Three Years Since My DUI – Life After a DUI



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.

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33 thoughts on “Three Years Since My DUI – Life After a DUI”

  1. People overestimate their own abilities all the time. That’s why you have people who drive after having few drinks or when they’re feeling sleepy. I’ve driven under both conditions numerous times in my life and know many others who do as well. Even though it’s best for safety and financial reasons to get a designated driver,call cab, or ride sharing service, the risk of getting caught or in a accident is pretty low so it’ll continue to be a problem.

  2. A very honest and vulnerable story you share here. It sounds like you learned a lot for your lesson and as you pointed out, you were lucky that the night went the way it did, instead of worse.

    I think most people have experienced a time they drove and probably should not have. And like you said people start to think since nothing happened and they got home safely that they can do it again and again.

    Last year on my birthday I went out with some co-workers for a drink (that turned into 3). And then I drove myself home where my wife had prepared my favorite birthday dinners. Only to get drunker by the minute and eventually going to bed early because of it.

    I was lucky that it didn’t take me long to get home and that the alcohol had not entirely hit my system yet. But if I would had left 15 minutes later, I don’t think I would had been as lucky and could had really hurt myself and potentially others.

    Now I am like you, if I am going to have more than one drink I know I can’t drive and will call a uber, lyft, cab, or friend. I vowed that night to never get in the car like that again.

    Thanks for sharing your story.

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  3. Do you reccommend getting an attorney for your first DUI??? I wanted one but my parents are advising against it. Please help. Thank you!!!

    1. I don’t think it really helped. IF you have a real case then you might want an attorney (I mean that you were just at the limit like .08% or that you were not read your rights or something) then maybe an attorney will help. Mostly it’s a waste of money. That said, I was scared to death and having an attorney on my side at least helped me feel less alone in the situation.

  4. It’s too bad that your attorney wasn’t able to help your case. My cousin is fighting a DUI charge, and he is thinking about getting a lawyer. I will tell him that he should really look for someone who has a record of winning cases like his.

  5. That seems like quite the fine for a first time offender. Is it possible that it could have been lower had you had a lawyer? Surely, an expert could have help if only a little bit. I understand that is something that none of want to go through, so I am sorry that you had to go through it. On the bright side, I think that it is great that you are going out of your way to help others learn from that mistake.
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    1. It’s not the fine, the lawyer cost most of the $10k (I believe I paid $5k for a lawyer, I forget exactly how much) – would have been better off without a lawyer.

  6. Joy, that sure must have been some rough times that you experienced. With the time that you served, did you ever tried to get the time shortened? I ask because of a cousin of mine who’s been caught with a dui. So far, his mom and I have been thinking about maybe hiring a dwi lawyer to cut him so slack or even shorten the time that was given him to spend in jail.

    1. I did not spend time in jail, other than the first night when they brought me there to sober up. Usually for a DUI (first DUI) the judge will require community service in exchange for jail time. I had to go for a few weekends to clean up public places and it wasn’t any fun but it was better than being in jail. I had a lawyer (hired one) and I don’t think he really helped w/ the sentence but it was very helpful to have someone to talk to as this was my first (and last) time in trouble with the law and it was a very hard time for me.

  7. It’s very touching to hear how your boyfriend supported you through this tough time. My sister was recently arrested for DUI and is looking for an attorney. I hope she receives all of the support that she needs as well to get through this tough time in her life.

  8. Wow.

    I was having a particularly bad night and googled “how to get past depression after your first DUI” and immediately ran into your page. Not only are we both enneagram type 4s (and INFPs), but you’ve had an experience so similar to mine that it’s uncanny.

    My case is still going through the court system. I plead not-guilty. It was also not the case of alcohol, but prescription drugs that were impairing my ability to drive. I had the police called on me also by another person, who saw me not driving well and was concerned. Like you, I am grateful that the person would do that because I COULD have hurt someone and I am so thankful I did not.

    That was about five months ago.

    I was arrested after admitting to taking the medication and subsequently brought to jail. I was sworn law enforcement, so I was booked separately from the other inmates. It was this freezing cold waiting room and, like you, they put me on suicide watch because I had every intention of killing myself as soon as I had the chance. Their computer system was down so I was in that room for nearly 24 hours. I couldn’t eat. There were chairs I could sleep on but I couldn’t sleep, either, and on suicide watch they won’t give you a blanket. I don’t think I stopped crying. I felt SO ashamed and horrified that I had been so stupid.

    Because I was sworn law enforcement at the time, I immediately lost my job upon being released on pre-trial supervision. I call every week to take drug tests, which – for me – seems silly since they test for illegal drugs. I hired a lawyer, but it’s also starting to feel like a pointless money pit as DUIs (from what I’ve heard) are hard cases to win. I’m ready for this to be over.

