Nine Months Since the DUI

One of the most intriguing things about the human condition is that in the moment, time stretches for what appears to be an infinite duration.  During the legal proceedings, I often felt that the DUI process would never end.  There was the lack of a drivers license, counseling, court date, DUI classes, fines to pay, and the stress of being only a singular person.  Combine that with studying for the bar exam for my state and eventually community service, and I can say that the last nine months have been the most difficult and possibly the most formative nine months of my life.

Looking back at it though, it seems like it was just yesterday.  (No, the sheer terror of seeing blue lights in your rear view mirror never goes away.  I’ve seen an officer drive behind me, and despite not doing anything wrong, felt that this was it…I was going to get pulled over, there will be a violation of probation, and I will end up in jail.  And nothing happened because I hadn’t done anything wrong).  The entire DUI arrest seems like it happened yesterday and I still have all of this stuff to deal with.

Despite the weirdness of time, in reality though, I am doing okay.  I still think about the DUI every day when I go to bed.  Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night and the thought of having a criminal record eats away at me.  But like most things, time makes the pain a little less severe.  The entire scene has gone from being a terribly hurtful one to being a teachable one.  I know what I did was wrong and I won’t do it again.  But I won’t let myself be down because of it.  I am still a human being and I am still capable of magnificent things.  The DUI arrest is a part of my life now.  I must overcome it.

Community Service

I am about 60% through with my community services requirement, too.  The only place around here where I could get consistent community service hours is a non-profit used goods store.  It has been a life-saver for me.  I can go there after work, knock out a few hours and be home in time for dinner.  The first few days were extremely difficult.  Being asked to sweep the store was odd at first.  I was dressed in a dress shirt and nice slacks.  But then I remembered that those closest to me have cleaned toilets and floors just so that I could be a successful person in life.  There was no shame in it.  I kept coming back and they keep letting me come back.  It has been awesome.

I have become somewhat of an expert at purse organization.  Never in my life could I imagine the styles, colors, materials and brands that purses come in.  Now I organize them and hopefully it makes the shoppers lives easier.

There have been two amazing things that have come out of community service:

  1. I have been truly appreciated.  To a person, anyone who I have worked with at the store has told me what a good job I do.  Yes, community service is work that is not too taxing.  But I try to do it well.  And it helps that people appreciate it.  Several employees have jokingly told the manager to hire me full time.  I’m sure they do this joke with anyone who does community service there, but it makes me feel good.  It makes me feel appreciated.  And it makes me feel like I am on the right path.  As I’ve said before, with a DUI arrest, you lose your dignity.  And slowly, people help you gain it back.
  2. I am not afraid of my DUI arrest. You see, at first when people asked me why I was there at the clothing store in non-uniformed clothing organizing stuff or sweeping, I had a hard time explaining why I was there.  Now, I am honest about it — I am doing court ordered community service.  Yes, now when people ask me and I respond with that, there is that moment where they hesitate and sometimes walk away.  But then there was this guy who looked at me and said, “you’re too old to be a bad boy!”  And he was right.  I am too old to have made such a boneheaded decision.  But I must accept its consequences.

AA

AA continues to be wonderful to me.  As of this writing, I am a week away from my 9 month sobriety chip.  What is amazing is that there have been babies conceived and born after I stopped drinking.  It’s a great feeling to know that I am doing something great, and there are people who support me in this.  AA is truly a wonderful support group comprised of people who are passionate about recovery.

If you are afraid of going to a meeting, just do it.  Trust me, get the first one out of the way.  Get the first minute out of the way.  After that, it only gets better.  So much better.

Probation

As I mentioned above, violating probation is something that I am terrified of.  No, I am not doing anything wrong.  But it’s a scary feeling that a traffic infraction could lead me back to jail.  Thankfully, my probation officer is an amazing lady who has promised me that if I complete my community service hours and stick to being an upstanding member of society, we can work towards terminating the probation early.

Living without Alcohol

Being sober has been the easiest of the tasks since the DUI.  I lost so much due to drinking.  Giving it up been a piece of cake in comparison to other consequences.  I was a bit worried about what people around me would think when I ordered Coke instead of a beer, or refused a drink.  Honestly, no one cares.  No one cares if you drink Coke instead of beer.

