Looking Forward to Better Days

The End of the Legal Journey

It took just over 6 months, but I was able to finish all the requirements of my plea agreement, and was thankfully released from probation early.  It has been a month since my termination of probation was approved.

Since the release from probation and the formal closing of my case, I have asked myself: “what does it feel like to not be on probation anymore?”  I wish it were a great accomplishment — it wasn’t.  Probation is the lowest bar of common decency.  Essentially, it says “just do what you are supposed to do as a member of society.”  So there was no fanfare in having done the right thing.  It was what I was supposed to be doing anyway.  And that is its own reward.

But with the termination of my legal case, I look and I am most certainly a more mature individual now than I was when I was arrested.  I have grown to see the practical side of laws in action.  I have gone through counseling, an impact panel about drinking and driving, performed community service, become involved with AA, cut out alcohol completely, been drug tested with great frequency, taken and passed one of the hardest bar exams in the Union, and worked a full time job.  Has it been challenging?  You bet.  But it has caused me to grow as a person.

Looking Ahead

My past is my past.  There is no escaping the fact that I was arrested for drinking and driving and adjudicated guilty of  the criminal charge of reckless driving as a result of it.  But by paying my legal dues for drinking and driving, I believe I have begun to make amends for my mistake.  And hopefully my experience allows me to help others from making the same mistake as I did.

So looking ahead, from a civic perspective, I just have two goals:

  1. Don’t repeat my mistake; and,
  2. Help others so I can continue to make amends.

From a personal perspective, the goal is simple: don’t let this DUI define me as a person or stop me from becoming the best human being I can be.  I must continue to strive to do everything I am capable of doing — and hopefully my actions will prove to society that I have been sufficiently rehabilitated to deserve a second chance.

And so, while the legal ramifications of the DUI are finally behind me, it is only the beginning of the rest of my life.

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!

 

 

The Daily Reminders of an Awful Decision

Getting arrested for a DUI changes the way you think. That may be by design, of course, so that you don’t repeat the error.

The one thing that I have consistently caught myself doing is thinking about the DUI, the stigma associated with being arrested, and how my future will now be different because of drinking and driving. Each time, I remind myself that the situation isn’t a tragedy. It could have been a tragedy but thankfully, it wasn’t – I was removed from the road that night before I could cause damage to anyone else. Even the consequences I am currently going through aren’t tragic. They are difficult now, to be certain, but they aren’t tragic. In fact, they for my own good. Oh, and they aren’t tragic because they are a but-for and foreseeable result of my actions.

What causes me to think about the DUI

Most things lead me down the rabbit-hole where I end up thinking about the DUI. It can be something complex, like visiting the city I grew up in for the first time since the DUI and realizing that the last time I was in this city, I had never been arrested and there was nothing holding me back in life. But often, it’s something much simpler – like a song coming on that I haven’t heard in a while, and automatically going back to the moment I heard it last, which soon leads to the realization of how simple life was in that very moment. Certainly, I had problems then, too, but none of them were criminal in nature. The song-association is especially troublesome because most of my music listening took while driving somewhere. So there’s the added pain of being unable to drive where and when I want.

But I am getting better, I think

Listen, going through the DUI process isn’t easy. Spending the night in jail, taking a financial hit, the social stigma, the uncertainty about the legal process, and the worries about how job prospects and bar admission will be impacted is stressful stuff. Hell, right now, all I can do is think about Wednesday – on Wednesday, I have my final DMV hearing. During this hearing, in all likelihood, my drivers license suspension will be upheld. This would result in 30 days of no-driving whatsoever, followed by 2 more months of restricted driving.

But through this stress, the actions I am taking, I think, are making me a better person. I certainly hope they are. And with each new event coming my way, I am attempting to keep a positive attitude. For the most part, I feel much better – so I have no reason to believe that these steps aren’t working.

