Alcohol Meant Loss of Liberty
Not quite like the Elvis Presley song, Jailhouse Rock.
Losing The Battle
Let me explain why I chose this title. I want to disclose that I am an alcoholic. I am currently Ten consecutive years sober. Not one day, not even one time have I had anything to drink and that means nary a thing. Tomorrow is another day and despite what it may look like to the untrained eye, I'm not in any position to say I've beaten this thing. This is a disease that is never cured, only in remission. I do attend AA meetings and they do not cost anything to "join". Having said that, I will tell you that this hideous disease has cost me plenty....nearly everything I have. Happily, as of now, alcohol is losing this battle. I have not relapsed; yet.
Start at the Beginning
I was 56 years old and envisioned myself to be a law abiding citizen. For my first 54 years, I was just that. But,beginning around December of 2007, I struggled mightily with my disease of alcoholism. Alcoholism is a very unrelenting and powerful disease that takes hold of you like a pit bull clamping down on your jugular, and will not let go. Alcoholism never takes any time off, never calls in sick and is extremely cunning and devious. Because I am an alcoholic, I know I cannot drink, but my mind tells me that I can, because I have this insane thinking that tells me this time it will be different. This time, I will not get drunk and do who knows what. Want an analogy? Here's some....I'm going to stick my hand in that flame on the stove top burner and this time, it will not burn me. Maybe this time when I eat that shellfish I'm allergic to, I won't get a swollen throat and tongue. Perhaps if I waited until afternoon, then jump from the roof of that 10 story building, I won't break my legs. As stupid as that sounds, this is what an alcoholic convinces themselves will happen. Bad enough that I had an enormous craving for alcohol, I would succumb to that craving at the worst possible times. An alcoholic has no control over when or how to stop drinking.
See, I was the worse type of offender. I choose the sanctity of my car to do my drinking, in an effort to hide the fact that I drank from my family. See the insanity? I thought I could drink while I drove, AND my family would not detect that I had been drinking. Not only did they know, so did the police, citizens of a couple communities and the BMV of the State of Ohio knew. How? Simple, I drank beyond control and got in trouble with the law.
I drove a car while I was drunk, not once, but twice. That is;... twice that I was caught. There were other times of varying severity that I drove when I had been drinking. Miraculously, I did not injure anyone else.Thank God I was caught before I killed someone.I, however, did not fair as well. I ended up hospitalized three times due to my high level of alcohol in my system. Once, I crashed my car into a concrete median on a high speed interstate; totaled it completely, and beyond any earthly explanation, survived with only bruised ribs, a big gash on my forehead and a sprained neck.
Sadly, when I first wrote this article in 2009, I discovered that according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration , there were 33,808 traffic related deaths.and of those, 9,742 people died from drunk driving episodes. To update this stat, 32,719 people died in motor vehicle traffic crashes in the United States in the year 2013 with the amount including 9,019 alcohol impaired fatalities. That is allot of avoidable deaths.
Hopefully a Happy Ending
So, what was it like to be in jail? Very humbling. Very scary. Very uncomfortable. No one treats you like a normal person. You weren't there to make new friends. You have little, if any privacy. I had cell mates of all race, creed, age and nationality. Some were mentally unstable. My commode was right there in my cell. It's a cold, gray, hard, steel creature that is attached to a Jail’s version of a sink. The cells are cold with cement floors and cinder block walls. The bed is a single width steel platform that is bolted to the floor. And no, there are no sleep comfort mattresses. I had a 2 inch thick, hard vinyl mattress pad and a thin blanket. I rolled up my blanket as my pillow as there were no pillows provided.
You have to have money to put into a commissary account because the jail requires you to buy toothpaste, hair brushes, drinking cups and pencil and paper…to name a few. You're allowed nothing from home. I was issued one plastic spoon that was to serve as my eating utensil. I was responsible for its safety and maintenance…keep it clean and do not lose it! One plastic spoon to eat with, three times a day for fifteen days. The worst part was that there is nothung to do. Nothing! The minutes crawl by. An hour is an excruciating exercise in perseverance. Twenty four hours make up one day. I had to serve 360 hours. I deserved every one of those hours and more. But, that is why when a cell mate offered me a choice to trade my crumb cake for his Danish, I politely declined. You just cannot know what is going through another man’s mind, no matter how insignificant a matter seems to be. You become defensive and paranoid. God, what have I done? I hated myself.
My wife and children however, for some unknown reason, still loved me and wanted me as part of the family. So, what does that mean? I am blessed with riches beyond any monetary amount there is. I have a family that cares about me and believes in me. They give me unconditional love. They have given me hope and a chance to earn back their trust. I have today.That is all I have. I do not take a drink. If I drink, I will die. One drink will lead to unknown troubles and I have no fight left in me. But my family and faith keep me strong.
You see, I have a new freedom. A freedom beyond any I talked about when I ended my 15 day jail stay. I have a freedom from the most dangerous antagonist that I will ever face. I am free from the desire to drink.
My Day in Court
I despise the disease of alcoholism. I fight a never ending battle, but have not always prospered. I received my second DUI in May of 2009. MY SECOND ONE ! After my first one in 2007, this was unbelievable to those who knew me. I had never been in trouble of any kind. My worst offense was not seeing the dentist twice a year. Well, the law in Ohio states that a 2nd DUI in less than 6 years will get you jail time that can be anywhere from 10 days to 6 months. Your driver’s license will be suspended anywhere from 1 year to 5 years and probation will start out very stringent, only modified according to your adherence to the rules that are issued to you.
I had my arraignment and had to plead not guilty in order to get a trial date. Go figure...our legal system. Then, at pre-trial, the lawyer I had representing me spoke with the prosecutor and made his recommendation. I wanted to pay for my mistakes and willingly pleaded guilty. My sentence was 15 days in jail, a 3 year suspension of my drivers’ license, $1200 in fines plus court cost and 3 years of probation. If I found a job, I would have to petition the court for limited driving privileges to work and pay for the monitoring device that would require me to blow into the mouthpiece and be sober for the car to start. Then, during my drive, I'd have to repeat the process all over again to keep the car running. I'd also have to pay $100 to get the BMV to authorize the removal of the “boot” that has been place on my car so that it cannot be operated. And I'm not even going to talk about the higher costs of the mandated insurance. So, alcoholism is a very expensive disease in terms of money, yet it proved more costly than I could have ever imagined in the damage and pain I caused my family.
I will forever remember being before the judge and hearing him tell me; "You are about to lose some liberty Mr. Ratajczak." I had never been in jail, but somehow, 15 days seemed a small price to pay for the danger that I had become. I will surprise some of you by saying that I wish the laws were harder against drunk driving. I had lost the privilege of driving. The costs in fines, boot release, higher insurance rates and eventual license reinstatement were not at all affordable since I had also lost my job. My only regret was that my family also were made to suffer.