By Dave Begel Contributing Writer Published May 30, 2013 at 5:04 AM Photography:

I don’t want anyone to take this for anything other than what it is, a cautionary tale that every young person – I’m talking about 50 and younger – should hear and heed.

Think of this as Dear Abby for a generation where it actually applies not just to a broken heart that wrote in for advice. I am not really an advice-giver but I’ve been so moved recently that I can’t help from offering my reaction to the last couple of months as a word of caution: take care of yourself.

Let me explain.

I just spent the last two months in and out of a hospital ... mainly in. I got out for some rehabilitation but most of those two months have been spent in the custody and care of nurses and doctors at Columbia St. Mary’s Hospital. I was being treated for a breathing problem. Sitting still I was fine. But when I tried to walk, as little as 15 or 20 feet, I felt as though a pair of sumo wrestlers had landed on my chest and were duking it out.

There is nothing quite like being unable to breathe. It is frightening. Everyone searched for a clue as to what was causing this thing. Around and around we went and finally we came up with something that at least seemed to make sense. Only time will be able to tell whether we are right or whether we go back to the drawing board.

I don’t really expect any of’s readers to care too much about what happened to me. But I do want to take at least a little time to share the big thing I’ve learned through this and hope it resonates with people who still have a lot of life ahead of them.

All of this crap, the the inability to breathe well, the pain of climbing a short flight of stairs, the fear when my wife will suggest going for a walk around the block, the worry when somebody I was driving with parked too far from our destination, having to sit at a table in a restaurant because I couldn’t fit in a booth, how I would notice when I had a huge plate of food and other people would glance at both the food and me, how I could wrestle with my grandkids when I was on the couch, but when Charlie wanted me to pitch balls to him, I had to sit down to do it and when he threw the ball back I didn’t run to get it, how I used to be able to stand up and play three sets of rock and roll and now I could barely get through three songs.

It was all bad, but the worst part of it is that I did this all to myself. I did it with the Big Lie.

As a young man, and well into middle age, there wasn’t anything I didn’t drink to excess and there was nothing I didn’t eat. Put it in front of me and it was as good as gone. In addition, there was almost nothing I wouldn’t smoke. Talk about the Unholy Trinity, I was a disciple.

But for all those years, I was an expert at the Big Lie. I convinced myself that I was the one guy in the world who could survive all this abuse and not feel it. It wasn’t that bad, I thought and I was feverish in the drive to convince everyone else of this. As the pounds piled up and the breathing grew more difficult and I started shopping at the Big Man’s store, I never faced the reality of the situation. I had occasional attempts at change, but those attempts were more to satisfy other people than a real commitment on my part.

There were such amazing fallout from my Big Lie. I could look in a mirror and still see that thing and handsome man of 30. But when I looked at a photograph I wondered who that fat guy with the strained face was. It couldn’t be me.

It was a pretend world that I created and I was in the middle of it. I was smoking like a chimney the day I ran three miles with former Sen. Bill Proxmire for an article I was writing. It was supposed to be a five-mile run, but I let him go on after I complained about shin splints. I didn’t have shin splints, I just wanted to hide and have a cigarette.

I’m not exactly sure why I lived my life like this. I suppose it had something to do with acceptance, with the attraction of wild fun, with fears and uncertainties that lurked beneath the surface and were under control when I managed to blow through life thinking I was in control of what was going on.

And here’s what made me sad, still makes me sad, and I hope can help someone else avoid this.

I did all this to myself. There were no germs or bugs, no hereditary factors, no mysterious causes that people held telethons and marches for. Nobody wore a special color or an armband. Support groups were almost non-existent. A lot of times you can’t help it if you get sick, if you come down with something. But this one you can help. You can truly avoid the physical ravages of long-term abuse.

That’s the message. If you are 20 or 30 or 40 or even 50, pay attention and be honest with yourself.

There is a lot of temptation out there. It’s fun to get drunk. It’s fun to enjoy a big and wonderful meal. One more piece of pizza and one more glass of wine won’t hurt you. All those deep fried appetizers you can get at your favorite bar – the ones that taste so good – can give you a good base for a night of cocktails.

Well, here’s where the big advice comes in.

As strong and invincible as you feel at your age, please, sometimes learn that "no" is a pretty good thing to say. Too much "yes" and not enough "no" and you could end up with two sumo wrestlers on your chest.

Dave Begel Contributing Writer

With a history in Milwaukee stretching back decades, Dave tries to bring a unique perspective to his writing, whether it's sports, politics, theater or any other issue.

He's seen Milwaukee grow, suffer pangs of growth, strive for success and has been involved in many efforts to both shape and re-shape the city. He's a happy man, now that he's quit playing golf, and enjoys music, his children and grandchildren and the myriad of sports in this state. He loves great food and hates bullies and people who think they are smarter than everyone else.

This whole Internet thing continues to baffle him, but he's willing to play the game as long as keeps lending him a helping hand. He is constantly amazed that just a few dedicated people can provide so much news and information to a hungry public.

Despite some opinions to the contrary, Dave likes most stuff. But he is a skeptic who constantly wonders about the world around him. So many questions, so few answers.