DUI in Your Past? How to Get Over it and Live Sober

If you’ve been arrested and convicted of a driving under the influence (DUI) or driving while intoxicated (DWI), you probably have nightmares of being pulled over, subjected to the “walk the line” and other field sobriety tests, booking and fingerprinting and spending the night in jail. Besides being a somewhat brutal experience at the time, the effects are long-lasting and painful – in more ways than one. Maybe you think you had extenuating circumstances or the charges were bogus or some other self-justifying reason, but the fact remains you got the DUI and now you have to deal with the after-effects. How do you get over it and live sober? Read on.

Consider Your DUI a Wake-up Call

For some individuals, getting a DUI is like being smacked in the head with reality. Suddenly they wake up and realize that their partying has consequences, and that they can’t continue to drink pals under the table or go on day after day consuming increasing amounts of booze. The human body simply isn’t designed to be able to take such abuse without serious negative effects.

Others, however, tell themselves that it was a one-time occurrence, it will never happen again, and shield themselves from the reality of the situation. In other words, they give themselves an excuse to continue drinking. This is a mistake. When you keep on drinking despite mounting negative consequences – and a DUI certainly qualifies as a black mark – you’re on the downhill slope into alcohol abuse and alcoholism.

Any brush with the law that involves drinking will result in some unpleasant things that you’ll have to go through. First, there’s the indignity of being arrested, booked, and spending time in jail with people from all manner of life. In the so-called “drunk tank,” you may look around and see high-paid executives, celebrities, sports figures, or a dockworker, plumber, housewife, prostitute, pimp, crack dealer, or street bum. Anyone who’s ever spent the night in jail for a first DUI never forgets the experience. The trouble is, while they should learn from it, many never do. They continue their drinking with the mistaken belief that somehow they can escape the consequences. The further along in their descent into alcoholism they go, the less they even care about the bad things that occur because of their drinking.

For now, if you have a DUI in your past – maybe a recent conviction, maybe one that happened some time ago that you still haven’t gotten over – consider this an opportunity to wake up and make the necessary changes to right your life and start living sober. The British statesman and philosopher Edmund Burke said, “Those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it.” That quote is the basis for another popular saying, “People who don’t learn from their mistakes are destined to repeat them” and is perfectly appropriate here.

Evaluate the Wreckage

Your DUI was a pretty sobering experience, no doubt – at least for the time it took to get out of jail and go back home. Now, however – and even if it’s been some time since your DUI – it’s time to evaluate the wreckage your drinking behavior has caused. If you have a problem with alcohol, you’ve been repeating the same behavior for some time. This DUI shouldn’t be a surprise to you. What should surprise you is how long you’ve been able to escape the consequences. What you should consider a miracle is that you haven’t seriously injured or killed someone else during your drunken driving episodes.

Make a list of all the bad things that resulted from your DUI. Don’t leave anything out. Most likely, you’ll have a fairly extensive list that may include some of the following:

• Extensive legal bills, court costs, fines
• Jail time served (especially for a second or subsequent DUI conviction)
• Cost for an ignition interlock device (if mandated in your state)
• Cost and time to attend alcohol education classes or court-ordered alcohol rehab (especially for multiple offenders)
• Points on your driving record
• Higher car insurance premiums
• Problems in your relationships with your spouse or partner, and other family members
• Repercussions with your job
• Social stigma
• Damage to your reputation
• Inability to qualify for a job or loss of a promotion
• Inability to secure a loan
• Lower credit score
• Financial disaster
• Foreclosure or bankruptcy

This is a painful exercise, but one that’s necessary. Until you can see the damage your drinking has caused, you won’t be able to get past it and move toward sobriety.

Accept Responsibility for Your Actions

After looking at the wreckage that drinking and DUI has caused in your life – to you and to others – it’s time to acknowledge and accept responsibility for your actions. While it’s true that alcoholism is a disease and there is no blame that should be attached to it, the fact remains that what we do when we are drinking is wholly our responsibility. You can’t put the blame on someone else for you getting into your car and driving drunk. No one forced you to keep drinking past the legal limit, and past your ability to function. Yes, alcoholics reach a point where they cannot stop themselves from drinking, but that still doesn’t mean they aren’t responsible for their actions. They won’t be able to see it, unless and until they get treatment, but they still are responsible.

It’s a huge step to accept the fact that your drinking behavior has resulted in harm to you and to others. But without taking this step, you’ll continue to live in denial. If you refuse to see the truth – that you have a problem with alcohol – you’ll remain stuck. Your DUI may very well become the first in a series of increasingly serious consequences that could ruin your life.

Accepting responsibility for your actions is one thing. What you do next is even more important.

Ask for Help

Depending on the circumstances surrounding your DUI, what state you live in, how persuasive your attorney is, the decision to enter treatment for alcohol abuse or dependence may not fall to you. Whether you are ordered by the court to attend alcohol education classes or go to alcohol treatment or not, this is an area where you really need to step up to the plate. It’s in your best interest, as well as those you love and care for, that you ask for help.

There are various levels of asking for help that may be appropriate for your circumstances. Some individuals who have had a DUI are able to get clean and sober on their own by reading about alcoholism, going online and researching, talking with their doctor, and working it out with the support of their family and friends. But these individuals are few and far between.

Others find that they can get over their drinking by attending Alcoholics Anonymous 12-step group meetings. These are free and the only requirement is that participants have a genuine desire and commitment to living clean and sober. The support of others who have been in the same situations – such as getting a DUI – and have learned from their mistakes and resolved to quit drinking is invaluable. This is true whether or not the individual gets any other kind of help for their drinking.

Most people who have troubles with DUI and drinking need more than just willpower and 12-step meetings to overcome their bad habits. They require more structured assistance in the form of treatment.

