“I don’t have a drinking problem,” I told myself, over and over again. Sure, when I was partying with friends I would binge drink and slip into such a deep depression that I pushed my very patient and understanding boyfriend to the brink of breaking up with me — but I didn’t come home and drink every night. I drank socially, starting in college. I’d drink to the point where I could talk to people, and then to the point where I’d be crying in the corner and feeling absolutely miserable. I rarely drank to the point of puking, so I wasn’t that kind of drunk. That was normal, or so I thought. Continue reading
In 2011 when I got a DUI, I was in one of my darkest depressions and made the absolute worst mistake of my life. As I look back on that time in my life, I realize that I was not in a good state, and I was making bad choices such as getting behind the wheel that night. As a self-proclaimed “good girl” through high school and even college, I was shocked to end up in the back of a cop car because I let myself make such a horrible choice.
Over the years, it’s been interesting to see that my posts on my DUI are still the #1 top traffic source for my blog. That’s not why I’m writing this, it’s just that before my DUI I admittedly looked down on people who drove over the limit and figured that “they” deserved whatever punishment “they” got. And then “they” was me. And I learned very quickly how harsh the laws are and how the punishment continues to pop up and haunt you no matter how much you want to get away from that one moment. Continue reading
In the summer of 2011, I made a terrible decision to get behind the wheel after attending a networking event and drinking away my anxiety with one too many glasses of wine. I could have killed someone or severely injured myself. I was fortunate to only end up in handcuffs and $10k poorer as a result of that horrible night.
As I learned at my required “first time offender” program, the events leading up to the DUI rarely describe a typical day. We had to do a writing exercise to detail out the events of the day, putting focus on any warning signs so we could recognize them in the future, in order to avoid a DUI habit. (Shockingly, despite the embarrassment and fees, there are still many repeat offenders.)
The day I got my first (and last) DUI, I was trapped in a deep depression, unable to get out of bed to drag myself to work. This does not at all excuse my actions, but looking back three years later I realize just how lucky I am to have escaped that evening with “only” a DUI. I pried myself out of bed to attend a networking event I was looking forward to having not eaten so much as a cracker during the day. My anxiety quickly kicked in and I downed a few glasses of wine (I think it was three oversized glasses, but the servers were refilling so I could have lost count.)
To my own credit, I knew I was not ready to drive immediately after the event. I went around the corner to a bar with a group of event attendees and stayed there for an hour or so until everyone went home. At that point, I walked back to my car, and the rest is a lesson in terrible decision history. A woman called 9-11 on me as I walked to my car and five cops were waiting to arrest me around the corner. I wasn’t ready to drive. Another hour and I would have barely made the cut off for the legal limit. I shouldn’t have even been thinking about driving. I blew a .10%.
It was the roughest night of my life. A night handcuffed to a chair in a freezing waiting area of the jail in nothing but a small, thin, summer dress because I was under psychiatric watch due to informing the cops about my very real intention to kill myself the second I had a chance. Thank god for my boyfriend at the time who, while being sad at the situation I had gotten myself into, picked me up at the jail the next morning and helped me through the very trying next year of my life. Thanks to him, I got through it.
Three Years Later
In hindsight, while being bipolar and massively depressed is not an excuse for driving drunk (ever / at all), I definitely now can recognize the signs when I’m emotionally not in a good place to think about drinking. And since when you have a DUI on your record you cannot have a drop of alcohol in your system when you are driving, I’ve learned how to handle the best practice of never driving if I plan to have anything to drink.
In my professional culture, this is not always the easiest, but people tend to understand. I typically take public transportation to work, which helps, because a work happy hour can still occur without a challenge in getting home. Even when I do drive in to work, if I go out with my colleagues after work for “drinks” I make sure to have just one and then spend a good three hours or so wandering around the mall to make sure any trace of alcohol is out of my system.
