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Column: Learning the hard way

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It was April of 2009 and that first day of the year above 80 degrees. The sun was shining. It was the perfect day for lunch outdoors...and drinks.

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A few friends joined me at a patio bar in Fargo, my home at the time, and cocktails were had. Not too many, but plenty for an afternoon.

I was meeting another group of friends in New York Mills, of all places, later that evening, for, well, drinks and conversation.

Long story short, I was pulled over later that evening on Highway 10 just outside of New York Mills on a charge of DWI.

I was taken to the police station here in Perham, my vehicle was impounded, and then it was off to a night in jail in Fergus Falls.

Wake up call number one: The 80-degree weather of the prior day had changed to 40 and rainy. My clothes had remained the same. Released from jail, I desperately sought a place of warmth in my flip-flops to await a ride from anyone in Fargo who was available.

Wake up call number two:

My court case was one of the last held in the New York Mills courtroom. I was one of the only adult criminals amidst a group of soon-to-be punished juveniles.

I plead guilty. Paid my fine. It was as pleasant a court experience as one could have. Yes, your Honor. Thank you, your Honor.

As part of sentencing, I was charged with having a chemical evaluation by the county. Unlike the fine, I ignored this task like an ex-girlfriend at the bar.

Finally, in April of 2010, one year from the incident, I made an appointment and believe me; the county was not impressed with my procrastination.

Neither were they impressed with my answers to the many personal questions I was asked about my alcohol use.

Wake up call number three:

"I don't know," my assessor said. "I think you could really use intensive outpatient treatment."

When they say intensive, they mean it. Try three group meetings per week, three hours per day, plus a weekly Alcoholics Anonymous meeting and one-on-one counseling sessions every three weeks.

Plus, and this was the kicker, complete abstinence from alcohol.

WHAT?

I ignored this demand like the ex-girlfriend at the bar was trying to talk to me.

Random urine analysis was soon to prove of my continued use and I was force fed an ultimatum.

Wake up call number four:

"Stop drinking immediately or it's inpatient treatment for you."

Inpatient treatment meant losing my job and being locked up in what I considered some kind of cuckoo's nest until I turned into a drone.

All this for one DWI and perhaps a too honest answering session with a woman who lacked the sense of humor I thought necessary to understand my rather honest perspective on what I thought was not that big of a deal.

Wake up call number five:

Driving while impaired is a big deal. If it has not hit you yet, might I suggest getting yourself caught? Do everyone on the road a favor.

On top of this, there is the shame and embarrassment of admitting to friends, family, employers...et al, you're in treatment.

Who me?

Wake up call number six:

I needed it.

We live in a society that has glorified chemical usage. Who throws a party without booze around? Is it even a party?

Well, I've had four sober months to ponder these questions. In those four months, I managed to find ways to party without alcohol. More than once, I was a designated driver, getting a few of the more rambunctious of my cohorts home safely.

More than once I heard the phrase, "Bob is your DD? That's insane!"

I also heard, "We like sober Bob a lot better than drunk Bob."

Of course, there is a crew of crazies cheering for the return of drunk Bob, as well. He's a fun guy.

Looking back on the entire experience, if I learned anything, it's that there are times when clarity is far more important than carousing.

I had put getting schnockered on a pedestal it never belonged on and had adhered to this warped thought process like it provided some kind of justification for my out-of-control behavior.

What I needed was a huge dose of humility and enough time to assess the person I had become, and after four months sober, it's amazing the clarity of mind attainable.

It was finally time for me to grow up, at almost 40 years of age.

I hope none of you have to learn this like I did - the hard way.

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Robert Williams
Robert has been the Sports Editor for the Focus since 2010 covering multiple state and national championship teams and is a mainstay at state tournaments each season covering the successful, athletic programs of Perham and New York Mills High Schools.
(218) 346-5900 x223
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