DUI Conviction Can Be a Road to Recovery
I am 10 months fully sober after 2-½ years of on again/ off again attempts to remove alcohol from my life. In 2019, I was arrested in the parking lot of an upscale restaurant in my community where my two children attended the local high school. I wished I had a resource to turn to in my time of need but none presented themselves. I basically drew my own map to navigate the legal ramifications and remove alcohol from my life. Everyone’s story is unique, but I hope you are able to draw some helpful information as you navigate your own map, remembering there IS life after DUI.
It can be hard to locate positive stories that begin with “I had a DUI.” But it is incredibly important to know that they DO EXIST! Not just one, but many. And if you’re reading this because you experienced a DUI or if your family member or loved one went through it, you are already on a positive path toward recovery.
Skipping ahead to the last page in a mystery book cheats the reader from the full experience they would get from reading the entire story, so it is important to examine what happened to get into the situation of driving under the influence (DUI) from the beginning. But this stage is usually retroactive to the event, as part of recovery and moving forward.
It is only then, perhaps months or a year later, that you can put an entire experience into perspective. For those who receive treatment for alcohol or substance use disorder, this ending is often merged into a new beginning–a sequel in the continuing story of life. Some chapters are straight and to the point, while others give more background to help the story develop. This can be shown through the sample below:
“Life After DUI”
By Jane Doe
The Legal Impact
The Financial Impact
The Emotional Impact
Treating the Problem
Rebuilding Trust (rebuilding with a job, finding a new employer to gain a new history of trust; rebuilding trust with the court system by following through on terms of probation; rebuilding trust with yourself; rebuilding loved ones’ trust)
Now, read it again and each time you see the word “rebuilding” replace it with “maintaining.” Because maintaining requires continuing work, this chapter, along with chapters three and four, is longer than, for example, paying a court fine.
All the chapters are necessary for creating the finished product of the book.
Getting charged with DUI has a taboo distinction in society that is felt immediately. The passing stares from other motorists or witnesses walking by, the humiliation of being handcuffed and placed in the back of a police vehicle; it is almost an out-of-body experience. You can see everything going on from a distance and are shocked to see the person in handcuffs is YOU!
You have joined the 1.5 million people who are or will be charged with DUI in the United States this year.
Luckily, you are also NOT one of the more than 10,000 people to be killed in a DUI motor vehicle accident.
While you can technically be charged with impaired driving if a police officer deems you are under the influence of alcohol, or prescription or illegal drugs, 0.08% is the magic number for blood alcohol content to be at an illegal level.
Being the overachiever I have always been in life gives me the distinct honor of having blown a 0.350% while looking every bit like I was running an errand or picking up my daughter from work.
Most people would be hovering just shy of the line of respiratory distress or coma. If you watch the video of me in the police station blowing into the more accurately calibrated breathalyzer, I am not slurring or falling. That is simply because I had developed an incredible tolerance and insatiable need to maintain a slight buzz all day long as a near-daily drinker for 12 years.
It was a very detailed and scheduled effort to maintain this lifestyle, and I gladly surrendered to being released from the duty. Something or somebody (the law) had to make me stop. I found that someone was not going to be me, and turned a blind eye to my family’s tentative steps to get me to change my behavior.
I am not alone in this choice. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration statistics show that one out of every 121 licensed drivers were arrested for drunk driving. Every day, almost 30 people in the United States die in drunk-driving crashes. In 2018, 10,511 people died in alcohol-related accidents.
What Could Happen to Me in Court?
Depending on where you are in the legal process as you read this, the first step after being charged is a court arraignment where you enter a plea of guilty or not guilty. The case may also be continued if the jurisdiction or your defense team needs more time to examine the evidence.
Charges could be dropped, you may be found not guilty, or you could be found guilty of a misdemeanor or criminal offense and sentenced to a fine, community service, court-ordered alcohol treatment in a supervised center, or jail time.
Oregon has a complex structure to its DUI laws. Fines are increased if there is a passenger in the vehicle under 18 years of age, and you are at least three years older. The level of substance abuse treatment is determined following a screening at your expense. Many first-time offenders may qualify for a diversion program, also at their expense, that will allow the case to be dismissed after one year.
I pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor driving under the influence charge (I’m pretty sure nobody thought it was my first offense. The phrase “caught” probably was in everybody’s minds in the courtroom). I agreed to a six-day drug and alcohol treatment program in a place I called “not quite jail,” where there was more emphasis on upholding cigarette breaks than alcohol education. Those lucky enough to have jobs were allowed to leave daily. The rest of us just sat around all day in one of the two rooms. Six nights later, I was out and vowed never to return to that purgatory.
While I was there, my husband moved my son into his freshman year dorm. If you looked at our physical locations (which I did on my phone so many times I cried), you could see my location beeping at the “not quite jail” just one mile from his beeping light showing him at his dorm. It would be about nine months before he would speak a sentence to me without being spoken to first and only giving one-word responses.
Some people represent themselves, some have a public defender, and some pay for an attorney. My attorney was worth the money because I had a random charge that he was able to have the court dismiss that would have delayed driving privileges for an additional year. Other than that, it was good I read all my court papers because I had to do daily call-ins to an automated line for random urine screenings.
If you are found criminally liable, your driver’s license will most likely be automatically revoked for a period determined by your state’s legislation. Privileges for driving to work could be granted at a judge’s discretion. Oftentimes, an interlock device will be required for your vehicle at your expense, which you must breathe into periodically while driving to ensure you are not under the influence.
You will remain on probation until all terms of your sentencing have been met. This typically includes no alcohol use, random urine screens, limited ability to travel outside your state, and monthly visits with a probation officer.
