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I will never forget the walk home after my second DWI. It was late November in Illinois. Freezing. Wet. Dim. It was 4 am by the time I left the police station. I pointed myself in the direction that I thought was home and started walking. Just wanting to be anywhere else. Or nowhere. After an hour, I realized I was going the wrong direction. I doubled back and took me almost 3 hours to get home that night with nothing but shivering wind and self-loathing to keep me company. Once I got to my door, I realized my house key was with my car keys. With my car, impounded. I had to make the trip again.

Just thinking about that night makes me sick to my stomach. When I think of getting drunk, there isn’t a single night out that I remember. I never think about college parties, or dunk hookups or celebrations, I remember that last night every single time.

Since that night, I have made some major changes in my life. I looked at myself and decided my goal had to be not only to quit drinking but to better myself. I have moved to the east coast to be closer to my family, which makes me happier every day I wake up. I have re-enrolled in school, so I have positive goals to work toward. I quit smoking and I learned how to cook. I hit the gym more frequently and I have taken up evening running. I like myself again.

Those classes and those experiences has given me a new perspective on alcohol and sociability. I think by the time we finish our classes, we all feel closer to each other than I ever did to my bar friends. Now I want to take that outlook and apply it to everything in my life and hopefully make myself and those I care about better for it.

I remember drinking my first beer the night before I turned 13 because I didn’t want to become a teenager without having tried it. Yes, I know how dumb that sounds, it was a Guinness. I hated it.

I still didn’t like beer very much in High School, but somewhere between Junior and Senior year, I started partying almost every weekend. I discovered that I do like weed. I used to smoke almost every day. Even occasionally throwing down with a few friends to pick up an OZ. and roll the whole think in a day. At parties I would smoke more than I drank, usually nursing a beer to give the impression that I was drinking more than I was.

College was the same, just with even more weed. By the time I was 24, I had dropped out of my second college. On the bright side I had become kind of a health nut. I worked out twice a day, ate a health diet and quit smoking. A year later, I started going out after work with a group of friends on Friday Nights. Still relatively innocent, but I discovered that I enjoyed Whiskey.

When I switched jobs and started working downtown, I started hanging out with a new group. Just like that. It was like college all over again, only this time with my newfound affinity for whiskey. I started drinking several times a week. I drank for fun and somehow, I also drank to wind down. I started smoking again both weed and cigarettes. Even after I left that Job, I carried that behavior with me and within a year and ½ I had picked up 2 DWI’s.

My last arrest was in November. My last cigarette was in December. My last court appearance was in March and so was my last drink. I feel good about where I am now. I recognize that I have been in this position before. A few short years ago, I was looking back at my past behavior, wondering how I could have possibly been so stupid. I feel the same way now but this time I have the benefit of experience. I know what is at stake and I know how easy it is to fall back off that cliff. I know I can’t be cocky. But I also know that there are places like this and people like you. And I think if I ever catch myself slipping again that might just make all the difference.

First, Rhonda, I want to thank you. My time here has been a rewarding, positive experience and your passion and support is genuinely inspirational. I hope it is as clear to you as it is to all of us that your trials and tribulations were not mistakes, because they brought you right here to us. Where you need to be-leading others out of the darkness. Your work helps us through our most trying times, but your influence doesn’t stop with us. You make our families better, our friends better, our communities and our unborn children all owe you a debt of gratitude. Thank you.

Name withheld due to confidentiality.

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