December 31, 2004

Amateur's Night

I don't generally do public service announcements.

I might ask you to consider donating money to a charitable cause, but I understand if you choose not to do so. I try to be a live and let live type of gal.

Today, however, is not one of those days when I'm going to live and let live. I will fully expect you to do what I say, or you will suffer my wrath. Which, along with the consequences of your actions, will make for one hell of a one-two punch.

Tonight is New Year's Eve. The night when there is actually something to celebrate at midnight. This is also night when people who don't normally frequent parties and bars go out and binge like a frat boy performing a keg stand.

They hire babysitters or corrall family members to look after their wee ones. They made dinner reservations months ago. They look forward to parties they've been invited to, wondering what sort of liquor they should take as a host present. They get worked up over the prospect of a night out, sans children, sans responsibility, sans any sort of sense they usually let run their lives. This is the night they let loose.

In other words, tonight, as the husband so aptly phrases it, is Amateur's Night.

And it is the night when he, as a former professional drunk driver with the resume to prove it, absolutely refuses to go out.

Ever since I started this blog I have danced around the edges of the husband's woes. A wee bit of disclosure here, a wee bit there. But never have I unloaded the whole story. No more. To get you to do what I want, full disclosure is necessary.

I will aim for brevity. I don't think it's possible, though.

The husband:

  • Is an alcoholic. He disclosed this to me in the early stages of our relationship, but as I have no alcoholics in my immediate family and never had anything to do with alcoholics previously, I had no idea what this entailed.
  • Has been convicted of (counting on fingers) seven counts of drunk driving since he was twenty-one. Four were in Iowa. The other three were here in Minnesota. Six of the seven were misdemeanors. Lucky number seven was a felony. This illustrious record does not include all the times he was charged for driving without a license, speeding, reckless driving, etc. Those are peanuts compared to a DWI.

    I also feel obliged to point out that---ahem---the husband never killed anyone. He never rammed his car into a tree. He never ran a busload of nuns off the road or killed a small, wide-eyed child who was standing in the middle of the road, clutching her teddy bear tightly to her bosom whilst looking terrified. I point this out to you because I know what some of you are thinking, and as such I also know that the worst possible scenarios are running through your mind. I know this. I don't blame you for it. I would just ask you to open your mind and realize that not everyone who is convicted of drunk driving is a murderer. The worst the husband ever did when he was behind the wheel of a car whilst intoxicated was to run into a ditch.And that's it.

  • Has cost us a lot of money. To provide a conservative estimate of how much this problem has cost us financially over the course of our ten year marriage is a rough thing, but I would ballpark it somewhere around $100,000. That includes bail, fines, fees, lawyers, substance abuse evaluations, court ordered rehab, home monitoring equipment, work release housing (yes, kids, jail costs money), an automobile that was siezed by the county, etc. And there is a lot that could be included in that etc. but I think you get the gist.
  • Is still on probation from his felony DWI, which occurred in February 2003. After spending a few months working with his lawyer and the courts, he was sentenced to 60 days in Work Release, more than a year and a half on home monitoring and four years of probation. The practicalities of this meant that for two months I would go and pick him up from the work release facility in Plymouth (a far west suburb) bring him here to the house (where his office is) to work. At six-thirty each evening, I would race him back to the facility where he would spend the night. After his sixty days were up, he was released to home monitoring. This was at the end of July, 2003. From August 1st, 2003 to January 26, 2004 he was monitored remotely from our house. This is the proverbial ankle bracelet you hear so much about on TV. But, you say, August to January does not equal a year and a half. True. But there was a deal done in chambers that spared the husband the brunt of this because he wasn't a pain in the ass prisoner. I simply cannot remember all the myriad legal details. The husband is now on probation. Until the year 2008. If he goofs at any point during this period of time, all time served on this offense is wiped away: he will go to the state penitentiary for four years of hard time. No be's, by's or but's about it.

    He currently meets with his probation officer every other week. He has been in treatment since February 2003 and is doing very well. He hasn't had a drink since that night. More importantly, nor does he want one.

    This, to put it mildly, is good.

This has been my nightmare.

Yet, the nightmare is finally over with. I no longer wait up at night, waiting for him to come home, wondering if he's dead or if he's killed someone. I never have to receive another call from him from the jail, wondering if it would be too much trouble for me to arrange his bail. I no longer have to lie to family and friends about the extent of his problems because he asked it of me. We are no longer losing friends because they simply did not want to associate with someone who was so blindingly intent on destroying his life and the lives of those around him. I no longer have to wonder and worry and wait for him to finally realize he could not handle alcohol, and that there was no shame associated with sobriety. While there are challenges involved with his sobriety, in a very weird sort of way, it's nice having a new set of challenges to deal with, instead of the same 'ol, same 'ol.

While I fully realize that most people are not alcoholics. That most people are able to handle their liquor and are smart enough to avoid driving while drunk, there are quite a few of you out there who simply think you can handle it. That it's too much of a pain to have to go and retrieve your car from wherever tomorrow, so you're just going to risk it, because you're not that drunk.

