How to Recover from Recovery

By Seth Ferranti 02/09/15
A DUI conviction can result in numerous penalties, including jail time, community service and fines. But can it result in recovery?
Seth Ferranti and Roxanne Brenner

Getting a DUI is a real consequence that can result from an addiction to alcohol or drugs. Driving impaired is a serious offense and many states are throwing the gauntlet at violators—many of whom are suffering alcoholics in the throes of battling their afflictions. But lawmakers don’t care about people in recovery or those receiving treatment. All they care about is keeping the roads safe, and rightly so.

Each day, people drive drunk almost 300,000 times, but fewer than 4,000 are arrested. About one-third of all drivers arrested or convicted of drunk driving are repeat offenders. For every 100,000 people in the U.S. in 2013, slightly more than three people were killed in a fatal drunk driving crash. The numbers aren’t pretty, but they get worse.

Statistics from the FBI give a sobering conclusion—women are getting arrested for DUIs more than ever before. In 2011, the most recent year nationwide statistics are available from the FBI, women accounted for 25% of all DUI arrests. This is up from 10% in 1980. Either more women are drinking or more women are driving. Probably the latter, as economic downturns and recessions have forced more women into the labor force. More women driving drunk has been the result. But drinking alcohol and driving is a serious offense that involves court fees, legal costs and the loss of your driver's license.

And when you try to get your driver's license back after a DUI charge, it can be a lengthy and extensive process as Roxanne Brenner, a recovering alcoholic has found out.

“I have been in the process of getting my license back since 2003.” Roxanne tells The Fix. She was in recovery, but found that recovering from recovery could be just as stressful. She went through state-funded agencies to start the process of getting her license back. “I started to go to Well Spring Resources. I started going for counseling services every other week and we had two-to-three hour sessions and I wanted to get my license back and I knew this was the way to do it.”  

The state of Illinois, where Roxanne lives, imposes severe consequences on drivers who receive multiple DUI convictions. According to Jesse White, Illinois Secretary of State, a full reinstatement of an Illinois driver's license will not be issued until a Restricted Driving Permit (RDP) has been obtained and driven on for nine months without incident. Other conditions issued by the review board at a formal hearing must be met, including a waiting period, before the driver may reapply for a driver's license. Drivers who receive two DUI convictions within 20 years are not permitted to reapply for a license for five years. Roxanne was in double trouble because she got four DUIs in under ten years.

“I started drinking in my twenties. I never really had a drinking career. But in 1993, I started to drink.” Roxanne says. “There wasn’t much else to do that was legal, however, drinking was the only thing that ever got me in trouble.” Like most alcoholics, Roxanne was just going with the flow and partying but she soon found that alcohol consumed her. It was her be-all and end-all.

“With all the alcohol, my DUIs pretty much started to come faster and faster.” Roxanne tells us. “I got one in '95, '97, 2001 and then 2003. I got my first DUI in '95 and to be honest, people ask me what were you thinking? I was in my thirties, I always had the money to get a lawyer and pay my fines and just walk away from it. So, I didn’t care, I really didn’t.” But she was on a path to self-destruction, like so many alcoholics before her.

“I was familiar with the judges and the people that worked in the courts and they had given me plenty of chances to stop and get myself together and I never did,” Roxanne says. “It just kept rolling. I didn’t hurt anybody and I didn’t hurt myself, so I thought who cares? I can pay for all this and clean it up. But really it was killing me.” Roxanne hadn’t hit rock bottom. She was in denial, a classic alcoholic pose. 

“At the time, I made good money.” Roxanne tells The Fix. ““I worked in a facility and ran the food service counter. I was at work every day at five a.m. and worked doubles every day and got off at seven p.m. I would go home and get my fifth of vodka and by nine it would be gone and I would pass out. Then I would get up at three and start the same routine all over again. I was a functional alcoholic, but it hit me one day because my girlfriend came up and said, 'Roxanne, stay away from the boss.' I didn’t feel drunk, but I had all that booze in me and I was on auto-pilot.” Like so many others, Roxanne did not feel she had a problem. But, the truth was a brutal reality.

”I was not happy with my life, even though I made good money.” Roxanne says. “I really had everything I needed. I wasn’t happy, so I just kept it up, the drinking, and then different things happened in my life. The last and final one was in the early 2000s, my brother got hit by a train and that’s definitely good reason to drink. I think I stayed drunk that time for 90 solid days.” Outside events can distort an alcoholic’s views and send them into a downward spiral. Roxanne continued to drink and get DUIs.

“After I lost my license in 2003, I just thought I would never drive again because I could not imagine never drinking again.” Roxanne says. “I couldn’t imagine it. Because when you drink that much, when you drug that much, it’s like telling a junkie, 'Well, you have to quit now.' Well that’s just absurd.” When you live by the bottle, you can die by it, and Roxanne is lucky her misadventures with drunk driving only lost her the ability to drive, it could have taken so much more. She finally got a clue. 

