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.