Keys To a New Life

After two and a half years, New Jersey is allowing me to legally drive a vehicle again.  

This may not seem like a big deal to some readers, but to someone like me – someone who has struggled with alcoholism my entire adult life – this is monumental.  Earlier this month, with an overabundance of documents in hand, I nervously ventured to the Motor Vehicle Commission to restore my suspended license. I received a notice in the mail indicating that all my fines were paid, acknowledging that I completed my IDRC (Intoxicated Driver’s Resource Center), and stating that if I paid $100 restoration fee, I could get my license back.  It couldn’t be real; I couldn’t drive a car again…could I??

After two DUIs in two years, I was used to not carrying keys anymore; I surrendered to a life of requesting and waiting for Ubers and Lyfts and paying exorbitant surge rates during rush hour. I made friends with my friendly rideshare drivers, a few of them even drove me around on their off hours. I grew accustomed to asking friends and family for rides to the grocery store. Life was slower and took more planning, but I learned to appreciate and be grateful.  

The story that ends with me getting my second DUI looks very different than the story of my life today.  Up until about 2.5 years ago, I lived the life of a person with an active substance misuse disorder, and I didn’t know how to stop.  I tried many times; I tried educating myself, online meetings, I went to therapists and then tried stopping all at once, but nothing worked. Even after my first DUI in March 2014, I managed to stop drinking alcohol entirely but started to take a wild amount of pills. I was manipulating doctors to get what I needed. I did anything that would make me not feel like ME.

This all came to an end in December 2015 when I woke up handcuffed to a stretcher in a hospital.  This was the same hospital I had just left an hour earlier as I was visiting my boyfriend who was sick in the ER with stomach issues. I blacked out from a toxic cocktail of pills (mostly benzos) and alcohol. When I came to, I was told I rear ended the car in front of me.  I remember I saw my boyfriend in tears running around the ER in his hospital gown looking for me.  Laying there, I was so lost and so without purpose, and I realized I needed help. 

Living that way causes a lot of wreckage.  Part of my sentence from Marlboro Municipal Court was a two-year license loss, a one-year requirement for an Interlock device in any vehicle I operate, fines, surcharges and a three-day stay at an Intoxicated Drivers Resource Center. By the time I went to court for my sentencing, I had already begun treatment and had over two months of recovery time, free of alcohol and drugs. The Public Defender shook my hand and said that he never saw anyone voluntarily submit a signed sheet from AA before. With a pat on the back, I surrendered my dignity and walked out of the courthouse, keyless and license-less but with a new perspective.

I jumped into recovery headfirst. I started to look at the way I was living and finally realized that it was not sustainable.  I was killing myself. My sister died of cirrhosis in 2011 (on my birthday) and I would be right behind her if I kept on drinking and over-medicating the way I was. I was hurting those I loved, and didn’t want to have my family and friends worry if I was alive or dead.  

I did what normal, happy people did. I got up everyday, brushed my teeth and ate breakfast. I applied for jobs, paid bills, exercised and smiled at people. I worked my program; I attended as many meetings as I could. I work on mending relationships. And the days racked up. Wake up, repeat.  One thing I need in life – and painfully lacked – is consistency.

I was persistent in getting better. Whatever I had to do, I did without question. I paid my fines to the Municipal Court on time, I did not drive while my license was suspended, I attended my IDRC from Monday through Wednesday with 40 other women who also had multiple DUIs. I got jobs close to my home and to get to work, I took Ubers, trains and busses. I walked so many miles along highways that were not meant to be walked on. I did not drink and did not use pills as a coping mechanism.  And slowly, things got better. I persisted, and I still persist today.

As the time got closer where I could get my license, I looked into buying a car outside of a dealership because my credit was shot. I worked with a friend who found me a gem of an older vehicle, and I am currently making personal payments to him. I researched Interlock devices, which is basically a small breathalyzer; it cost money to install and also money per month to maintain. I cringed at the thought of how much car insurance would be with two DUIs, but I still called and got quotes. I had no idea how to get a car registered, what did I need? I need car insurance to get a car registered, but I needed proof of an Interlock to get my license, it was all so crazy and confusing! I slowed down, I put one foot in front of the other, I took a breath. And kept going. It all worked out.

One of the main things I have learned in my program of recovery is to be grateful – not just for the huge things in my life, but for small things – a phone call, the ability to make a stranger smile, or a good night’s sleep. The aroma of coffee in the morning.  Even though I couldn’t drive over those two years, I attended meetings consistently and never missed a day of work. I managed to get where I needed to go and I built amazing relationships along the way. Not having my own transportation forced me to push myself out of my own self-imposed comfort zone, and it forced me to get comfortable being uncomfortable.  

Today, I am so grateful for recovery. I am grateful for the ability to drive a car again. I am grateful that I have an 18-year old station wagon named Lucinda with a breathalyzer that demands random tests – even while I’m sitting in traffic while people are looking at me (I swear!) All of this is a part of me dealing with my wreckage. This is me rebuilding my life; it’s difficult and trying, but it is a challenge.  And if I keep putting one foot in front of the other, I can do anything I put my heart to.

And I am so incredibly grateful that just for today, I don’t have to request an Uber, take a train and then walk a mile to get to work in the morning. I am grateful that today, I am a person in recovery. Today, I am useful, driven and proud. I am in Recovery, and I am thriving.  

– Sheilah Powell