  1. Each week day, I am attending an AA meeting. The meetings are a good reminder of what can happen to my life if alcohol takes over. And it also provides a good look into how good life can be if I keep at it on the straight and narrow. I am 24 days away from getting my 90-day sobriety chip, and by going without alcohol one day at a time, I’m sure I’ll get there before I know it. I chuckled a bit as I typed that because a couple months is such a short period of time. My sponsor has been in the program for two decades, and just last week I heard a gentleman speak who has been sober for longer than I have been alive. I hope one day I am one of these sages of AA.
  2. I decided to take DUI classes – the program has a two-fold purpose: through classroom education, they attempt to change your mindset about drinking and driving; and they make you take an evaluation to determine whether counseling could benefit you. My classes are scheduled for next weekend. The evaluation took place earlier this past week, and the results indicated that I could benefit from counseling.
  3. I spoke with the counselor last week after the evaluation. He mentioned that the referral likely took place because my BAC was .135 at the time of the arrest, which means I must have high tolerance for alcohol – and when you have a higher tolerance, the referral is almost guaranteed. He seemed like a great guy who stated he would like to meet with me at least 5 times for an hour each time; and since this is a 1 on 1 counseling session (instead of in a group setting), he said we can get right to helping me. I will be meeting with him weekly starting this upcoming week. I’ll post about my experience as I go through counseling.
  4. As I had mentioned a few weeks ago, I’ve signed a contract with the state’s Lawyers’ Assistance Program. The contract has three major stipulations:
    • I cannot drink alcohol. At all. For any reason. Not even a non-alcoholic beer.
    • I have to check in every morning, and on any given morning, they can ask me to provide a sample to test for the presence of alcohol. The test can detect the presence of alcohol for up to 5 days.  Given that I check in every morning, even a single drink could spell the end of my chance at becoming a lawyer.
    • I have to attend lawyers’ support group meetings weekly. At this meeting, you get to talk to other lawyers who are in a similar position as you are. And like I mentioned last week, more than anything else, you feel like you aren’t alone which really helps me realize, albeit temporarily, that there is a future and it can be bright if I work at it.
  5. The Lawyers’ Assistance Program has also assigned me a monitor. I get to check in with him at least once a month. I talked to him on Friday, and I’m meeting him on Thursday in person. Hopefully, having someone walk me through the process will relieve the anxiety a bit.

So what?

Well, this morning when I was listening to Simon and Garfunkel, I remembered that the last time I listened to them, I had been driving through the mountains of North Carolina with my girlfriend. As much as I’d like to make that drive again, I can’t – not for another 4 months at least while my drivers’ license is suspended…potentially even longer if the judge in the criminal case finds me guilty, which would result in an additional 6 month suspension. And that’s really disappointing. But then I took about 15 minutes and tried to remind myself of all the good things I am trying to do to rehabilitate myself. If these actions have the intended result, in a year when the legal process has worked itself out, I will look back and this may have been the best thing to have happened to me. I hope.

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.

First AA Meeting Experience

The Pre-Meeting Fear

Throughout the day, I thought about attending my first Alcoholics Anonymous meeting.  I feared that if I attended, I would be looked down upon — by others…people at the meeting and people who may someday find out that I attended an AA meeting.

By around 5 pm, two things had happened: I was convinced that I was actually going to attend the AA meeting, and I had registered for a DUI/alcohol evaluation course.  I also reached out to the State Bar to see if I could be included in the program for lawyers who have had substance abuse issues.

The Rationale

As I discussed last night, becoming a better person does not stop at stopping to drink for 30 days.  It requires a commitment.  And my fear of commitment regarding AA seemed rather silly – I was afraid of what people would think about me:

The People at AA:  The people over at the AA were once in the same position as me.  They are no different than me.  They are wonderful people who have been impacted by alcohol.  And, therefore, they have the potential to be wonderful mentors.

People who Find Out I am in AA:  This scared me a little — what would people with whom I have shared a beer with previously think? What would my friends make of me? In the end, it’s simple.  If they are my true friends, they will understand that I am going through changes in my life that require me to be alcohol-free.  If they cannot accept that, well, then perhaps I should find better friends.

The Bigger Picture

Why am I doing all this when I could simply let the legal process work itself out?  I think there are a couple of reasons – one of them is obviously selfish.  First, I want to prove to myself, others around me, and even the legal process that I am truly serious about my reformation.  Second, I continue to believe that I owe a higher duty — if I ever get a chance to become a lawyer, people that place their trust in me must know and firmly believe that I can place their best interest ahead of anything and everything, and I won’t betray their trust by making awful decisions.  So beyond just “proving” anything to anyone else, I must rely on those who are willing to help me in avoiding the awfulness that surrounds alcohol.

The Meeting Itself

The meeting itself was an amazingly uplifting experience.  As I walked in, not knowing which room to go in, a gentleman introduced himself and told me that I should feel safe — that he had been in the same position as me many years ago.  Then when the meeting began, people shared their stories and their struggles.  And while I can’t go into the details of others’ stories, they all resonated with immensely.  For that, I am immensely thankful.

The Ending

As the meeting was coming to a close, I was asked a simple question — do I accept the path towards recovery?  And just like that, I got a hug and a white-chip.  Oh and hope for a brighter tomorrow.