Once fees are paid and probation terms are met, your probation period will end on a set date. The judge is the determining authority of when/if license reinstatement can occur. If you have a commercial driver’s license or pilot’s license, there may also be more specific criteria.
A DUI will be on your record during employment background checks, depending on if they are checking for felony or misdemeanor crimes. Some states will allow you to pursue expungement, while others do not, so check the laws in your state. Specific to Oregan, a DUII (statewide reference for driving under the influence of intoxicants, but referred to as DUI for this article’s purpose) cannot be “set aside” or expunged. Even if the charge is dismissed in lieu of a diversion program, the DUI charge will remain on your record for life.
Having a conviction doesn’t necessarily mean you won’t be considered for a position. There is often an opportunity to explain your case on an application and to show you have successfully moved on to rebuild your life positively.
In my state, my DUI will also remain on my record for life. However, it has not been a life sentence for employment for me and doesn’t have to be for you either.
Getting a DUI doesn’t automatically mean you have a substance use disorder. If you don’t, the information above about how it is handled and how it will affect your life remains the same and is helpful to read.
For those who do have a substance use disorder, getting a DUI can be an opportunity to examine your past behaviors and use it as a springboard to a new lifestyle that focuses on healthy living. You definitely want to make every effort to avoid being a repeat offender with a higher cost of freedom and family to pay.
A DUI Is a Symptom and the Treatment Is Where Real Recovery Can Occur
I had another round of alcohol come calling before I would ultimately seek and receive the treatment that has worked for me. It wasn’t public, like the shame and embarrassment that comes with an arrest.
My end and inevitably new beginning, came when my spouse quietly told me he wasn’t sure he felt he loved me anymore. My 16-year-old daughter also spoke up. She pointed out that I kept saying I was sober but had yet to prove it. She needed the proof that came with outside specialists treating me with a program that showed I was working toward recovery, not more of my pretending to be sober.
Knowing how I was hurting and pushing away my loved ones, without meaning to, gave me the final step to accept that I needed help. I would grow strong, by admitting I was unable to conquer something alone. This was a foreign idea to me, but I say this with the utmost sincerity, it was the key to unlocking a positive, strong future.
I did a lot of research to find the right program for me. I didn’t want to complete any program that truly wasn’t going to help me with solutions. My safe place became a combination of strategies.
- I enjoy the camaraderie of Alcoholics Anonymous, where there is simple acceptance and many others are trying to break free from alcohol. It is rare to find that in this world. While I felt shameful for my previous behavior around my family at first, this was the safe place I could go for support and no judgment nor negativity.
- I have a sponsor from AA who has a similar background that has been a constant source of guidance.
- I also worked with a therapist on how to stay focused on goals unrelated to drinking to keep an overall perspective on positive steps I could take for work, building friendships in a new city, and how my family relationships could improve.
- Changing my work from a remote role to face-to-face and a regular schedule was important in being held accountable and restoring my dignity. Having a sense of purpose is very helpful in keeping depression at bay.
- I completed a voluntary outpatient program with twice-weekly sessions for 18 weeks, along with the ever-fun urine testing that is required for participation. This program was great for learning more positive ways to relax, deal with life stresses, avoid temptations, work through anger to resolution, set and meet goals, push myself to try new things, and remember hobbies and things I had stopped doing and get them back in my life.
- I finished my probation period and could breathe easier as the legal stress left my shoulders.
- I have been very open with my family about what I’ve learned about myself along the way. By sharing the experience, I have regained their lost trust. Their support has been everything. No snide comments, no resentful attitudes–I don’t know how I came to be blessed with such wonderful people, but I am grateful.
With Recovery Comes a New Way of Living
Every month is another notch on my sobriety belt. When I blow into my interlock device (yup, still have that for nine more months because the court suspended my license for two years), it is not with resentment or embarrassment. It is with gratitude because I have the privilege to drive, which allows me to keep my commitments.
While I was unable to help my daughter get road hours to prepare for her driving test, I was still able to take her to school and work. We shared a lot of laughter wondering how many other moms were blowing into their vehicle interlock at pick-up time. This year, I was able to help my son who now happily answers my phone calls, move into his first apartment. My husband and I will be married for 22 years this anniversary.
I always wondered why people said they were grateful to be a recovering alcoholic. I now know it is because I learned so much that will make me a better person in all avenues of life including, but beyond, my alcohol use disorder.
On your journey to recovery, remember that there is life after a DUI. There are many types of methodologies out there because some people are more receptive to specific types. Sometimes they have to be tried on, like an outfit, until you find the one you like.
You Do Not Have to Face This Journey on Your Own
Serenity Lane has been a trusted community provider of addiction treatment services since 1973. Our care services combine 46 years of experience with a medically-informed, multidisciplinary care plan. We treat the whole patient, encourage family involvement, and will create a care plan matched to your individual needs.
Can a First-Offense DUI Be Dismissed?
Yes. A DUI case may be dismissed for a variety of technical reasons, including the reason for the stop being invalid, therefore anything that occurred afterward also being invalidated. A large work-load for the prosecutor or a first-time offense could also result in an agreement to a lesser charge.
How Long Do You Have to Sit in Jail for a DUI?
With a first-offense DUI, you can face up to six months in jail upon conviction. You are typically released shortly after being charged until your court arraignment date. Sometimes jail time can be suspended if probation requirements are met. Depending on your blood alcohol level, you may be ordered to complete an alcohol treatment program instead of jail time.
Is Your Life Over if You Get a DUI?
You may feel like your life is crashing down following a DUI. But it can be rebuilt by following the legal requirements and getting recovery treatment if needed. You may also experience depression because of the impact on your daily life and should seek counseling if this occurs. It may be hard to believe immediately afterward, but your life is not over if you get a DUI.