Six Months Since the DUI and Six Months of Sobriety

It has been over six months since my DUI arrest.  In many ways, the arrest seems like it was just yesterday.  In many other ways, it was the longest six months of my life.

But the six month mark was special in that I was able to get my drivers’ license back.  I went to DMV, and the process was rather painless…as long as you don’t take into account a rather hefty reinstatement fee.  But that’s to be expected, and ultimately, a fair fee.  In the 3 weeks since the reinstatement, life has gotten so much easier.  Driving without restrictions is, I think, one of the most amazing privileges.  Imagine my life when I could not drive: wake up, call an Uber, and on a good day, they would arrive within 10 minutes.  Repeat the process for the way back home.  The walk to where I do my community service would take 15 minutes.  AA meeting is another 15 minutes.  If I took the bus instead of Uber or Lyft to work, that would be an additional hour easy.  All in all, not having a car required the expenditure of easily and hour, perhaps even 2 hours.  And this doesn’t take into account the cost of ride-sharing.

The worst of all feelings, when I didn’t have my license, was the feeling of helplessness.  If at 10 PM, I got hungry and didn’t have anything to eat at home, my options were either having pizza delivered or waiting until the morning.  Sure, it sounds like a really mundane first world problem.  And it is.  But you really do realize what a privilege driving really is when you can’t drive anymore.

So in many ways, with the license back, life is much easier now.  However, the emotional challenge doesn’t go away.  Not a day goes by when I don’t think about the DUI arrest and now having a criminal record.  Every day, I play the what-if game — what if I hadn’t had anything to drink that night, how different, and better, my life would be right now? But even with all this perspective and mental gymnastics, I have learned to accept that I cannot change the past.  I have a criminal record now for an offense that I committed.  I have done my best to follow the straight and narrow since.  And the only way I can…mitigate…my past is by doing the next right thing for the rest of my life.

I also picked up the six month sobriety chip last week at an AA meeting.  It’s a good feeling to know that despite my misstep in the past, I have, so far, done the one thing which is guaranteed to result in me not drinking and driving ever again — i.e. not drinking at all.

Through it all, as I sit here on Christmas Day with a full license and six months of sobriety, I have never been busier in life.  The bar exam is now a mere 60-some days away.  My job, though very fulfilling, has been busier than usual.  Add in AA meetings, a support group meeting, and about 15-20 hours of community service a month, and you can see why I say that I’ve never been busier 🙂  But at the end of the day, when my head hits the pillow, I know it has been a day filled with progress.  And that is all I can hope for.

Merry Christmas, and a happy new year!

 

 

Why go to AA if you’re not an alcoholic?

The people close to be believe that I don’t have an alcohol problem.  I went through counseling, and the mental health counselor with whom I met 5 times believes that I don’t have an alcohol problem.  I myself don’t believe I have an alcohol dependency or problem.  I gave up alcohol over 100 days ago and haven’t looked back, with no side effects.  All of which leads to the question that you may ask yourself: why go to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings if you don’t have an alcohol dependency and have no trouble stopping?

Well, the answer is pretty simple — if you have been affected by an alcohol related incident, you can use AA in your life.  AA is more than just about giving up alcohol.  The message of AA is a message of hope.  It’s a message of how, even if you don’t have an alcohol dependency, you can live a meaningful and sober life.  And then there is the message, achieved through the Twelve Steps, about living a good life overall.

When you get beyond the first three steps, the AA program is all about living life as a decent human being.  Example: the fourth step is about making a moral inventory of your character defects, fears and resentments.  This has nothing to do with alcohol directly.  For some people, the fears, resentments and character defects lead to alcoholism.  But in my opinion there is not a single person on this planet that does not have fears, resentments or character defects.  So then, through the fourth step, you make an inventory of them and try to cure these defects using steps 5 through 10.  So seven of the 12 steps are all about continually looking at your shortcomings and defects and working on them.  They pertain to beyond just alcohol.  And what’s the result even if you don’t have an alcohol problem?  You become a better individual who is aware of his shortcomings, and who works towards fixing these shortcomings on the daily basis.

The twelfth step itself is beautiful, too.  It’s about carrying the message forward.  So you learn about your defects, you try to address them, and then you try to help others.  Is there a more meaningful way of living?  It would be hard to find.

