Updated: Feb 8, 2021
LET ME TELL YOU about drink driving.
There’s a lot of fear involved.
An awful lot of it.
Fear about being disqualified, fear about the media reporting, fear about people you know finding out, fear about your job.
Most people arrested for drink driving have never been in trouble before.
They’ve never even received a parking ticket.
When you meet them they’re eager to tell you that.
It’s practically a compulsion.
The prospect of court makes them feel physically sick, although they don’t say it.
They don’t feel it appropriate to tell you that either, but you know.
You can see it in their eyes.
A recurring question: “Will I lose my job if I’m convicted?”
These thoughts come later but don’t often seem to register at the time of driving.
You may put that down to indifference, with simply not caring about the consequences.
LET ME TELL YOU SOMETHING ELSE about drink driving.
It’s often not a deliberate act.
That seems counter-intuitive.
Yes, the person had drank and then drove, but very often that wasn’t the plan.
Very often there was no plan.
Planning didn’t come into it.
And no, they didn’t just decide to take a chance and hope for the best.
Some do, most don’t.
What is drink driving?
It’s very often an emotional reaction to something else, an event in someone’s life.
Or a succession of events.
Like a huge argument involving a partner or family member at home.
Maybe it’s the final straw after years of abuse.
Let me tell you something else.
Many people arrested for drink driving lead lives of silent anguish.
Anxiety, depression, low self-confidence, low self-esteem.
Years of it. Decades sometimes.
Some are trapped in destructive relationships.
Emotional abuse is common.
A woman once told me that her husband criticised her every day.
Every day without fail, jeering at her, belittling her, telling her that she was nothing.
In her case more than 22 years.
And she believed him.
After 22 years she believed him.
Life had become a succession of never-ending miseries.
She was a small lady with a stooped back who found it hard to make eye contact.
Her voice was not much more than a whisper.
She sat with her head down and hands clasped tight together, always clasped.
When she spoke, she spoke directly into those hands on her lap, kneading them over and over.
And never looking up.
DRINKING OFTEN increases.
To numb feelings of worthlessness or profound unhappiness some people start self-medicating on alcohol.
Often the result of yet another argument or cutting remark is an overwhelming need to flee from that other person.
Getting away often means driving away.
As humans we are governed by our emotions, not reason.
They’re driving after having consumed alcohol but that wasn’t the intention.
There hadn’t been an intention to drive, at least not until the last minute.
And then it was just to get away.
The intention was just to get away from the other person.
And now they come upon a Garda checkpoint.
SOME VARIATION OF WHAT you’ve read has been told to me repeatedly by people across Ireland arrested for drink driving.
Usually, they speak in apologetic voices.
Sometimes they are on the verge of tears.
Often they have already condemned themselves.
They have seen the ads on television.
They’ve seen them and they know you know they’ve seen them.
And that makes it harder.
For some, personal shame is merciless.
It bites and gnaws at them, chewing their nerves to the quick.
There’s no escaping it, not when you go to work, not when you go home, not before you sleep, not when you wake up.
That internal voice never stops.
They’re petrified that people they know might find out and judge them.
Might think that they’re a criminal, might whisper it.
But the judgement of other people couldn’t hold a candle to their own self-criticism and -sometimes -self-loathing.
THIS ISN’T AN ATTEMPT TO ELICIT sympathy for people arrested for drink driving.
Not at all.
They don’t want it and they’re not looking for it.
In their own minds they don’t deserve it.
Their own families frequently think the same.
But I've gotten the sense that they want people to know that they’re not bad.
That's all really.
That they're like you or me.
You or me, except maybe without the weight of their problems.
Or their unyielding, unreasoning self-criticism.
Not every case is like this.
Many are not.
But many are.