    I’ve been fortunate enough to find a new job with a boss that knows every single detail of my case and is supportive. I consider that lucky.

    What I hate most is going to take drug tests every week and feeling like the lowest form of life on the planet. I hate myself and I still think about suicide every now and then, because I feel like I’ve destroyed a life I had previously worked so hard to build. My reputation was destroyed. I severed friendships and coworkers I thought would support me turned their backs on me. People who didn’t know anything but the charge (DUI), began calling me a closet alcoholic (untrue, as I used to drink maybe once every few months before this happened). Malicious people come out of the woodwork.

    The last time I was at my pre-trial supervision building, the man administering the drug test asked me if he thought the arrest was unfair.

    I said, “I’m exactly where I need to be.”

    It’s true. I was technically under the influence. The hows and whys are no excuse. I should have done my research. I should have known this medication would impair me. Someone could have been hurt. I am not the victim – I know that – but I don’t know how to kill this strong self-hatred that builds inside me every week when I face that demeaning drug test.

    Thank you for the courage you have to share your story.

    1. I think it’s extra challenging for people like you who get DUIs due to medication. People really just don’t realize that this can happen. I think that’s a totally different thing than a DUI while drinking – despite it also being unsafe, it really is not the same. Sometimes it’s very hard to know with prescription drugs what will cause you to not be able to drive correctly. I am sorry to hear this happened to you. What medication were you on?

      1. I did not realize, not at all – and I was sworn law enforcement. I should have known better, which was why I do take full responsibility.

        It’s a strange situation. I had been prescribed anti-anxiety medication for years. A few days prior to my arrest, I was given migraine medication. I was at work one day (driving, as part of my job entailed a lot of driving…) when I got a migraine. I took the medication for my migraine (after checking the bottle, of course. The bottle stated “drive with caution”, which is the same as my anti-anxiety medication stated). I did NOT consider the possible ill-effects of mixing these medications. I had never tried them together.

        Where I live, it is illegal to drive under the influence of those medications. I did not do my research. I went off the warning label. Unfortunately, CVS is a nationwide chain. In most states it is not illegal to drive under the influence of those medications. CVS labels are not specific by state.

        There is some frustration, but it’s mostly aimed at myself for not being more responsible and knowledgable about the substances I was putting into my body.

        On a lighter note, because of the circumstances, I recently found out that my case will ultimately be dismissed. I have to wait a little longer, but there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.

  9. Thanks for sharing such a personal story with us. It sounds like you learned a lot from your experience. It’s interesting that you think an attorney was a waste of money though. Things most likely would have been a lot worse for you had you not had one.

  10. Thank you so much for sharing your story. My brother is going through a similar problem to the one you went through. I’m glad that you wrote about the lessons you’ve learned. That’s the sign of a true man, someone who can learn from his experiences.

  11. Very moving indeed. I really commend you for having such a deep level of honest introspection. It gives hopes to people like me that have a similar experience and work hard everyday to rise above it.
    If you don’t mind I would like to know if you were employed at the time your DUI happened and whether or not you were able to successfully change jobs ever since? If so, did you ever have any issues with background checks or not being considered/hired because of DUI?

  12. Very moving yet encouraging piece.
    I really commend your deep level of honest introspection. It gives someone like myself with relatable experience equal hope of being able to rise above the impact and mental scar of a dreadful experience. If you don’t mind… I would like to know if at all you were employed at the time this happened. If so, did you keep the same job? If not, how was your experience switching jobs? Did you have any issues with background checks or employers’ decisions based on the DUI? I’m curious because i’m in a rapidly mobile field – Healthcare IT – that requires constant short-term change from Client to client. Thanks for your help.

    1. Hello! I’ve been very fortunate that I have not had issues getting a job due to the DUI. However, it feels shameful every time I have to put it on a job application. I’m lucky to work in an industry that is a bit more laid back and one mistake like a DUI is usually excusable, especially if it was a while ago. The reality is a lot of people have a DUI. This is not an excuse for getting one, but it is generally acknowledged that one DUI does not make a person a “bad person” or bad employee. If you drive for a living in a company car then it can be an issue, otherwise you should be ok.

  13. Hi Joy–thanks for sharing about your DUI again. I was curious how it went when you went to expunge your DUI. Usually probation for a first time DUI isn’t more than 3 years so–given that it has now been more than 3 years from now–I’m thinking you’ve probably tried to expunge it by now. I trust it went well?

    1. I actually haven’t tried to expunge my DUI – though I’ve been thinking about it. I haven’t had an issue getting a job due to my DUI other than a little embarrassment having to check off the field on the form. The expungement really doesn’t do anything so I’m going to avoid it for now. If I end up not getting a job because of my DUI then I will prob pursue removing it from my record. I’m really behind on taking care of the situation as I still have my SR-22 and I’m paying too much for my car insurance still, because I’m scared to remove it and have an issue.

