The lifestyle benefits of getting a DUI.
I awoke with a clatter, an incessant beeping sound distorting the Christmas music. As the fog broke, I heard the scared voice of my wife and found the steering wheel in my hand.
My last memory was a karaoke rendition of “A Long December” by Counting Crows; Stepping out of the car I knew that song would take on a different meaning for me.
The sight of my wife crying with red and blue light flickering on her face is forever burned into my memory.
It was just around the corner from our apartment where I veered into four parked cars, bouncing and skidding before coming to a stop. The broken front axel stopped our car, keeping us from going straight into a fence with a six-foot drop on the other side. Two of the cars were totaled and the other three needed serious repair.
The neighbors were already outside and I was informed the police were on their way. My ugly sweater and unsteady gait made it obvious and after a field sobriety test, I was put in handcuffs. The officers recommended I give my wedding ring to my wife for safekeeping, then they put me in the back of the car. The sight of my wife crying with red and blue light flickering on her face is forever burned into my memory. This was our first Christmas as a married couple.
December has always been a tough month for me; family drama swirls with money stress and holiday planning to produce a depression that feeds off the abundance of alcohol. It wasn’t a surprise that an open bar would produce a tragedy in my least favorite month and honestly, I had it coming.
At Twenty-Eight I’d been drinking for fourteen years as a proud delinquent with an atavistic view of rebellion, cursed by an ancestry of village drunks.The last four years were exceptionally reckless, blacking out was a common theme and this trip to the drunk tank was my fourth.
I’d never been charged in each of my arrests, just given a warning and a place to sleep it off. I was found in a bush in Ventura, a fast food parking lot in San Diego, and a convenience store in South Lake Tahoe. Each time I was taken to the drunk tank I made friends and was proud to walk away with a story.
I couldn’t take my eyes off of the ‘MS-13’ written in dried blood on the wall.
This time was real. For the first time I was an actual criminal and was taken to the Los Angeles Metropolitan Detention Center. While using the sticky handled pay phone to call my wife I couldn’t take my eyes off of the ‘MS-13’ written in dried blood on the wall. Finally, the charm of the drunken arrest had worn out.
Sixteen hours sharing South Cell Block A with thirty other inmates while I recovered from a brutal hangover. I hid on my bunk and cried under my blanket in between fighting off the shakes and bitter regret that plagued my thoughts. I heard one of my cellmates bragging about a beating, another an armed robbery, and one man said he’d killed someone.
After what felt like a lifetime my name was called with a few others, we were marched off and lectured about our poor starts to the new year. It felt like getting taken out of time out by a bully older brother, giving you one last taste of embarrassment.
As I walked out into Downtown the sky was saturated with the color from a beautiful sunset. My wife agreed to pick me up at Union Station and I savored my walk there, appreciating being alive and free from jail. While I waited for her to arrive I found myself looking at the giant Christmas Tree with tear filled eyes. This day left me with a holiday gratitude that I have never felt before: after such an experience it was a miracle to be alive.
That was one year ago, today.
It was a long four months of guilt and fear until I was found guilty of a DUI and sentenced to four days of house arrest, nine months without a license, and three months of alcohol classes.
One night’s recklessness set me up for a year of change.
Life in Los Angeles without wheels is full of challenges and I had no choice but to face them. DUIs aren’t cheap and money was very tight. All too often my budget did not allow for the cost of rideshares so I took to walking everywhereI could. My commutes ranged from three to ten miles and sometimes more. Lugging camera gear in a backpack did not make it easier. Passing by the scene of the accident twice a day gave me no choice but to process what I had done.
The months without a license were full of more downs than ups and my wife endured along with me. The stress strained our marriage and my depression tested our relationship, but as the days went by we got better at it.
One night’s recklessness set me up for a year of change. I couldn’t afford to drink and my constant walking helped me to lose weight and get to know a city I was taking for granted. As I got through the alcohol classes I was allowed to get a restricted license and could drive to work after blowing into a breathalyzer.
Each step through the court requirements made the light at the end of the tunnel get closer. I could feel myself growing into a better person each day that I got further away from that long December, in the process my marriage got stronger and my outlook on life became brighter.
At so many points along the way, it felt like this day would never come. With three years of summary probation, the DUI is still on my back but I have made important lifestyle changes to be sure that I won’t find myself in jail again. A second DUI carries a minimum of six months in jail and per the Watson Advisement if I kill someone while under the influence it is a minimum of life in prison.
Knowing that I could have killed myself, my wife, or some innocent person on that dark night in December has given me a greater appreciation for everything in my life. Sometimes you don’t understand what you have until you get a taste of losing it all.
I leave my crazy Twenties behind and step forward into my Thirties as a stronger person with a gratitude that I will never forget.