Search for the Right Treatment Facility

It may seem mysterious at first, trying to find your way through the maze of available treatment for a problem with alcohol. It really isn’t that difficult. There’s a simple way to search for alcohol treatment facilities. Use the Treatment Facility Locator (http://dasis3.samhsa.gov/) available through the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). You can also call their toll-free 24-hour treatment referral helpline at 1-800-662-HELP.

The Treatment Facility Locator is an online searchable directory of facilities around the country that treat alcoholism, alcohol abuse and drug abuse problems. The directory includes more than 11,000 addiction treatment programs, including residential treatment centers, outpatient treatment programs, and hospital inpatient programs for alcoholism and drug addiction. There are also treatment programs that cover marijuana, cocaine, and heroin addiction, as well as alcohol treatment programs for adolescents and adults.

Use the directory to search by state for treatment centers and facilities. Check out facilities whose treatment programs appeal to you or are appropriate for your needs. Go to their website URLs and thoroughly investigate what they have to offer and call if you have any questions. You may also get referrals from your doctor, attorney, family or close friends.
In your situation, perhaps an outpatient treatment program would work best. Or, you may opt for a residential treatment program. You may feel that private counseling would be the right way to go. If you have insurance coverage that pays for a substantial part of treatment, or have the ability to pay on your own, this is an added reason to seriously consider treatment. If you don’t have insurance, and/or have little ability to pay, don’t let this stand in the way of getting treatment. Contact the facilities whose listings specify that they offer sliding-scale or ability to pay under payment assistance. Many treatment facilities also have healthcare financing options available.

Enlist the Support of Your Family

Whichever way you go with treatment – formal treatment, private therapy, intensive seminars or retreats – you will do best if you have the support and encouragement of your spouse or partner and other family members. Studies have shown that those in recovery have a better outcome – maintaining sobriety – if they have both a stable home and work situation. While you may change jobs, you usually don’t change your family. And having the ongoing and loving support and encouragement of those closest to you is one of the most important elements of being able to live sober.

What should you say? This may be a particularly difficult conversation, especially coming on the heels of your DUI, but it’s one that you need to have. Many individuals who have gone through a DUI are mortified, ashamed, filled with guilt and remorse. They want nothing more than to forget about what happened and get on with their lives. They may seek to deny that it happened, put it behind them quickly, and resume everyday activities. But you can’t just sweep your DUI and its consequences under the rug. You really need to open up and ask for your family’s support as you figure out how to change your behavior to be more healthy and productive.

You might start by saying that you realize that your drinking has become a problem and you want to do something about it. Tell your spouse or partner that you would appreciate his or her understanding and support as you go forward. Emphasize that you are committed to doing whatever it takes to become clean and sober, but – and this is a big caveat – only say so if you really mean it. If you are just mouthing the words, your lack of sincerity will soon become apparent as you go right back to drinking.

What if your spouse doesn’t believe you? Maybe you’ve been down this road before and this is not your first DUI or serious consequence of continued drinking. Well, this is something that you should expect. Betrayal of trust is difficult to overcome. It takes time to re-establish trust and that’s just a reality you’ll need to accept. The best way to show that you really mean it this time is to prove it through your actions. Your loved ones want what’s best for you and the family and if you demonstrate that you are working your way toward understanding and overcoming your need to drink, they will most likely gradually come around.

If they don’t, then you’ll need to find the support and encouragement elsewhere, such as 12-step meetings, counseling, and self-education.

Concentrate on Healing First

Once you’ve accepted responsibility, asked for help, searched for treatment facilities, enlisted the support of your family, it’s time you get down to the business of healing. Before you can live sober, you need to do the hard work that preparing yourself for this healthier lifestyle entails. This means that you can’t bog yourself down in obsessing over the wreckage that your DUI and drinking has caused. Take things one at a time. For now, your priority should be to heal first. Work on repairing the damage later. There’ll be plenty of time for that, and you’ll be better equipped to choose appropriate solutions once you are clear-headed and less stressed.

Rebuild Slowly

Picking up the pieces after a DUI and serious drinking-related consequences takes a long time. You don’t just suddenly come up with all the answers, or have the negatives magically disappear. That’s not reality. It’s fantasy. In fact, some of the damage may never be able to be undone. If there was a serious injury or death as a result of your DUI, or if you resorted to violent behavior or otherwise damaged your personal relationships, there may either be long-term or permanent consequences.

When you are more confident in your abilities to steer clear of the people, places, and things that cause you to drink, you can begin to rebuild your life. Do this slowly and with careful thought. Seek help whenever you need it, whether that entails restructuring your finances, qualifying for a job, repaying debts, or mending strained family or personal relationships. Remember that you didn’t get into this mess all at once. The DUI and resulting consequences were just part of the picture. Changing your behavior and choosing to live sober are important decisions that will require ongoing commitment and work, and they will take time. So, too, will rebuilding your life take time.

Rediscover Who You Are

In the process of overcoming your problems with alcohol, something exciting will happen. You have the opportunity to rediscover – or, discover for the first time – who you are. One thing that you need to understand is that, while you may have a problem with alcohol or be an alcoholic, you are not defined by the disease.

Find out what truly excites and motivates you and create goals that will help shape your future so that you can live life to the fullest. Maybe you’ve pushed aside dreams for one reason or another, and drinking made those dreams fade even further. Resurrect those dreams. Create new ones. Why should you settle for a life that’s not fulfilling? So you had a DUI and got in trouble because of your drinking. So have many others. Don’t let that stop you from getting over your past alcohol-related problems and living sober.

Remember when you were a child and all things seemed possible? You can have that feeling again – but you’ll need to work hard to get there. Do what you must do now to take responsibility for your actions, ask for and get help, build a strong support network, start rebuilding your life, and create new and exciting goals for your future.