In the midst of the uncertainty of my life, there has been some good news this week. Let me start at the beginning.
It was Labor Day weekend of 2015. I joined two of my friends for a Girl’s Night Out in a nearby city. Dinner and drinks and lots of laughs. Everything was fine for awhile, but towards the end of the night, as usual, I started to let things go too far. I didn’t black out and maybe that was one of my saving graces of being an addict – it took a whole hell of a lot more than the 5-7 drinks I had that night to make me black out. It also meant though, that I remember everything about that night.
At the end of the evening, I met a man who was visiting from out of town. I was feeling good and lost my inhibitions as typically happened when I drank and made out with him in the bar in front of everyone. While my husband and kids were at home.
At some point I realized this was not a great idea and abruptly left. Everyone followed me out of the bar and my friends were worried about me driving but I assured them I was fine. Because technically, for me, I was fine. I hadn’t blacked out.
I made it to my car and found that the guy had followed me. He asked me if I was okay to drink which I assured him I was and I offered to drive him back to his hotel. Looking back, I can see what mixed signals this gave and I cringe. But it happened and I own it.
So as I’m driving out of town, I run right into a sobriety checkpoint because it’s Labor Day weekend and why the fuck not. I knew I was in trouble but at this point there was nothing I could do but walk (or drive I guess) into the fire. So I did.
As I was being given the sobriety test by a very kind officer, the stranger who had been in the passenger seat of my car slipped out and walked away down the street. While being given the test I was telling the officer how I would probably lose my job and my husband after this. Another not-so-kind officer who overheard asked in front of everyone if the guy I was with was my husband and I honestly answered, no. He shamed me then in front of everyone noting that, “You’re husband sure wouldn’t be happy to know you were with him.” No shit, Sherlock.
It was determined that while I wasn’t super drunk, I was definitely too drunk to be driving so I was arrested and put in a paddy wagon with several other women who were in the same boat. The arresting officer was kind though and apologized, saying he understood I wasn’t very drunk. I told him he was just doing his job and it was my fault for thinking I could drive. I knew I had to own what was happening in the moment. Shit had just gotten so real for me.
The officers I came into contact from this point on were all very nice, probably because I was very respectful and nice as well. I also held very normal conversations with them through the rest of the night. When they handcuffed me to put me in the paddy wagon, one of the cuffs was too loose and I could slip my hand out. So I did right then and there and showed the officer, asking him to tighten it. Needless to say, he was quite surprised and then re-did the handcuffs appropriately. I even joked with the one who took my mugshot and said, I bet you’ve never had to do this for someone who is as sober as me right now and he replied, “No, actually I haven’t.”
At the time it felt like such a kick in the ass from the universe because of all the times I had been so beyond drunk what I was that night and still drove, this was the night I was caught. Now I realized how ridiculous it was to think that way and I thank God I was clear-headed enough to be as respectful as I was and not make things worse by being blacked out or belligerent.
As the night wore on, the ladies and I were booked one by one and put in a big cell together until we could get in contact with someone to come get us. One by one they left and there I was alone. For whatever reason, my mother had her cell phone and home phone turned off that evening. The only night that has ever happened. My husband refused to come get me when the officers called him. By 2 am or so everyone had left but me. I slept only an hour or so on a cold jail cell floor that night with my ankles shackled under a scratchy blanket.
At around 6 am, I called one of the friends who I had been out with the night before. She immediately came to get me, helped me find where my car had been towed so I would know where to go later and then took me home to where I would have one of the longest mornings of my life. In front of my kids, I had to pretend I was fine. We had somewhere to be that morning so I showered and got ready and we went. By this time, I was able to contact my mom who came to watch my kids while we went to get my car. By afternoon I was beyond broken and exhausted. I told my husband everything, declared that I could and would never drink again and took a nap.
My husband showed me more grace than I deserved. Even if he hadn’t though, he couldn’t have been harder on me than I was on myself. I had never felt humiliation like I did because of this experience. Thankfully, my employer showed me grace as well. You see, I am a teacher. The general public typically expects teachers to be perfect, but we are flawed individuals as well. I am beyond grateful to work for people who understand that no one is perfect.
I was charged with Driving Under the Influence (DUI) and was able to complete a program for first-time offenders where I attended a presentation by families who had loved ones killed in drunk driving accidents, lost my license for 30 days, paid a large fine, completed community service and took a safe driving class. The worst punishment however was the overwhelming guilt and humiliation which lasted for more than a year. Every now and then I feel shame about it still but at this point I’ve come to accept that it’s a part of my story whether I like it or not and I must own it.
So what does this all have to do with the good news? Well, when this happened, I figured my goal of one day becoming a principal was just never going to happen. (Even though I know school leaders who have gotten DUI’s.) I gave up on that dream. Recently though, I thought it might be worth a try. So I applied for a program to get my certificate to become a principal. I went through the lengthy application process to an in-state university which included a question on the application about my criminal background.
I almost didn’t apply because of that question. I thought, no way am I admitting this to a university. I will never get in. I mulled over it for a few days. Then I decided to go for it and own it. So I clicked, “Yes.” Yes, I have a criminal background. No, I’m not proud of that. So far from it.
I also needed recommendation letters. “Who the hell is going to recommend me knowing that I got a DUI?” I thought. I felt more of the shame and humiliation but I walked through it and asked for these letters. No one brought up my DUI from 1.5 years ago. They simply wrote wonderful letters for me. I wanted to cry. I do not deserve this grace I thought.
Things were going smoothly with the application process. My contact at the university told me they had everything they needed and were reviewing everything. The next day an e-mail was waiting for me. My contact informed me that the admissions department noticed I had checked “Yes” about having a criminal history and they would like me to explain further. My stomach dropped. My heart filled with shame. This was it. I was not going to get in. For a split second I thought I should just ignore the e-mail and forget about it all. Move on.
No. I had to own this and I had to own it all the way through as painful as it was. Whatever happened, I had to know I at least tried. So I wrote a brief explanation in response and waited. And waited. And waited.
3 days later and another e-mail. I burst into tears. I WAS ACCEPTED.
It’s hard for me to remember sometimes but I am more than the DUI. I am more than my mistakes. I am more than my addiction. I am more.