      1. Thanks Joy–yes, it seems like people often talk about expungement in terms of failing to get a job because of the DUI: if the DUI costs someone a job, then they go and apply for an expungement. Not sure whether one needs the evidence of actually having suffered some hurt from the old DUI to apply for an expungement.

        1. I don’t think you need any evidence, it just basically costs money to file. From my understanding if you’ve completed your probation, paid all your fines and haven’t caused more trouble they’ll grant it to you. But it costs about $1500 to file with a lawyer, give or take, and the DUI already cost me $10k… so I’ll just live with it on my record until it cases any problems. Even with the expungement I can’t go to Canada, and that’s the one thing I’m most worried about.

          1. I thought that in theory at least a DUI expungement (in CA) was never automatic even though many other misdemeanor expungements are pretty much automatic once all conditions are met. Maybe in practice it is usually automatic as long as there is no good reason to deny it. I’ll find out soon for my own DUI–I thought with my lawyer the expungement application is included in the original fee–but I’ll find out on that too soon.

          2. I’m pretty sure it’s not automatic, but after 10 years you don’t have to report it anymore. I need to check. Let me know what you find out.

          3. First of all, if you have a DUI (misdemeanor or felony) in the past 10 years you may be inadmissible to Canada. This does NOT mean that you WILL be denied entry to Canada, it simply means that it COULD happen! There are several factors that can affect whether or not Canada Immigration will let you in – everything from the officers mood to whether or not your DUI involved an accident causing property damage or personal injury. Don’t fool yourself however, when you arrive at the border and hand over your passport they can immediately see everything about you (unlike 5 years ago when Canada & USA only shared limited criminal databases). If your DUI happened more than 10 years ago and you don’t have any other criminal history, you will be “deemed rehabilitated” and can enter Canada no problem. If you show up at the Canadian border with a single DUI that didn’t involve an accident, have no other strikes on your criminal record, and have a valid reason for entering Canada (a bachelor party doesn’t count) – not only will you likely be allowed in, you could even be eligible for OB 389 which means you don’t have to pay the $200 government fee for a TRP.

            If your DUI was >5 years ago, you can apply for Criminal Rehabilitation which wipes the slate completely and is a permanent solution (you’ll never have to worry about entering Canada again). Here are the documents required for Rehabilitation:

            If your DUI was <5 years ago, you can apply for a Temporary Resident Perment (TRP) which is a bandaid solution that allows you to temporarily enter Canada. Here are the documents required for a TRP:

            You don't need a lawyer to apply for either of these two things, and can technically apply for both at a Canadian consulate, visa office, or even the border. However, the amount of tedious documents required can be overwhelming – so applying in advance is beneficial since forgetting a single document could mean game over if you're at the border. People hire a lawyer to ensure that the application is complete (aka they have all the correct documents, etc.) as well as to word the application correctly (a lawyer can often making your application so strong you can get a multi-entry TRP good for several years which is huge if you're likely to go back to Canada again down the road). Again, you DO NOT need a lawyer, but if you want to maximize your chance of success (aka you're traveling for business or something crucial) they really do help.

          4. Thank you for the detailed information! All of the information online is vague. The one thing is that I think it’s all from the date your probation ended, not the date of the DUI. Ie, I got the DUI, it took a few months to be put on probation, then I was on probation for 3 years. So my understanding is that all those dates (i.e. 10 years) Are 10 years from the date probation was completed, though I could be wrong. I’m not sure how it works.

          5. Also even without the DUI you’d be barred from Canada anyways. As of a few years ago they don’t allow cents–pennies–in Canada. Only nickels! Sorry!

      2. I have my expungement hearing coming up in the coming weeks. According to my attorney, who is physically located in Santa Clara County, you don’t need an attorney to get a DUI expunged in Santa Clara County but it is advisable to be represented by an attorney for an expungement in San Mateo County (where my own DUI was). The fees for the expungement seem reasonable, though: hundreds rather than thousands. The main cost seems to be bureaucratic–a lot of different documents need be served on different people which takes a few hours of the attorney’s time (or more likely his paralegal’s time). Once that happens the actual hearing itself should be very straightforward but I’ll find out for sure when it happens.

  14. I didn’t realize that there was supposed to be signs throughout the day when you get a DUI. It’s rather interesting that in your subconscious you know your going to do it and that it gives you these signs to warn you. This is something that more people should really look into, to make sure more are aware of these signs earlier.

  15. Thank you for sharing your story! I have known several people who have gone through this same experience, and have survived and thrived after learning this hard lesson. Watching them also inspired me to make sure I was always careful when I was going to be drinking. Stories like yours will hopefully inspire others as well before they get behind the wheel after having a few drinks.

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