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Column: Learning the hard way

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.

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.


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, 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.

Robert Williams

Sports Editor at the Detroit Lakes Tribune. Williams worked prior as the Sports Editor in Perham for the Focus, a Forum Communications newspaper, from 2010-14. 

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