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Survive A DUI

How to get through getting a DUI - both mentally, and legally.

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Alcoholics Anonymous

Guest Post: Having Hope - 4 DUIs and Moving Forward

I saw Branden post his story on Reddit's DUI board (there's also a SAD Reddit) and encouraged him to share his story in the hopes that it can help others out there. If you'd like to share your story, please contact me. There's a lot of people who are going through what you have, and a lot of people who have already gone through it and come out the other side. Together we can make this better for all of us - Tom

Having Hope



I received DUIs in November of 2014, January of 2016, September of 2017, and March of 2020 and this is my experience.

For the first, I went out with friends from my job, Uber-ed to my truck which was left at work, napped for a while in the truck, ate some food from a drive though at taco bell, and rolled through a stop sign while proceeding home. An officer was there in the dark, lights off. I spent the night in jail and lost that job opening a craft burger restaurant in a high traffic area in Orange County, California. Anyone with a first DUI knows it can be just a slap on the wrist. By one estimate, 1 in 5 California residents have a DUI and me being a young twenty-something year old kid didn’t think too much about it.

For the second, I went on a snowboarding trip to Big Bear with some friends, drank heavily the last night, and in the morning, I drove a friend’s car home. I was caught speeding down the mountain and because I had a prior, was breathalyzed. I did 30 days of SCRAM/house arrest.

The third happened at a DUI checkpoint. I had been at a friend’s birthday party with my girlfriend at the time. She had too much to drink and I wanted to leave early to get some rest for the following workday. I had been doing investment allocations for an aerospace company and I worked another restaurant job on weekends. I had a drink at this party, but when I took the turn and discovered the checkpoint, I knew it was over. I spend 30 days in Orange County jail.

For the fourth, COVID had struck. At this point, I was on the verge of becoming a heavy drinker. I relied on alcohol in social settings, going out and partying with friends, but this started spilling over to drinking sometimes in isolation. I was studying while drinking some wine before I decided to grab something to eat. I was lucky enough to get away with only the night in jail before checking myself into a treatment facility for 60 days and pleading into DUI court.

Before the fourth, I never thought I had an issue with alcohol. I simply thought I made some very idiotic decisions. My drinking typically involved only social situations, but I would party hard and often, slowly losing any control. The fourth was a wakeup call. My weekends of partying have now come to an end, and I haven't had a drink in nearly 500 days since.

Overall, people tell me I'm lucky. I can continue on to finish my business degree at a local university, I have a lot of freedoms, I'm not locked up, and most importantly I never hurt myself or anyone else. People would be right by saying all of this; however, it's so difficult to be optimistic or confident about anything sometimes.

Sometimes I'm overwhelmed with the label society has given me. I think about obtaining this degree and being un-hirable. I think about this rigorous DUI court program and formal probation and what all that entails: 10pm curfew, no traveling outside state lines, no traveling outside the county without the POs ok to do so, weekly therapy with a court appointed counselor, weekly group therapy, several 12-step meetings per week (I'm really not a fan of AA but that's what everyone pushes), bi-weekly 3-6 hour court appearances, several random urinalysis tests per week, random home searches, etc. and I don't know how I'll be able to begin a career with it all, have any meaningful relationships or have what I consider to be a normal life. It's depressing.

People have said I deserve it. People have said I deserve much worse. And sometimes I agree. I realize what I’ve done is absolute insanity, it’s unethical, it’s dangerous and careless, and I agree. And I’m learning… I’m changing, I’m growing, I’m remorseful not because I was caught, but because I understand that my actions could have killed someone. Someone who has a life just like mine.
Some days are easier than others, but more often than not, I struggle to find hope. I tend to get really down on myself and as a result, my confidence and self-worth are all but gone. I feel like a shell of the happy, energetic, fun-to-be-around person I once was.

I've lurked a lot of comments and posts on internet forums, and I've seen some similar sentiment. For those going through similar bouts of depression, maybe you'll find some comfort in knowing you're not alone. This is the most difficult and challenging thing I've ever experienced and it's so hard to carry on at times.

I think I felt the need to have my story heard as a therapeutic rant/journal to make that point known to others as well as myself: you are not alone. This is hard. I think it gets better, I hope it gets better, it has to.

I've been spending my days now studying mostly. I received a 4.0 at my university last semester, I try to hit the gym 5 days a week, I read, I surf, I have a separate therapist I confide more in (and man, after writing this I think I need a session), I'm started dating someone who's been a good friend the past couple years and is extremely supportive of my path of continued self-betterment. I'm trying and I'm trying really hard and sometimes it's still overwhelming. Sometimes I still break down. Sometimes I still feel completely hopeless. And sometimes it's not so bad, and it's those times that keep me going because if it's not so bad sometimes, then maybe there is a possibility life can get even better. I just have to hang on to some hope, live one day at a time, and note the good things I have in the present moment.