The hardest part of my DUI was the first few months when my license was taken away and when I had to participate in “volunteer work” and first offender classes, not to mention hire a lawyer (useless) and go to court to find out what my fine and punishment would be. I really don’t know what I would have done without my boyfriend helping me through the very dark time in my life. I feel bad for people who get DUIs and don’t have a support system in place, especially those who have others relying on them — like single parents or adult children responsible for taking care of their elderly parents. It’s amazing how many things you take for granted about your freedom and ability to transport yourself from one place to another until you’ve been arrested.
Fast forward three years and it seems everyone has a story about a DUI – whether they received one or knew a close friend that did. What drives me absolutely batty is how many people I know go out and drink a couple than get behind the wheel. For instance, I had a colleague who would drive extremely drunk and there was no stopping him (though my coworkers and I tried taking his keys away on numerous occasions.)
The reality is, there is this massive group of people in this country who drive drunk repeatedly and just never get caught. Or at least they haven’t been yet – one day they won’t be so lucky. Some people boast about their driving skills while others are more silent about their repeated choice to get behind the wheel after a few drinks. Last year my boyfriend and I were driving on the freeway behind a blue car that was clearly swerving over the lane back and forth and while we didn’t call 9-11 on the driver, we did follow them off the freeway and saw a police car finally spot their poor driving and pull them over. I was relieved the police got the driver off the street and no one got hurt.
Today I’m actually grateful for the woman who called 9-11 on me walking to my car that day. While I might have gotten home safe that night without hurting another person, that could have been a much uglier night. But what’s more – I clearly had a big problem, one that extended much broader than just my occasional alcohol binge to fight my anxiety and depression — and I needed help. I had gotten to the point where I wasn’t caring about my own well being and wasn’t thinking about how this may effect anyone else. I was selfish and a danger to myself and society. I needed a wake up call.
That wake up call set me back over $10,000, cut my pride in two, made it impossible to get into Canada, and shot me straight from the last flickering embers of my dumb youth into adulthood. I still wish that day never happened, and I still feel sick to my stomach thinking about that evening as I sobered up at the local police station and was driven in the back of a police car down to the county jail for the night.
I think about how humbling the experience was – going from being the girl who didn’t have so much as a sip of alcohol until college – the prude, abstinent one, the one who literally won a poster contest for M.A.D.D. (Mother’s Against Drunk Driving) and was honored at one of their events, to the girl behind bars that they warned you about. The whole experience taught me a lot about judging people so harshly for their mistakes. I think, in a strange way, my progress after the DUI made me a better person – or at least a wiser one, now that I’ve lived through it to tell the tale. There are certainly much safer, more sane places to gain wisdom than one that could result in you spending the rest of your life in jail or worse.
Mental Health System Failures
What I didn’t expect was the amount of people who would find my blog (apparently it shows up in a lot of different searches for DUIs) and, barring the few trolls telling me how terrible of a person I am, how it would help many people who had, like myself, made a very bad decision, and were in a world of hell trying to recover from their mistake. I would get emails, sometimes very long emails, detailing out how much people could relate to my situation and how reading my blog posts about my DUI process made them feel a bit better and more able to handle the brunt of the storm to come.
I continue to be willing to offer my time and support to “DUI victims,” which includes the people who have untreated mental health issues which lead to their DUI arrest. I won’t respond to letters of people who are angry about getting arrested and feel they didn’t deserve it, but I’m happy to support those who know they made a terrible mistake, and who need help. If my blog can help someone bring some reality to their situation – see the light at the end of the tunnel, then writing about all this has served some good.
If you haven’t been closely following my DUI saga, the basic gist of the story is that after three hours of not drinking I got in my car, drove a block, pulled over because I realized I was still somewhat intoxicated, and next thing I know a cop was knocking my window asking me to step out of the car because someone called 911 on me due to seeing me get into my car in the parking garage.
I take full responsibility for my actions and believe I deserve the fullest punishment to the extent of the law — though in reality everyone tells you to fight the DUI conviction to at least try to get a wet reckless, which is still a misdemeanor, but has a slightly less harsh punishment.