So – despite not having an alcohol problem, I continue to go to AA meetings and working through the AA steps with my sponsor for a simple reason that I believe I can become a better, more well-rounded individual through the program.

Now you may be wondering, how in the world can you go to AA meetings if I am not an alcoholic?  Don’t they check?  No.  In fact, the AA format is pretty interesting.  There are “closed” meetings that are limited to people that suffer from the unfortunate alcohol dependency.  But vast majority of meetings are open meetings — these are open to both alcoholics and non-alcoholics alike!  In fact, even for the closed meetings, the only requirement, like the AA program, is a “desire to stop drinking.”  You don’t have to be a certified alcoholic to desire to stop drinking.

I’ve been going to AA meetings and working with my sponsor for just over 2 months now.  It’s not a long time to be in the program.  But each day I learn something new, and most often, the lesson has nothing to do with alcoholism.  It’s a life lesson that anyone can benefit from.  I’ve met people in the program who have been in it for over 4 decades.  They keep coming back not because they want to stop drinking — they did that over 40 years ago — but they keep coming back because they want to learn these life lessons, continually take inventory, address defects, and keep becoming a better person.

I believe, therefore, that AA is something anyone can use in their life, and it is a shame that it took a DUI for me to go to a meeting.  The regret for drinking and driving never goes away.  But I think with a program like AA, you can learn to become a better person, a person who never repeats his mistake again.

The Anxiety from the Unknown

When one sits around looking at the clock, time seems to slow down to a gut-wrenching crawl.  I can attest to it because I did that yesterday.  Each passing second felt like an eternity.

It happened because I had my second DMV hearing yesterday.  A loss at this hearing would mean 30-days of no driving whatsoever, after which point I could get my conditional business-purpose-only license back.  By the time my attorney called me, I had perhaps refreshed the drivers license lookup page about a dozen time throughout the day.  It showed my drivers license as suspended each time.  My attorney informed me that they need yet another DMV hearing, and it would take place in two weeks.
What followed was rather unnatural.  Given that my fate was not yet sealed, I should have rejoiced just a bit.  But no.  I felt like there will never be a day when the DUI doesn’t stop haunting me…that perhaps I would be better off if yesterday the DMV had just suspended my license for 30 days and I could move on from there…that now I would have to wait in limbo for another two weeks.  I completely overlooked the small joy of having the business purpose only license for another two weeks.
Then in the evening, on my way back home from work, I heard something on NPR that changed my perspective.  On the show All Things Considered, they replayed the interview with this gentleman from Greece.  It had been recorded five years ago.  In that interview, the man stated that he had a fiance but no job.  He lived with his parents, and she lived with hers.  He desperately wanted employment but none was available due to the economic crisis in Greece.  But he was optimistic.  Optimistic that the future would be better than the present.  Fast forward to today, and he was interviewed again.  His fiance left him for someone with employment.  He has moved out of his parents house but still does not have a steady job.  The longest job has lasted is 2 months.  And yet, he remains optimistic.  Because he stated that is the only way he can survive from day to day.
And it hit me — here is this man who is suffering from the consequences of something that he had nothing to do with.  He just happens to be a Greek citizen and it just so happens that the Greek economy stinks, causing his lack of gainful employment, achievement of life goals, etc.  But through it all, he has remains optimistic.
Unlike the gentleman, my consequences are a direct result of my decisions.  So unlike him, I have a reason for my drivers license suspension and a criminal case against me.  If he can be positive about his future, why can’t I?  Being down about this serves no purpose whatsoever.  All I can do is never make such a terrible decision again, and remain optimistic that life gets better.  And I honestly believe it does get better…if you make the right decisions going forward.  I am not saying that I, and people like me, shouldn’t feel awful.  I do, and I’m sure everyone in my position does.  In fact, this guilt and anxiety is important for making sure that we don’t drink and drive again.  But in order for us to never drink and drive again, it’s also important to ensure that we become rehabilitated.  And if we go into rehabilitation with a positive attitude, life becomes easier to manage.
Last time, I’d mentioned about meeting people from all walks of life at AA.  That remains true.  These are people, some of whom have had DUIs, that have come together to form an amazing community that is ever so helpful towards newcomers, and ever so grateful for their sobriety. These people are the living proof that life can get better if you put in the work.  I have been going to AA meetings daily, and each time I walk away with a message of hope — and as humiliating as a DUI is, I walk away from these meetings feeling like a person again.
A few weeks ago, I reached out to the Lawyers Assistance Program in my state.  My contract with them states that I cannot and will not drink again.  And to prove my sobriety, I will be randomly tested for alcohol and drugs.  I also have to attend weekly meetings with other lawyers who have had substance abuse issues in their past.  My entire law career depends on meeting the terms of this contract.  And to be completely honest, I love it.  LAP is one of my only hopes at getting admitted to the bar.  So just even having the possible opportunity to get admitted makes me feel elated.
Oh and it’s empowering — you walk into a room with attorneys and realize that you’re not alone.  There are others who have made similar mistakes; but rather than just being dejected, they’ve actively sought help and are now members of the Bar.  It’s just…helpful…to see that you can be in my position and still have a chance to practice your passion.  That life isn’t going to stop.  That there is a tomorrow.
Until the next DMV hearing, all I can do is hope for the best and keep working on myself.  And while the DMV hearing and its inevitable result will come an end one day, the process of keeping watch over myself, lest I make a terrible decision again, never will — and never should end.

