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Alcoholism: The Sobriety Court Program Gave Me Back My Life

Updated on December 16, 2017
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Chris spent 10 years learning how to support his wife in her battle with breast cancer. He shares openly about his successes and failures.

Drinking and Driving Don't Mix

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Probation is an Opportunity, Not a Punishment

I sat in the back of a deputy sheriff's patrol car having blown a whopping 0.2 for alcohol on a breath analyzer. My second DUI in three years.

Just a few days ago I ran across an article titled "Probation is an opportunity, not a punishment". I read this excellent article by someone who works in the corrections field. I knew I had to write about my probation experience.

When I was pulled over the first time for drunk driving in 2006, I had the same alcohol level as the second time. Two and a half times the legal limit in my state. One difference between the two experiences was my state of mind at the time of the arrests. In 2006 I was incoherent. During a complete blackout, I had driven through Grand Rapids, Michigan on a six lane highway. I have no recollection of that part of the drive. I also have very little memory of the arrest. In 2009, I was relatively clear headed and remember the whole evening, including the arrest, very well. I remember my conversation with the two deputies. That is one thing I was thinking about as I sat in the patrol car. I had the same alcohol level both times, but this time I was completely coherent. I recognized that to be a bad thing. My body had changed and was processing the alcohol differently. By continuing to drink heavily, I was paying a price with my physical health.

During my first probation, which lasted about one year, I did exactly what was required of me by the judge and no more. As time went on, I knew I would drink again. My wife had terminal cancer and I promised her and myself that I would be sober for as long as she lived. I kept that promise. And no more. After my wife passed away, I began drinking within weeks. That binge lasted almost a year to the day.

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My Commitment to Getting Better

Now I found myself under arrest once again. As I sat in the patrol car, my mind began to anticipate the consequences. I had lost my drivers license for thirty days the first time. It would be longer this time. Much longer. Would I spend more than one night in jail? Would I have enough money to pay all the fines? Would I lose my job? My home? My sons? How would I get to work? In that patrol car, I committed myself to doing everything the court would require of me and more.

During that night in jail, I got into a conversation with one of the deputies. A good conversation. In the morning that officer handed me a brochure and said that it described a court program called "Sobriety Court" and he thought I would be a good candidate for it. I read the pamphlet and was immediately sold.

Judge Michael Haley of the 86 District Court, founder of Sobriety Court for Antrim, Grand Traverse and Leelanau Counties of Northern Michigan
Judge Michael Haley of the 86 District Court, founder of Sobriety Court for Antrim, Grand Traverse and Leelanau Counties of Northern Michigan | Source

The Experience of Sobriety Court

My attorney and I stood in the courtroom. The Judge sat behind his desk. He asked me why I was requesting to be in Sobriety Court. This was the same Judge who diligently had worked for over twenty years to develop this particular program in our District. I answered his question very simply. I wanted to be in Sobriety Court mostly because it was a two year program. Traditional probation likely would have been a lot less than that, although I would have spent much more time in jail. I knew that if I had enough time sober, with accountability, I could put my life back together. The Judge admitted me to the Sobriety Court program in May of 2009. Thus began my two year probation. I had prayed before that initial court appearance and said that if God wanted me in Sobriety Court, He would open the door. He did. From that point on I accepted everything the court required as God's will for me. I never experienced one moment of resentment toward the Judge, or the court.

Sobriety Court was very intense for the first several months. I had to go to a testing facility every morning and evening to be tested for alcohol. There were mandatory individual and group counseling sessions in addition to court twice a month. Daily attendance of twelve step meetings was required. I kept all of these appointments by riding the bus and a bicycle. I also received rides from many good friends who believed in me.

For two years I worked hard at putting my life back together. The accountability to the court was indispensable. The random alcohol tests that lasted the whole two years, were extremely valuable. I watched fellow probationers as they tested the system and tried drinking during probation. I watched them lose the privilege of being in Sobriety Court and return to jail; some for years.

Each court session, volunteers from the legal community, twelve step programs and the court were in attendance to evaluate our progress. One by one we would stand before the Judge who would ask probing questions about our lives and our recoveries from substance abuse. This man knew who the fakes were and who was the real deal. He told me one session that I was the real deal.

Graduation From Sobriety Court

I graduated from Sobriety Court on May 25, 2011. The court personnel, the volunteers and my fellow probationers gave me a standing ovation. My probation officer wept. I wept. The Judge wept. We all had our picture taken together as I received my certificate and my release from probation.

It has been my privilege to continue working as a volunteer with Sobriety Court. I am indebted to these fine people and this program.

Today I no longer drink. I continue to attend Twelve Step meetings regularly. My sons love and respect me for what I have accomplished. I still have my job and my home. Probation gave me back my life.

My Sobriety Court Certificate

Photo of original by Chris Mills
Photo of original by Chris Mills | Source
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