I was raised in a religious home where abstinence was the best policy—from anything fun, like sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll. At church, I remember signing an abstinence pledge in middle school. We also listened to “Christ-ified” versions of pop songs at youth group, with Jesus lyrics in place of evil, secular lyrics in songs.
I bought into the whole goody-two-shoes image hook, line, and sinker for a while. If you want to know the truth, I just wanted to be accepted, and that seemed like the best way because it was almost a guarantee that God would accept me, if I always acted perfect.
In my early 20s, I was ultra-Christian and even went to Bible College. But just a few short years later, I wanted to be myself and would rather have gone out partying with friends than sing Jesus pop songs at church. I’m not bashing a belief in God whatsoever because it is still very important to me, but I am saying that abstinence-only Christianity led me astray.
Despite my perfection, I was arrested with a DUI at the age of 24. This was well-deserved because I had stupidly driven drunk many times before under the guise that I had “just had a few drinks.” The truth was that because of my religious denial, I was pretty naïve about alcohol. As a young parent looking back on all of this ridiculousness, I’m going to treat the inevitable conversation about alcohol with my kids much, much differently.
Instead of making alcohol a hush-hush taboo, I plan to drink responsibly in front of my kids often, as I already do in my daily life. I also plan to have an open dialogue about alcohol with them as early as necessary—far, far before they get a driver’s license.
It blows my freaking mind how little people know about drinking and driving, and how little I knew about it because it was never discussed with me. Even to this day, I have another adult family member in my extended family that was raised religiously and acts like a total asshat about booze.
It makes my blood boil to even think about this person acting so irresponsibly, but I have witnessed them drinking and driving many, many times. Granted, I have made the same mistake, but I wish someone could have somehow slapped some sense into me before I got arrested.
I have told this family member point-blank that they are going to get a DUI. They looked right back at me and jokingly said, “I’m invincible.” Rage, rage, and so much rage. I’ve joked about my DUI because it’s a pretty embarrassing situation. But I’ve also told people in my social circle how traumatizing it was for me to get arrested. Sometimes, I still have nightmares about it, where I accidentally drink and drive and get arrested again. It’s terrifying.
My response to this family member was this: Okay, just plan to spend three days in jail, and save up $10,000 while you’re at it because you will get a DUI. Very few people realize that the minimum jail time for a DUI in our state is three days for a first offense. Most people think they are exempt and above the law, even if they drink and drive on very rare occasions. I’ve seen it time and again among friends.
I may be biased, but I do have compassion for someone that gets a DUI once. It happened to me because I was being irresponsible and also thought I was invincible. But don’t even get me started on multiple DUIs.
I can’t necessarily take responsibility for other people, other than telling them about my personal experience. I know because of drinking and driving PSAs that you’re supposed to confiscate someone’s keys, but I can’t monitor someone who thinks drinking and driving is perfectly acceptable 24 hours a day, seven days a week. I truly hope that this person wakes up soon before they cause a serious accident.
But what I can do is open up the dialogue about responsible drinking (and driving) with my kids from an early age, even if I hope that they are saints and never touch a drop of alcohol. Scratch that—I really don’t hope that my kids grow up in sainthood because that perfectionist mentality didn’t do me any good.
I hope my kids grow up to understand how to handle adult things in moderation. I think it’s pretty safe to assume that most kids will try alcohol well before the age of 21, I know I did. If I never talk to my kids about alcohol, especially related to driving, then I might as well continue drinking and driving myself—it’s that irresponsible.
(photo: Getty Images)