Alcoholics Anonymous Meetings

In California, to complete your AB-541 or AB-1353 class you’ll have to do either 6, or 19 meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous, respectively. This is just another entry into the long list of things they don’t tell you.

When I was seeking out an alcohol class the person mentioned being required to do 10 AA meetings. Naturally I called 3 other classes and asked if they required AA meetings. I just didn’t want to do them if I didn’t have to. The last person told me it was a state requirement. Never in the process had I been told about this by the court, or my lawyer. It was not a pleasant blindslide.

The AA website is terrible for giving details about where and when meetings are. I found some with conflicting start times, but you should be able to find a resource in your area to help you find some. AA is a popular organization, there’s meetings all over, and should be available in a variety of settings. If you’re in a populated area there should be a meeting any time from the early morning to late night, any day of the week. Those who commit to the program do a 30 and 30 - 30 meetings in 30 days, so there should be something to fit into your schedule.

AA is a loose organization - so meetings are very different. It may take you a while to find a meeting that works with your schedule, meets near you, and that you enjoy. The last part is the most crucial. Fortunately, I found a kind and understanding meeting near me first time. I tried another one (I tried to buck the system by going to a meditation AA meeting hoping that I could just zone for an hour and have it count. No, it’s an hour of meditation, then the hour long meeting). But take how they treat you and others into consideration - you should not be forced to speak, or share. I know I certainly didn’t want to. You should not be made to feel bad for still drinking - AA is open to anyone who wants to learn about stopping as well as those who have stopped. Even those with multiple year chips will tell you how they hate what they call “AA Nazis”.

Like DMV classes you can only go to one AA meeting a week and have it count. You are, of course, welcome to go to more, but they will only be for your own enrichment.

AA, like the DMV classes, is daunting when you first attend, and then not a big deal once you get into the groove of things. There’s the reading of certain passages from the AA handbook, then usually somebody sharing their experience or a speaker. Part of this is counterproductive. After I got my DUI I, like anyone else, started to wonder if I had a problem, if I drank too much, if I was an alcoholic. After I heard the stories from these people, I felt that I was a moderate drinker who just made a bad decision. The stories that you hear are awful. They’ll stick with you. What they like to say is that even if it doesn’t make you quit drinking, it will affect your drinking. Pretty true.

Once the meeting is over you’ll give your card to either the secretary of the meeting or the speaker depending how they do it. They call it the “nudge from the judge” and should not give you any grief over it. Even if you make it clear that you’re only there because you have to be and do not plan on attending past your requirements. AA only asks of you that you attend the meeting and listen to what they have to say, that you make your own judgements, and consider all of the options, and look to them as a resource if you want to make a change in your life.

I, of course, didn’t want to be there any of the times that I was there. But, like most of the things that you go through in this, it wasn’t the worst thing I’ve been through. Sometimes it was funny, sometimes it was shocking, sometimes it was engaging. I never felt judged. Sometimes I was really inspired by some of the stories that people told. The shadow of your DUI is an awful place to be in, and it’s really helpful to see that some people have been through the process many times, but they’ve been able to bounce back and put their lives together. It’s important to see that you can bounce back.

As for it being part of the legal process, I don’t particularly like it (AA being an organization that seeks to be away from the government), but I understand it. A lot of the things that you go through in this process are there for people who have bigger problems than driving home from a night out to get a chance to find that there are recovery programs, that they can take hold of these problems and to start dealing with them. It allows you to put yourself in perspective and really gauge where you want to be in life. It is a chance to reflect and look forward. I saw that I did not have a problem, but probably should cut back, and did just that.

Some have a problem with AA’s slight religious bent. I’m not religious but did not have a problem with it, as others do (they get upset at any mention of God). The “God as you see him” is pretty non specific, non intrusive, and vague enough for everybody. Some claim that AA weens you off of an addiction to alcohol and replaces it with an addiction to religion/God. I can see that argument in theory, but in the program, and in my friends who have gone through it to quit drinking I do not see it being the case.

If you do not want to go through the program there are acceptable alternatives such as Rational Recovery, Moderation Management, etc. They’re not as available as Alcoholics Anonymous, and probably not as flexible. AA allowed me to go on my schedule and were close by (which was a great help as I was on my hard suspension and on my bike). Go with what works for you. For most people it’ll be the minimum amount of AAs, and then be done.

Like everything in this process, I do not advise waiting around. Get them over with. If you miss enough consecutive weeks in AA your DMV program can say that you’re not participating and send your case back to court. This is a bad thing. Do not let it happen. Get them over with. Yes, this does mean that in the beginning you’ll be in “classes” for 3 hours a week, and it’s a pain, but 3 hours a week is nothing when you get down to it. Yes, you have a busy life and a full schedule. Get it over with. Stay up later, get up earlier, whatever. Get it over with and move on with your life.

Don’t make things harder for yourself. Also, you might end up enjoy going to.

Heck, you might even learn something.