“I knew that I couldn’t do that anymore.” Roxanne says. “That was my life and now it was over. My drinking career ended. In 2006, I got a severe case of shingles and was on a bunch of meds and half of those meds should have been knocking me out, but I didn’t feel anything like that because I was still drinking the booze. I am lucky that I didn’t OD. I was so sick with the shingles and the meds. I just woke up one day and knew that if I didn’t stop drinking I was going to die. I was drinking a fifth of vodka every day for at least four years. It had to be good vodka. It makes a big difference. And it was just like, it hit me, that day, like I can’t explain it. It really made me start to think about it. And within a year, I quit completely. My career as a drunk was over.” But Roxanne has found recovery as difficult and stressful as her life as an alcoholic—although in completely different ways and at different ends of the spectrum, as she has tried to regain her license.

“I was always missing a time-limit or I wasn’t getting something done in a mannerly fashion to where now I have to do this again.” Roxanne tells The Fix. “A million times I wanted to drink because I couldn’t get anywhere, I couldn’t make any money. It was never-ending. I didn’t drink, I didn’t drive, I followed the rules. I always had a job and I always got there on time, but these past few years as I have really focused on getting my license, it seems the brakes are put on.” The state's tangle of bureaucracy and obstacles put in her path have frustrated Roxanne tremendously, but she has forged onward, not giving into her temptations to return to the drink.

“They don’t care if you ever drive again. They don’t care if you do it all by the book and follow all their regulations. They don’t care if you get better, or if you are still a drunk. They don’t care.” Roxanne says detailing the sentiments of dealing with the state to get her license back. “It was really depressing. I thought someone would pat me on the back and say good job or give a little support since I quit drinking, but they don’t care. They don’t care because so many people fail. They expect you to fail. I thought that people were supposed to help. But they are just showing up for a job.” After hitting rock bottom, Roxanne was crawling back out of the hole she dug herself, but without much forward progress.

“I would accomplish one thing and then they would say, 'We need this out of you, you have to prove it. You have to have the paperwork and go through the process.'” Roxanne says. “I’ve spent hundreds of hours with counselors. I’ve always tried to tell the truth and get some relief and get my license back. It just got to where I felt helpless. I didn’t have control over anything.” But in reality, these are the consequences that Roxanne created for herself. Some would say don’t cry over spilt milk, but others would sympathize and say that Roxanne should be helped back on her feet. Isn’t America all about second chances?

“It’s really discouraging, but I have gotten to a point in my life where I want my license back.” Roxanne says. “I have been riding a bicycle nonstop for 11 years. And that is no lie. I ride it everywhere. I am just at a point now where I feel I am responsible enough. I can trust myself behind the wheel again. I had opportunities to get five full-time jobs, good jobs, but I couldn’t get them because I had to have a license. I even had a job at a care facility. I showed up at the job in the uniform they bought me and I was turned away because the girl who hired me hadn’t followed protocol and I didn’t have a driver’s license and it was required. I almost walked home and got drunk that day.” But Roxanne held fast to the course she has set for herself. Despite the setbacks, despite her frustration, she has refused to go back to alcohol. 

“I couldn’t really turn back to drinking because I would die.” Roxanne tells us. “I just want to get on with it. I need a little bit of an option. I want to drive and be responsible for myself. I am no genius, but I am no dummy either. It’s hard to get through this system the way they have it set up. They want you to fail. I could drive without my license, but I don’t want to get in trouble anymore. I just feel kind of like in the eyes of the state it is 2003 again. I just feel like I have gone through a lot just to get back on the road. It’s like you have to have a big, fat bank account to get back on the road. If you don’t have money then you just don’t count.”

A driving under the influence (DUI) conviction can result in numerous penalties, including jail time, community service and fines. One of the most life-altering consequences of a drunk-driving charge is the driver's license suspension. However, after the terms of the sentence are met, the offender can have their driver's license reinstated after a DUI conviction. These are the rules and regulations for the state of Illinois and most other states in our country. But it seems overkill that ex-offenders like Roxanne are made to jump through so many hoops. Being a recovering alcoholic is hard enough without all the extra.

Roxanne is still sober though and that is what counts. She has found that recovering from recovery is hard, but doable. She hasn’t regained her license yet, at the time of this writing, but she is in the process and fighting the state's bureaucracy to get her license back so that she can resume her life. Getting four DUIs won’t happen to everyone, but it can. So please use Roxanne’s story as a wake-up call. Alcohol and driving don’t mix and can be the bane of society with the destruction it causes. Being an alcoholic is one thing, but don’t complicate the matter like Roxanne did. It can only lead to more problems in recovery, if it doesn’t lead to death, or a jail cell first.

Seth Ferranti has been a regular contributor to The Fix since 2012. He most recently wrote about being sober after 21 years in prisonHe also writes for Vice. He has a book out—The Supreme Team.

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