If you are one of these people, know that you scare the professional drunk drivers, like the husband. They don't want to get out on the road with you because you are an unknown factor. You have no experience with this sort of thing. You have no idea of what your capabilities are. You will cruise down the road, high on life, and will not pay attention. To put it bluntly: you are uneducated in the risks you are taking when you get behind the wheel of your car and point it toward home.

Say what you will about the pot calling the kettle black. Given the circumstances, it's completely understandable that you would respond this way. But, you should at least know, that every single person who has been convicted of drunk driving once is terrified when they slide behind the wheel after they've had a drink. They may be legally sober---they might not be---but that's not really the issue here. Their potential level of incapacitation aside, they are at least aware of what they are risking and will be extra vigilant to make sure they don't get pulled over. They will watch their speed. They will open a window. They will turn off the radio. They will hug the line. You, the novice, will not be extra vigilant. You are oblivious to the risks. Hence you are unsafe, and God Willing, will be pulled over by a police officer.

This is where the real fun begins.

Providing you don't kill someone and get sent up for twenty-five to life, you, nonetheless, are laying out the welcome mat for the legal system, and are inviting them into your life. This is worse than having the IRS audit you. Trust me on this one. You do not want this because, when it comes to drunk driving, the legal system puts the IRS to shame. It wheedles its way into corners that you do not even know you have and have no way of defending because MADD has been so very successful in its lobbying efforts. Even though it's not widely advertised and varies from state to state, you will, most likely, lose your fourth amendment protection against unreasonable searches and siezures. You will be forced to run through legal hoops for months on end. You will bring down unhappiness upon your family. You will lose friends because you have proven yourself to be a flake. You will, most likely, not be able to drive anywhere for a year. The money it will cost you to extricate yourself from this mess is the absolute least of your woes.

The worst of it, as the the husband will tell you, is that you will lose your freedom. He's not talking specifically about probation or jail time or home monitoring, but rather all of it. He is not free to live his life the way he would like. While he might be done with what I consider to be the worst of it, he is not done with it entirely. The leash hasn't been removed, in other words. It's only been loosened. He has to apply to leave the state. A breathalyzer will be delivered to our home sometime this spring. It will be connected to our phone for a month and he will have to blow into it a minimum of three times a day. This seems ridiculous, considering he's not drinking anymore, but the state doesn't know that and, as this was a part of the deal he cut with the state, he must endure it one month a year, until his probation is up in 2008. We cannot move away from the state of Minnesota without transferring his probation to the state we would like to move to. He invited the legal system into our lives when he went out and had four martinis that night in February, 2003. And we will not be free of them until 2008.

And this is only a clear-cut date providing the legal system doesn't switch something up in the meanwhile. Which is entirely possible.

I told you up at the top of this screed that I wanted you to do something. Well, as you might have sussed, what I want you to do tonight is not drive while drunk. Even if you've only had a few glasses of wine, or a single beer, just don't drive. Just don't do it.

I would ask you to make a plan beforehand, while your judgment is unclouded by booze, and to stick to it. If that means calling a friend in the middle of the night and rousing them out of a sound sleep, do it. If that means spending the rest of the afternoon calling every car service in town to see if they have an available limo for tonight, do it. If that means spending time on a cold corner, waiting for a cab to drive by, do it.

Keep your freedom. Keep the legal system out of your life. Save yourself from MADD impact panels. You have the power to save yourself a world of hurt, but more importantly, save the ones you love the most from having this world of hurt affect them.

Because while you will have to live through the shame and bother of it all, they will have to live through it, too, but they will have done nothing to deserve it.

Posted by Kathy at December 31, 2004 01:48 PM

As "The Husband" it is not that easy to read this post, but if it even makes one person think twice and make appropriate transportation plans, it will have been worth every cringe I endured reading it.

Please note, she's not saying "Don't drink (...or you'll rot in hell you child of a motherless goat!)" She's saying "Don't drink and drive. In other words, party up! Kathy the Cake Eater likes her chardonnay as much as the next person, but for cryin' out plan on alternate transportation! Nothing (and I mean NOTHING!) is worth having the state dictate to you where you have to be and when for 5 years. Worth even less are the consequenses (heaven forbid) should someone get hurt.

On a related note; if anyone is interested in knowing what, after a 16 year career of dependence on alcohol, got me to finally stop - I'll tell you right now it wasn't the penalties of the state. It wasn't replacing the booze addiction with being addicted to support group meetings. It wasn't religion, or Jesus or a "higher power" or even a set of 12 steps. E-mail Kathy and she'll put you in touch with me if you'd like to discuss it.

Posted by: MRN aka "The Husband" at December 31, 2004 03:51 PM

Gee, Kathy, that must have been a very hard post to write. God bless you both and the very best to your husband who, from what I gather, will be fighting this for the rest of his life.

Posted by: RP at April 27, 2005 01:48 PM
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