Previous entries in the series can be found here.
My DUI happened on a Wednesday night. Earlier in the week, my boss, the owner of a very small consultancy on the outskirts of a large city, announced that we would be having a company-wide wine tasting. After his separation the year before, he had started holding monthly wine tastings in the office, an attempt to bolster camaraderie and assuage his loneliness. He would spend a few hundred dollars on seven or eight bottles of wine for us to try.
I desperately hated my job, found my boss repulsive, and despised my coworkers. Yet every time, I would stay until the last bottle was finished, and then I would drive home from our suburban office to my apartment in the city. Sometimes, I would awaken the next day to discover that I had taken a coworker’s laptop by mistake, or parked at a 30-degree angle relative to the curb. Most of the time, however, my only consequences were a pounding headache and a deep feeling of dread and self-loathing.
This is not to say my drinking was confined to these wine tastings. I drank most evenings. After four years of college spent drinking beer on the quad with friends, I had assumed that my adulthood would be filled with boisterous happy hours and nights out. This was not the case.
Nearly all of my friends from college were in different cities, their presence limited solely to GChat, Facebook, and the occasional visit. My free time was spent mostly alone, on my porch, with a book, a pack of cigarettes, and a drink. I would read and drink and chain-smoke until I was unable to focus my eyes on the page. Then I would listen to music and softly sing along, to the great annoyance of my neighbors.
In the beginning, half a bottle of wine or maybe three beers would get me through the night. Then the whole bottle or the entire six-pack. Finally, I had to have at least two bottles of wine stashed away to feel secure, occasionally dipping into the giant jug of cheap red wine my roommate bought every three months. Once, I hid a large bottle of vodka in the back of the freezer; the fact that it only lasted 3 days filled me with shame. It got me too drunk, too quickly. “Drinking problem” and “alcoholism” were words that I would not even allow to enter my conscious thoughts. Instead, I thought to myself, “you are a bad person.”
The night of the DUI was supposed to be my first night of drawing lessons at a local community center a block from my house. I had high hopes for these lessons. A creative outlet would bring relief from my constant dread and anxiety. I would bond with my fellow students and finally make friends as an adult. Maybe I would even meet a boy. I would have a good time. I would be happy.
I walked into the conference room at 4:55, intending to try one small glass and then get on the road. At this point in my life, I still thought it was possible for me to have just one; I just hadn’t figured out the correct set of circumstances yet.
Somewhere around ten o’clock, I saw the flashing lights in my rearview mirror and pulled over. I was drifting in and out of a blackout and the last few hours were blurry. Apparently, I had skipped my lesson, stayed to the end of the tasting, then decided to drive myself home. I remembered that somewhere along the way, I got a flat tire and a stranger at a gas station had changed it for me.
“Are you sure you should be driving?” he asked.
My claim that I had only had two drinks and some crackers for dinner did not convince the officers. Nor were they convinced that I failed the field test because I was wearing new heels. The breathalyzer test (“never, EVER agree to a breathalyzer test,” my lawyer later told me, as if the breathalyzer had been the real problem) resulted in my arrest.
The police report states that I sang to the officers from the back of the squad car, presumably to defuse the situation. I have no memory of this. It didn’t work, anyhow.
I tried calling my roommate from the police station, but his phone was off. There was no one else to call. I tried my mother, hoping she might make the two-and-a-half-hour drive to pick me up, but she just became hysterical with worry. I told the police that I would sleep in my cell until the arraignment in the morning.
“Are you sure?” the officers asked.
“There’s no one else to call.”
After another thirty minutes in the cell, I decided there was one other person. Not exactly an ex-boyfriend. More like an ex-acquaintance, whose acquaintanceship had been ruined by an ill-advised romance. When I called, he was at a bachelor party. His own. Yet, miraculously, he agreed to bail me out and then never speak to me again. Two months later I was living in a different city, with a different job, that night just a bad memory.
At the time of my arrest, I had been in the process of interviewing for a new job. I discovered, to my horror, that I had called the recruiting manager at the new company during my blackout that Wednesday night. Apparently, I didn’t leave a message, because I was offered the position. I flew back for the hearing, looking chastened in my Anne Taylor skirt suit, while my lawyer (one of the few non-court appointed attorneys in the hall) explained that this was a single mistake in what was sure to be a useful and productive life.
“Why, I assure you that this young lady will not set foot in a court room again unless she decides to pursue a career in law!” he crowed. The judged, smiling at me, agreed with him and then asked if I had had a drink in the last 48 hours.
“No, your honor,” I replied, failing to mention the three beers I had had while waiting for my flight the night before. The court decided that if I paid a fine, attended drug and alcohol education lessons, and stayed out of trouble for the next nine months, my record would be sealed and this unpleasant incident would be erased from history.
I sometimes ask myself, would I still have the DUI if I hadn’t had that awful, wine-soaked job? The answer, of course, is yes. Eventually.
Insanely, I continued to drink for nearly three more years after my arrest. I never got another DUI because I sold my car. I was afraid that I might kill someone, and not getting drunk simply wasn’t an option for me. I no longer had a porch or roommates, so I chain-smoked and drank and sang in my basement apartment. I kept it all a secret so that no one would ever find out what a bad person I was. And I believed I was the very worst person.
I took my last drink over a year and a half ago. It was the drink that made me desperate enough to get honest and seek help. I learned then, after spending so many years hiding the darkest aspect of my life, that it is honesty that gives me freedom.
This post is a part of Step Out Of The Car, Please, a recurring and unglamorous series about DUIs and drinking problems. If you are interested in submitting a story either anonymously or under your own name for consideration, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.