A Month of Sobriety: My Observations

It has now been over a month since I gave up drinking.  While I thought I would have quite a bit to say about giving up alcohol, I’m coming up blank right now — what follows here is likely more rambling and superficial observations.

The Beginning

Since the day after graduating high school, I have worked full-time.  Additionally, until July 2014, I have always had something academic on my plate to keep me busy in the evenings.  Through vast majority of it, drinking wasn’t an option – I viewed it as something inherently evil that could cause me to lose my path.  It wasn’t until 2012 that I started drinking a once a week due to new friends I had made who meet over dinner and drinks frequently, and it wasn’t until I moved out of state in a place with no family and very, very few friends for work in 2014 that I started drinking regularly.  It helped in killing time.

When I started studying for the bar exam in early 2014, I would spend myself locked in my apartment all evening.  Work, study, sleep, work, study, sleep.  Through it all, each evening begin with a glass of whiskey, and was followed by a few more as I studied.  Living in the Pacific timezone makes it a bit worse too — by 9 PM the rest of the world was fast asleep, and it was just myself, whiskey, piles of notes and half a dozen highlighters.  In the end, it worked out.  I passed the bar exam, somehow leading me to believe that alcohol and I can co-exist.

This was followed by another move in 2015 — to another place across the country.  My only friend, my girlfriend, lived an hour and a half away.  Without anything productive to do in the evenings and without anything else to do, drinking and surfing the web became a daily routine.

And then I decided to drive one evening after drinking, and the DUI happened.

Giving-up Drinking

My girlfriend has been truly supportive.  She not only bailed me out but also encouraged me to give up alcohol.  In the month since, I haven’t really had the urge to drink.  Part of it may be because I’ve come to dislike the relationship alcohol and I developed.  Another part of it is knowing that I made the most terrible decision of my life while consuming alcohol.  Another part of it is likely that I don’t t rust myself to drink again without causing damaging decisions.  Mostly the last one…

Difficulties

I can honestly say there haven’t been any.  When I first started, I thought social events would be the most difficult.  But since then, I’ve been offered alcohol on multiple occasions at work events, and each time, “nah, thanks” has sufficed.

What has Changed

This is the part that makes it all worth it.  Just a few things that have changed for the better in the last month:

  1. No more waking up, feeling dazed.  Waking up is easy and pain-free;
  2. I have spent the evenings working on my start-up.  I have been much more productive.
  3. I’ve played video-games to get my mind off the situation.  It’s a much less destructive way of spending time.
  4. I’ve decided to take a professional exam that should help me become better at my job.  The books arrived yesterday.  Each evening, I shall be spending some time focused on this.

What’s Next?

I have been apprehensive about this — but I think tomorrow I will go to my first AA meeting.  I am terrified, ashamed and hopeful.  At the end of the day, the process does not stop at giving up drinking for a month.  For all I know, I am one drink away from it all again.  I need to prove to myself and those I owe a humanly duty to that I am reformed.  And part of that process is seeking and getting help where it is available.  While I can’t be certain of what the future holds, I will continue to try to make myself better.

The Silver Lining: All is Not Lost

Getting a DUI hurts.  But if you are one of the lucky ones, like myself, who did not harm anyone else despite your actions, all is perhaps not lost.

Look, getting a DUI isn’t the worst “mistake” of your life — a mistake is when you step on someone’s glasses accidentally.  Rather, a DUI is perhaps the worst result of your irresponsible actions that you’ve ever encountered.  A DUI case is the government’s attempt at retribution and rehabilitation.  You will, and I continue to, pay for this decision.  There are court fees, lawyer fees, fines, insurance costs, lost salary because of missed days, and the list goes on.  There are also non-monetary repressions because of the criminal record: the shame, guilt, remorse, lowered self-esteem, etc.

But, hopefully life goes on.  There is silver lining.  Hopefully you are rehabilitated due to this experience.  Just last week, I was worried sick about being able to travel to see my girlfriend after her surgery.  She lives several hours away.  My license is currently suspended.  But thank heavens there is a train — for the first time since moving to the United States, I took advantage of the railway system.  It got me to her and back safely.  It also gave me time to think about life ahead.

As much as life going forward may be difficult, remember that you are a lucky one — you are still here; and hopefully, you didn’t hurt anyone along the way.  You have a chance at making something of yourself.  Life goals and aspirations aren’t all lost.

Let’s get better, together.

PS: 2 weeks and not a single drink of alcohol.  I am a bit proud of myself.

Bad Things Happen to Those that Sometimes Do Bad Things

As I looked for an attorney after getting out of jail, I was surprised to see how many lawyers took the angle of “well, bad things happen to good people.”  This was the same question I asked myself as a child.  I was fascinated by the idea of unfair things happening to generally good people.  Obviously, the idea quickly transforms into an ontological dissertation but that is neither here nor there.

