see they can overcome anything," Christian, now 16, said Monday.
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In alcohol's grip
Alcohol gripped Keith Appel at an early age.
"From the time I was 12 to when I was 33, I felt like my life was unmanageable because of alcohol," the Steamboat Springs native said Monday. "I just kept getting into trouble. I got three DUIs. I almost lost my kids. I was struggling financially. But that's all changed now."
Rehab, jail time and a pervading sense of instability accompanied his drinking. He avoided some phone calls and had difficulties sustaining a job. He feared police. He said he had the one disease people get mad at you for having.
But on April 11, 2007, Keith, 38, said goodbye to alcohol after a long struggle. With a smile, the father described on Monday the snowmobiling trip on Buffalo Pass that he took with his daughter Madisun, 13, and Christian during the weekend. He also described the excitement he now feels each day when he wakes up.
"Life is worth living again," he said. "I can actually be a good role model."
But it took a lot to get to where he is today.
"I was at a crossroads," he said about his decision to stop drinking. "One way was going to be death, and the other way was to humble myself and try other people's suggestions. On April 13, 2007, I got down on my knees and prayed to God he would take away my obsession of alcohol. I have not had a craving since."
He said alcohol support groups, friends and family also helped him to wrestle free from his addiction.
Six months after the prayer and the start of his sobriety, Keith's children moved back in with him. He also started a heating company he continues to operate today. He healed further when he found Christian's story.
A cathartic experience
Chris Appel was cleaning files off her computer to make it run faster last year when she found her grandson's story on the hard drive. Three years earlier, she had helped Christian write and polish his narrative of Keith's alcoholism and recovery. Telling the story of a painful disease as seen through the eyes of her grandchild was a cathartic experience for Chris, a nurse at Yampa Valley Medical Associates.
"In 2008, we just started writing about it together," she said. "There was a lot of praying going on and a lot of hope. The story stayed on the computer, and it sat there and we forgot about it."
After she rediscovered the story, Chris decided to have it bound and published so it could help others who are battling alcoholism and addiction. In November, "Christian's Story" hit the bookshelves. As a nurse, Chris said she often sees the damage caused by alcoholism, and she wanted to open people's eyes to the devastation. She added she didn't want to keep her own family's struggle behind closed doors.
"It's a simple story with a powerful message," she said.
Although the diction inside is simple, Chris said the book is not a children's book. It's for anyone.
A success story
Keith was sober for a year before he found Christian's story on a computer. It was a hard read, he said, but an important one.
"It was something that bummed me out initially," he said about the story. "But I was able to see what I did through the eyes of my son. I don't want my dirt aired, but if it can benefit other families, then I'm all for it. Hopefully, the book works to the benefit of a lot of people. I'm not ashamed of it. I'm not embarrassed by it. I've just got to keep doing the right things."
His mother wants to keep sharing their success story.
"I'm so grateful where we are today," Chris said. "I'm even more grateful we can tell this story with a happy ending."
To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210 or email scottfranz@SteamboatToday.com