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DUI in Paradise

Updated: Mar 9

A first step to tackling the drinking and driving epidemic in Wilmington, North Carolina.

On March 2nd at around 2:30am our neighbor's home was struck by a suspected drunk driver. The driver was going so fast that they missed the curve, barreled through the neighbor's yard, and swept across the entire front of the home - leaving all but about 6ft undamaged. The damage was so severe that the house has been condemned and will need to be rebuilt.

While we are thankful that no humans or animals inside the home were harmed, this was an alarming wakeup call our neighborhood is responding to. About 10 years ago, a different house on the same street was struck by an out-of-control car and in the last 6 months, our house alone has had 2 experiences with drunk drivers crashing through our bushes and almost into our fence. Over the last month, I have been working to clean up our neighborhood and remove the incessant alcohol bottles and beer cans that are being illegally disposed of by a handful of individuals. I thought that if people started to notice that our neighborhood was watching, they would think twice before drinking and driving here. While working on this project, I met other neighbors who have been trying to win the same battle within our neighborhood for years. According to members of our community, they have been reporting the dangerous speeding, erratic driving, littering, and drunk driving with little response. After meeting at Mrs. Boyett's home Saturday morning, members of our neighborhood are concerned and motivated to make something happen to ensure this type of activity stops here and now.

While I should not have to spend any amount of time explaining why reckless and impaired driving is dangerous - I want you to consider the many children, bicycle riders, dog walkers, runners, and families that live in our neighborhood. People are afraid to go outside at certain times of day or to even park their car near the street. Now, they have to worry about the real possibility of a car coming through their living room. This is a behavior and cultural norm that is NOT common in other parts of the world, or even in other states. North Carolina ranks among the worst states in the US for impaired driving related crashes and deaths, and Wilmington itself ranks among the worst cities for this. In only 26 years of life, I can name you a handful of loved ones who are no longer here because of someone else's choice to get behind the wheel. After losing two friends at once at 21, I thought my way to battle drinking and driving was to never do it myself. Now, I am realizing this is a battle that must be fought actively.

Our Next Steps

While the Boyett family is in the process of relocating and rebuilding their home, community members in our neighborhood will be working hard to aid them in any way we can. In the following weeks, we will be compiling a list of any potential needs the Boyett family has at this time and if you are feeling called to help, reach out. Outside of caring for this family, we will be working to ensure this kind of reckless driving stops in our neighborhood. We will be working with community members door to door to create relationships and establish community needs. We will be asking homeowners about their feelings of road safety in our area as well taking a vote on bringing speed bumps and additional signage to the area. In addition to this, we will be working together to ask the city for additional resources when it comes to DUI checks and speed traps in the area. In the meantime, homeowners will be vigilant in keeping an eye out for and reporting any misconduct on the streets.

Your Actionable Steps:

Take The Vow

The first and most important step to fighting impaired driving is to make a personal vow with yourself to never engage in impaired driving. This means more than just handing over your keys after a drink or two. This means acknowledging that certain prescription medications, lack of sleep, emotions, and distraction can also impair your driving.

When you know you are going to be drinking, have a plan to carpool, ask a friend to drive you, or hire a taxi service. Make sure that your group has a Designated Driver, or "DD", for the night. You can entice friends to do this with food or some cash. Splitting the cost of a ride home with friends can easily make your way home less than $5. If you have found yourself out having had one too many, do not be ashamed of calling someone to pick you up. I can guarantee you that any good parent, partner, or family member would rather wake up to a phone call for a ride home than a knock at the door by local police.

Learn From Your Mistakes

I understand that you might be okay after having a drink or two. You might have driven that road a million times. Maybe it is less than half a mile back to your destination, barely any cars drive there anyway. All it takes is one stray cat, a deer, a young driver, a slippery patch, a sharp curve. Things happen fast. Every time you drive impaired, you roll the dice. You've just been lucky so far. How many more times are you willing to bet your license, your house, your job, or your life? What about the life of someone else? It can happen to anyone. One night of fun is not worth a lifetime of grief. Even if you don't wreck, you can still be pulled over and receive a hefty fine, lose your license, have your car impounded, or receive jail time. It's just not worth the risk.

Plan to drink or engage in drug use at home or a safe location until it wears off.

In the wake of the global pandemic and current economic crisis, we are seeing a rise in drug and alcohol use, overdoses, and deaths as a nation - and the Port City is not immune to this. I am not here to judge or persecute anyone, in fact, I am an advocate for harm reduction and safe using sites for people battling addiction and trying to become sober. I support better mental health services and rehabilitation programs too. While I want all of our citizens to be safe and healthy, I respect their rights to engage in bodily autonomy and understand that it is not easy to quit.

I understand that life can be very difficult and sometimes we turn to unhealthy tools just to take our mind off the pain. If you have found yourself turning to substances or old habits to help you during this time, I want you to know there is hope for another way. You are likely experiencing a bodily dependent addiction - meaning that your body has decided that this substance is vital to you in the same way that food, air, sleep, and going to the bathroom are. The reason you picked up this habit in the first place was to help you get through a difficult time, and it worked...for a while, but now things are all starting to catch up. Maybe you are becoming aware of the mental, physical or financial wear it's having on you. Maybe you noticed how it is starting to affect the people you love. You try to stop, but your body has all sorts of crazy reactions, you get irritable, and before too long you find yourself back in the cycle. Please know that detoxing from a substance may have intense physical side effects and I want you to have the guidance and support you need to get through that. Working with your PCP or a specialized program can offer you tools, herbal remedies, and medications to support your process. AA is a great option for some, but it may not be for you. Continue to fight for yourself, advocate for your needs, and find tools that work for you. In the meantime, you can start with harm reduction. Have a plan to stay at your location of use and make sure you are with people that you trust. