Another item ticked off on the complicated and expensive list of things I have to do to get my life back to normal: DHHS approved Impaired Driver Education Program complete. And I gotta say, this is the first thing in the whole wretched process that actually does some good.
First, a couple of details. The classes are being conducted by Chrysalis Recovery Center, headquartered in Concord on Airport Rd. They have a number of options to try to accommodate folks, from weekday evenings to weekend overnights to two consecutive weekends during the day. That last option is the one I was in, with about a dozen other first-time offenders. Only this week, we lost one of our group. She just didn’t show. That’s bad news, because she’ll have to start over. Can’t just make up the one day lost. And unless a major medical emergency or death was involved, she’ll have to pay the $300 fee again. Sounds harsh, but Chrysalis deals with a lot of no-shows, and has had to adopt a strict policy.
Ours is a pretty low-risk group. None of us are habitual offenders (yet, and the classes aim to keep it that way) so we are not likely to skip out. It’s tough when you can’t drive and have to depend on others to get you there, but we manage. But when you are dealing with troubled people who have substance abuse issues, legal issues, and whose lives are likely complicated with any number of heart-breaking problems, yes. They miss court dates, blow off classes, and otherwise behave irresponsibly. It’s ironic. The ones who most need the help are the least likely to get it, for the very reasons for which they need the help.
None of us in the group particularly want to be there, but it’s what we have to do. We’ve had a dump truck of ugliness emptied onto us, and we need to dig our way out. That’s what we are doing. Answering the questions, doing the exercises telling our stories, watching the videos, some of which are, to be honest, pretty lame. It’s not how any of us would want to spend our weekend, and that includes the instructor.
We make the best of it. Each day, we arrived to boxes of excellent muffins, with coffee available if we didn’t bring our own. Yesterday, the instructor brought her dachshund with her. The little mooch wandered around begging for attention and bits of muffin. We reviewed what we had learned last weekend and talked about it. We do a lot of talking, sharing experiences. Serious stuff, but also laughing and joking. We get breaks every hour to stretch our legs and go outside. A lot of folks take advantage of the break to smoke a cigarette. I walk around the outside of the building to clear my head. By the very nature of what we are talking about, it’s difficult for me. The experiences surrounding my arrest and the fallout from it have been pretty traumatic. I’ll confess I’ve had a really hard time staving off a plunge back into depression.
But I write about it and share the whole mixed bag with my readers, and that helps me to process it. This blog works better than any counselor I’ve ever had, partly because I feel I’m doing some good with it. Ordinary folks make mistakes. Bad things happen to good people. If we hide the stuff we’re ashamed of, and only present the stuff we’re proud of to the world, we all get a skewed idea of what normal is. We each end up thinking we’re the only ones who have screwed up. By writing about what’s happened to me, perhaps I can demystify it a bit and help somebody else.
So here I am in the Chrysalis Recovery Program, being treated for a problem I don’t have. But never mind, I am still learning a great deal. I’ve learned that early in my life I was probably perilously close to becoming an alcoholic, but managed to avoid hitting my trigger point. For the past twenty-five years I’ve toggled pretty solidly between being a phase 1 and phase 2 drinker (phase four is the danger zone), and the older I get, the less I drink. The classes have given me good guidelines about what is safe and healthy. I’m in no danger. This is comforting.
I’ve learned a hell of a lot about the law. Perhaps I am nowhere near being a problem drinker, but when it comes to driving a car, the laws are extremely harsh. Now that I have a blot on my record, they are even harsher. For my own safety, I need to make a rule never to get behind the wheel of a car if I have had the slightest amount to drink. Even if I was drinking hours ago. An aggressive cop could nail me on my blood alcohol level even if I feel stone cold sober. A .03 is enough, and I could still have that in my system if I drank the night before and thought I’d slept it off.
Scary stuff, boys and girls. You can’t help feeling a little sick when you realize that behavior you thought was perfectly legal and harmless was a nightmare waiting to happen. But thanks to this class, I know better, and I’m not going to let myself get nailed by this legal game of Gotcha.
I am still furious at a society that traps people by confusing them with a flood of conflicting messages and information. The horrors of drunk driving are demonstrated by seriously impaired people weaving down the road, ricocheting off of guard rails. Alcohol abuse is sensationalized by its extremes. Well, sure, don’t we all want to get those people off the road? But we aren’t them, are we? We don’t drink to the point of staggering and passing out. We never get behind the wheel when we feel impaired. But, surprise! The laws are written such that you don’t need to feel impaired to be illegal. You don’t need to be anywhere near the extremes to qualify as a drunk driver. And every day people who had no idea they were doing anything wrong get busted.
And what about the Bond effect? Those movies and TV shows that make drinking so cool, so sexy. All those people you’d love to be like, sophisticated, successful, desirable, they are swirling the bourbon in their glasses, or knocking back the shots, the beers, reclining by the pool with their glasses of wine. They go out to bars, drink in restaurants, meet on balconies for a nightcap, and then drive off to the next dramatic scene where they are offered a drink and coyly accept. Break for commercial, where beautiful people having much more fun than you, are drinking and laughing and buying another round.
And none of these people ever get busted for DUI. Not unless they are all over the road and an obvious danger to themselves and everyone else.
We are not rational animals. We like to pretend we are, and we do have a wonderful ability to override our instincts and impulses with our very clever brain. But the bottom line is, we don’t always make rational choices. We are susceptible to advertising, peer pressure, culture and superstition. We are vulnerable. We each try very hard to be personally responsible, but we screw up. All of us do. As a society, we have to do our best to allow for that. To make it as easy as possible for people to make the right choices. To give them all the information we can, be as flexible as we can, as supportive and understanding as we can. (For more on the latest research on the most effect ways to treat addiction, follow this link.)
Our policies, laws and treatment of alcohol use and abuse are a splendid example of how we as a society are failing abominably.