But then there’s a separate DMV case that has to be won or lost irregardless of the result of the criminal trial. The whole thing is a huge headache, which besides the cost of the lawyer and fine, is such a major waste of time. Boys and girls, I highly advise you not to drink, wait three hours, think your sober and drive. If you’re going to be driving, don’t drink at all. Much easier than this mess. Continue reading
If you follow my blog, you know that last month I had three glasses of wine, waited three hours, thought I was ok to drive, drove one block from a parking garage and pulled over realizing I wasn’t ok to drive, and managed to pull over across the street from five cop cars waiting, patiently, to catch anyone leaving the bars that might be remotely intoxicated. I didn’t even get pulled over, the cop knocked on my window after I parked.
You can read my earlier post of the details, but the short of the story is that I made a mistake, and now I have to pay for it. Thank goodness I’m not in debt, that I’m single, and that my financial responsibilities are too myself. Still, the whole procedures of having a giant DUI stamp on your head are, rightfully so, a giant pain. Hopefully you’ll never have to experience this in person, but so far I’ve spent $3,000 on a lawyer, expect to spend $2,000 on a fine, and who knows how much more in car insurance once I’m found guilty or take a plea bargain. Then there’s also the cost of the drunk driving classes, the cost of missing work for court and DMV hearings, and the cost of any interest you need to pay on loans to cover all of those fees.
Beyond the dollars lost, getting a DUI is, I hear, another 10 years of headaches. Again, I take getting a DUI seriously, and have learned my lesson and then some. That doesn’t change how frustrating the whole experience is, once you get in trouble the first time. This is probably true for any criminal occurrences, but I find it odd that you’re arrested, go to jail, let go in a few hours, and then you’re in this waiting period of freedom for a month or more before they have time to hear your case. It wasn’t clear at all how much I should pay for a lawyer, or if a lawyer is really going to make a difference in the result of my case. I was so frustrated by the situation that I didn’t want to “shop around” or negotiate like I normally would. One of my friends had a DUI a few years ago, so I asked her what to do, she recommended this lawyer, and I just said OK. I was incredibly ashamed and embarrassed and didn’t want to think about it or talk about it any more than necessary.
After getting a DUI, you have 10 days to request a temporary license from the DMV (at least in California.) Then you have another DMV meeting about a month after that. There’s another hearing, in court, to set the date of your pre-trial arraignment. Apparently the first DMV hearing can be attended by your lawyer, and you don’t have to be there. Same thing goes for the first court hearing. Then you don’t have to go to the second DMV hearing, but you can, and it may help. And you’re required to go to the pre-trial arraignment in court. After that, I think how it works is that you can take a plea bargain. I assume this will come with the big fine, requirement to attend what I like to call “I’m a dumbass” courses, weekender work (free orange vests and sun!), and likely a license suspension for a month plus five months of a limited license that lets me drive only to work and back. Plus, for 10 years I have this on my record, which really isn’t too bad unless you get a second DUI (which I won’t), but it apparently means you can’t travel to Canada and if you ever apply for a job that asks if you have a record, you have to put this on your application, which will probably hold you back from some opportunities. For 10 years. Until I’m 37, I’m fucked.
That is, unless my lawyer can somehow prove that I was unlawfully arrested. There’s a small possibility there — I wasn’t pulled over — the only reason the cop bothered me at all is because someone apparently called 911 on a car leaving the parking garage around the same time I left. I don’t know what detail they have on the car leaving the garage, but from what I overheard while at the jail, the report said the car was a different make and model than the one I drive. As I was parked at the time when the cop walked up to my car, knocked on my door, which I then opened, and he asked me to step out of the car, and things went downhill from there.
There definitely are some laws (albeit minimal ones) to protect people from being unlawfully arrested. I’m not sure exactly what happens if they prove you were breaking the law after you were arrested — the fact of the matter is that I had .11 BAC and I shouldn’t have left the parking garage to begin with. A huge part of me wanted to just plead guilty, but the way the law works you are screwed if you do that, and you’re much better off trying to fight it, even if that means you end up with a plea bargain for wet reckless or a slightly smaller fine. I hate that I can’t just own up to my error and call it a day. Instead, this is a nightmare. And a month after I was arrested, the nightmare is only beginning.