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Three Years Since My DUI – Life After a DUI

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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.

Lessons Learned

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.

The Cost of a DUI in California

In November, I pulled the trigger and wrote my final $800 check to cover the fine for my DUI. The last year, especially the first half of it, has been a struggle for me, going from a person who was the type to judge inebriated drivers, to someone who was handcuffed in a police car after failing to leave myself enough time after drinking at a networking event before getting behind the wheel.

If you’re the type of person who goes out and parties all the time and laughs that you’ve driven drunk more times than you can count, getting a DUI would still be frustrating, but it probably wouldn’t cause you to question your entire identity. Over the course of participating in the various programs for first-time offenses, I met a variety of people spanning the gamut from those who were partying hard and woke up in the hospital after getting behind the wheel to others who were older parents coming home from an evening out at a nice restaurant, who were arrested after their tire blew out, unrelated to their drinking. In the eyes of the law, rightly so, these people are not judged differently. (In fact, I was stunned that often the person who had a much higher BAC and flipped their car managed to get off a lot easier due to a good lawyer or luck with their prosecutor!)

For me, I was always frustrated with “how” I got caught (a citizen called 911 on me as I walked to my car) but deep down knowing that I needed the wake up call. It was a wake up call not just to this particular poor choice, but a downward spiral I had let myself get on in my life. The more stressed and depressed I got, the worse choices I made. I’m glad that I didn’t end up on a hospital bed or worse. But I did end up with one of the most unforgettable experiences of my life, going from goody two shoes to defendant.

Now that I’ve finally paid off the last bit of my DUI fine, I’ve tabulated the costs this stupid mistake have cost my networth. This isn’t over yet, however, as I still have nearly 3 more years of increased insurance, which has kept me from purchasing a newer car. In fact, I’m driving around in an embarrassing beater  to remind myself of the money I lost to this, and balance some of it out, at least the insurance fees.

Total Spent on DUI (First Offense)

$1806 DUI Fine
$3000 Lawyer
$732 First Offender Class
$25 Duplicate License
$3168 ($88 x 3 x 12) on insurance fees
———————————————–
~$8731 

There is likely other costs that I haven’t included here, so I estimate the DUI will cost $10k by the time I’m done with it. For instance, if I want to go to Canada within the next 13 years I’ll have to pay a few hundred dollar entry fee to apply since in Canada they consider a DUI a felony. So I’m probably not going to Canada for a while, but these are costs that will add to the total that I haven’t considered yet.

It really is crazy how one really stupid mistake and bad choice can cost you nearly $10,000. When they say “it’s cheaper to call a cab or EVEN A LIMO to take you home when you are drinking,” they’re right. I should have called for a limo both home and back to my car for every night I went out drinking and I’d still end up ahead. Or, more reasonably, a taxi. $10k / $100 goes a long way.

Lesson learned the hard way.

Lot of Hate “Mail” / Comments re: My DUI Posts

Wow, I’ve received a lot of hate mail (comments) regarding the blog posts on the consequences of getting a DUI. It seems my post got picked up by The Consumerist, which sent a slew of angry people over to my blog to yell at me. Welcome new readers. 🙂

I wanted to respond, even though it’s clear that people who are angry about anything will never budge in their opinion of you. First things first, I will never, ever have a drink and think about getting near a car again. There was a comment about how I sound like I’m not sorry I drove drunk, I’m sorry I got caught. Here’s the truth — I’m glad I got caught. I’m not glad that I have to deal with everything that goes along with this experience, but clearly what I did was wrong — whether I was caught or not — driving with a .12% BAC. I am embarrassed by this. I did not eat all day, the bartender kept refilling my glass, and the situation somehow got out of control. This doesn’t excuse what happened, I’m just framing the situation — I drink once or twice a year. I am the same person who often grabs keys from friends when they get in cars to drive anywhere after having a few drinks at the bar. I’m the one who is constantly judging coworkers for getting behind the wheel after having a few beers at happy hour, when I just drink water.

This doesn’t excuse that I was stupid, and that I got into a car when I was intoxicated. The real point of the story I want to make is that you stay “drunk” for a long long time after you’ve stopped drinking. I waited three hours after my last beverage, and I wasn’t taking shots either. I had three glasses of wine over the course of the evening, and then I waited three hours. And I thought I was ok to drive. The truth is I did not get pulled over for driving poorly. I pulled over by choice, after I drove a half block, because I realized the three hours wasn’t enough, and a cop walked up to my car because I was seen by another citizen walking to my car and wobbling in my heels. This is not an excuse. This is just what happened. I shouldn’t have even gotten in the car. But, reality is, when you’re more intoxicated than you think you are, your judgement isn’t rational. Continue reading

DUI Don’t — A Tale of Court and Paying for my Sins

Since this post was featured on The Consumerist today, I’ve received a lot of hate mail & comments regarding my DUI. Many of you say that I clearly don’t feel sorry for driving drunk, I only feel sorry for getting caught. The truth of the matter is — I feel stupid for driving drunk. I’m the same girl who got angry in high school drivers ed when 90% of the class was about drunk driving because I didn’t touch alcohol until I was 21, and most of the other kids in my class drank on a regular basis. I never thought that I would end up with a DUI.

I do not think I would have hurt anyone that night given I wasn’t driving erratically any more than other times when I was exhausted or distracted while driving (fact is I wasn’t stopped for driving, I was parked at the time I was approached by the cop) — but I can’t know what the outcome would have been. The reason I’m glad I was arrested that night is because that night or another night, who knows when, I could have been in a worse state and got behind the wheel. I could have hurt someone… I could have killed someone.

I drink maybe once or twice a year, and it’s easy to forget just how intoxicated one gets when you are not used to alcohol or what it does to you. Do I feel upset about being caught? Sure. It sucks to be caught. It sucks to have to spend time in jail, be a criminal, and pay massive fines. But I needed a wake up call, and ultimately I’m thankful to have gotten one.

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Original post:

Don’t ever get a DUI… and don’t ever get a DUI in Santa Clara County, is what I learned this week. Any DUI lawyer will tell you that it’s tough to fight a DUI charge if your BAC was higher than .08%, regardless of whether you were lawfully arrested, but they all get your hopes up a little bit so you hire them to represent you in court.

Just a quick reminder of how I was arrested… someone called 911 on me because i was “wobbling” walking to my car (wearing high heels, mind you). I had about three glasses of wine, and stopped drinking at 9:30pm, and didn’t get into my car until midnight. Apparently I’m one heck of a lightweight. I drove around the corner and pulled over, realizing that I shouldn’t be driving. Just my luck a cop party was happening across the street, waiting to catch people leaving the bars. I was parked, a cop walked up to my car and knocked on my door, asked me to step out, and eventually arrested me for BAC of .12%, which later at the station was .10%, still well over the legal limit. I completely take responsibility for this stupidity and am clearly guilty, yet the reason I was arrested (because some woman decided I seemed drunk because I was wobbling in my high heels) is still bothersome. Granted, I was, so ok, I deserve whatever was coming to me.

When I got my DUI, I wasn’t in the mood to shop around for the best lawyer or one with the best price. I asked my friend who I knew had a DUI before for advice, and she pointed me to the lawyer I ended up with, who was a “friend of her family,” for what that’s worth. He seemed to know what he was talking about, and for $3,000 I could have his full representation in court both for my DUI and also for a traffic ticket that I needed to fight due to the DUI. $3,000 was a lot, but if it meant I might be able to fight the DUI, it was worth it — wasn’t it? Continue reading