There is Hope Because Life Goes On

Over the past few weeks, I’ve increased my AA attendance – I am now attending daily meetings. I have also found that the early morning meetings work best for me. This way, I can not only start my day early, but also start it with the right message. It is a message of hope. And that is what I wish to share in this post today.

If you’ve ever been to a meeting, you realize that attending the AA program has numerous benefits. You are surrounded by people who are in recovery, and understand what you’ve been through. If, like me, you thankfully never hit the absolute rock bottom (prison, homelessness, lack of food, withdrawal symptoms, etc.), you realize what you’ve avoided. And all around you, you can see what you can become if you put in the work, because you are surrounded by absolutely fantastic, most caring and enlightening individuals from all walks of life. If you’re lucky, you may even get one of these people to sponsor you. So you see, through the stories of others, you can see who you were, what you avoided and what you have the potential to become.

What is helping me immensely is knowing that I am not the only one who has ever gotten a DUI. There are many others like me. This means that I am not far gone just yet. I have a chance to become a better person, and perhaps one day even be someone who helps others rehabilitate.

Perhaps your story is different – perhaps after a DUI you haven’t been too down. In all honesty, I went about my life in as…normal…a manner as I could, except I didn’t drink, for the first month and a half. But there was this lingering sadness. There still is. The selfish part of me only wants to think about the harm I’ve done to my life (even knowing full well I posed a far greater danger to others). The financial, social and career costs are so high – perhaps rightfully so because they force you to change. And thinking about the damage just brings me down. The thought that keeps coming back to me is, “you worked so hard to get to a point in life where you were at a jumping off point. You were ready for a career in law. Your finances were in order. The girl of your dreams thought so highly of you. And you messed up big time. Nothing will ever be the same.”

And then there are moments, like now, when I am hopeful. Maybe it’s good that nothing will be the same, because things have a chance to be much, much better. The one thing that sticks out is this statement made by someone at an AA meeting a few weeks ago, “life doesn’t stop because you stop drinking.” I’ve been thinking about this for quite a bit. There are two things that I have been able to flesh out:

  1. First and most obviously, life goes on. You have to keep living.
  2. But more importantly, it is because that life goes on that you too much keep going on. Changing your life for the better isn’t just a passive process. You must push in the proper direction to get the proper result. So while the life can absolutely keep going on, in order for it to go on in the right direction, you have to attempt to do better.

Knowing this gives me some semblance of comfort. As I type this, I can see that all of this makes so little sense. One moment I am complaining because of my selfishness, and the next I am talking about positivity. I suppose here is the best I can do, for now: a DUI takes away much of the control you had in life – you’re burdened financially, emotionally and spiritually; your driving privileges are gone; you can’t think about the past without remembering the night in jail; you feel like you’ve let everyone down; oh and by the way, your physical freedom rests in the hands of a judge, your future driving privileges are up to the mercy of the DMV, and whether you ever get to practice your career in the state of your choice is up to the state bar. You have officially placed your fate in the hands of people you have never met. But knowing that life goes on, that you have a chance to make your life better, and that you have examples of fine people at AA who have been through the same mess as you and come out on top is an amazing feeling. You feel that you have some input in your life again. And at this point, that feels good.