But I suppose the lawyers advertise that bad things happen to good people do so because that is what someone with a fresh DUI wants to hear.  That is what I wanted to hear, at least temporarily.  After the ordeal they have just gone through, people want to hear that they are still good people, that they are still human.

As I have sat in reflection over the last few days, I’ve come to the realization that it isn’t that actually a proper response – a bad thing, i.e. my DUI, didn’t happen despite me being a good person. Whether or not I am a good person is wholly irrelevant to the DUI and its consequences.  The fact of the matter is that I did something bad, and as a result I am enduring the consequence of it.  A more apt slogan is, “bad things happen to those people who get caught committing a bad act.”

I also got to thinking about the reasoning behind having a criminal justice system – and why we punish people who have done wrong.  It comes down to three reasons:

  1. Rehabilitation of the offender;
  2. Deterring others who may want to commit the same act by making an example of the offender; and,
  3. Retribution for those who have suffered.

Rehabilitation

I read a blog post yesterday where this nice young lady argued that her DUI punishment seems rather severe, while also claiming that she would never drink and drive again. In that sense, the rehabilitation seems to have worked wonders.

Are the consequences of a DUI dire? Absolutely.  I haven’t myself come to grips with the impacts of a DUI conviction on my life.  But I too feel rehabilitated.  I too promise not to drink, and not to drink and drive. Therefore, rehabilitation seems to have worked.

Deterrent

According to MADD and NHTSA, more than 1/3rd of all drivers arrested or convicted of a DUI are repeat offenders. So NHTSA is correct in stating that, “[w]hile this indicates they are a significant problem, repeat offenders do not constitute the majority of the DWI problem in the U.S. Prevention of DWI in the first place and dealing effectively with first time DWI offenders is a rational approach to the problem.”  In other words, we need good deterrents.

How are the punishments and the lobbying by MADD working out? According to NHTSA, the number of drunk driving deaths has been cut in half since 1980, the same year MADD was founded. I get that correlation is not causation. I get that many of those deaths have been prevented because of safer cars, safer roads, and other efforts by people other than the DUI cops or MADD.  But if my punishment and punishment of those who are in my position have even the slightest of deterring effect on the DUI rates, then perhaps the system works.

Retribution

People with a DUI across the internet claim that the punishment was too harsh even though no one was hurt, no property was damaged and no one was killed.  Though you have to admit that it is by supreme luck that no one was hurt and nothing was damaged.

But the question remains…when nothing is damaged and no one is hurt, what is the retribution for?  Might I suggest that the retribution is for the harm we’ve done collectively to the society.  Because of people who do the same thing that I did, i.e. had alcohol and drove, the society the pays the price in terms of deaths, the need for DUI police officers, organizations like MADD, property damage and the pain of those who are left behind when someone dies in a DUI related accident.  Successful tax, insurance or administrative systems are based on generalizing people by categorizing them based on their attributes.  In this case, the attribute you, me, and other offenders have in common is that we all got drunk and drove.  And the punishment is the tax we pay – the punishment for the societal harm we’ve caused.  At least, that is the way I choose to look at it.  This is my retribution to the society.

It is also worth noting that these issues of the harshness of punishment come up only after someone has gotten a DUI.  All of us first time offenders agreed to play by the rules under which we are now charged.  As voters we know or should have known the implications of a DUI.  But we chose to drink and drive anyway.  When we didn’t have a DUI on our record, we screamed, “screw those people with a DUI! The punishment fits the crime!” by not taking any action democratically about the DUI laws.  But now that those laws we were complacent in enacting apply to us, they suddenly don’t befit the crime.  We make rules for others and exceptions for ourselves.

Other Related Thoughts

I think it’s interesting that most people who blog about a DUI experience feel that they did not belong in the jail for the night they spent there. I felt the same way. I felt that I, too, did not belong in jail. I was somehow different, somehow better than those around me. Perhaps this goes back to the DUI being an effective rehabilitation technique for those of us who had never been to a jail before.  We promised ourselves that we would never be back.

But my feeling about not belonging in jail changed when I saw my own mugshot. In that orange and white jumpsuit, I looked no different than anyone else there. I, too, was a criminal that night, just like all the other people in jail with me. And from here on out, all I can hope for is that I won’t be a criminal anymore.

“Beware that, when fighting monsters, you yourself do not become a monster… for when you gaze long into the abyss. The abyss gazes also into you.” – Neitzsche