Keys to a New Life, Part 2: One Year with an Interlock

July 19, 2019

I waited for June 8th, 2019 like a child in anticipation of Christmas morning. The year preceding that day had felt like a time warp, going fast and slow at the same time. On that day, I pulled up to the shop on the side of Route 35 in Keyport right on time, walked in to see the friendly face of the Smart Start technician, and initiated the process of getting my Interlock removed.  The person helping me had a familiar face, the same face I came to see every month since last year. That day, however, was different. That was my last meeting with him.  

As a result of my multiple DUIs, I lost my license for two years. On December 10, 2015, in a complete blackout, I rear ended someone driving in Marlboro and woke up handcuffed and strapped to a stretcher.  It was my second DUI in two years and I felt completely hopeless. The next day I finally accepted the help I needed. After entering detox, I attended an inpatient rehab program for a month. Right after that, I enrolled in an intensive outpatient treatment program for 6 months. I have not had a drink or drug since that day and for that I am grateful.  That was 3.5 years ago and today I identify myself as a person in long-term recovery. 

The past 3.5 years have been amazingly painful, challenging and empowering. I had to face parts of myself that I ran from for decades. I dealt honestly with long-repressed trauma and memories and took time to get to know myself.   Recovery has forced me to slow down.  To my diseased brain, to be busy is to be important; to be active is to take the focus off me.  Distraction and escape were everyday goals.  Alcohol and drugs were so very helpful to me in doing so, but I couldn’t rely on them forever. I had to start LIVING.  Recovery has taught me how to do so.  

I wrote a blog published on this site titled Keys To A New Life, where I talked about the challenges I faced in becoming a licensed driver in New Jersey. The Interlock device placed in my car is part of that recovery journey.  Like a breathalyzer, an Interlock device is one that measures the alcohol in a person’s system. I had to bring it into the shop once a month to have it calibrated, at a cost of $70. To start the car, I would breathe into the device and then breathe again whenever it demanded – in traffic, on the parkway, or sitting in a parking lot.  I would breathe for a few seconds into the mouthpiece and it would register on the screen as a “pass” or “fail.” If I didn’t breathe within 5 minutes of a request, it would register as a “fail” – and if I didn’t bring my car in to get calibrated, the car would not start after 12 hours. The same thing would happen if I breathed and had alcohol in my system – it would register as a “fail.”  Anything containing alcohol can trip the device and I’ve heard horror stories of people swishing mouthwash immediately before or chewing protein bars and gum and registering as a “fail.” I never had any “fails” and this is a huge deal to a person who – at one time – couldn’t go a day without drinking alcohol. 

The interlocked accompanied me from June 8, 2018 to June 8, 2019, and I really disliked it at times. My 8-year-old daughter lovingly nicknamed the device “Annoying.”  One February morning, Annoying wouldn’t start at all as it was nearly frozen, and the screen kept registering odd error messages.  On chilly winter nights, I learned I could remove Annoying from the car and bring it indoors to avoid that issue. 

While I was grateful I could drive legally, I hated having to breathe over and over during the same trip, or having to re-breathe into the device after my breath didn’t register.  I tried to time my breaths so the car next to me wouldn’t see me blowing into the machine – as if they were looking. I detested and avoided parking directly in front of stores as I realized I would have to start the car again.  I couldn’t use valet or take my car to car washes or leave my car for oil changes where they turned the car off.  I was proud of myself that I owned a car and could drive, but I felt embarrassed at times too. I told myself time and time again that this is one consequence of my actions, that being in recovery today I live correctly and spiritually.  I follow the rules today and this is one of the rules I must abide by. That positive mentality kept me going. 

On that particular Saturday,  after my 8 year old’s soccer tournament, I brought my car to the shop.  There was a person ahead of me getting his device serviced and I was curious about his story.  He paid the tech and left. My tech’s name was Rich and every month he greeted me with a smile, treated me with respect and never made me feel less than for having an Interlock device in my car.  He was always very professional and I didn’t feel embarrassed walking into the shop for calibration. The world needs more welcoming and non-judgemental people like him. He took my keys, told my daughter and I to have a seat and relax.  Within a half hour, the car was done. My Interlock was removed.  

We walked to my car and I inserted the key, turned all the way and started the engine.  This may seem like a small event in another person’s life, but for me this was a huge step in my recovery.  In that moment I felt so proud of the progress I made as a person in recovery from alcohol and drugs.  I also felt a sense of gratitude for the opportunities I’ve been given as a person in recovery. I drove out of there with my daughter by my side, in my 19-year-old Mercedes station, knowing in my heart of the progress I had made.

– Sheilah


Sheilah Powell is the Operations Manager at The Ammon Foundation.  She is also a person in a long term recovery. She can be reached at

The Ammon Foundation believes that when individuals are holistically and strategically supported to build purposeful lives, the likelihood of them maintaining their recovery substantially increases. We provide this support via our two core programs – Ammon Recovery Scholars Program and Ammon Empowerment Workshop Program. To find out more about our programs, or to apply for an educational scholarship, please click here.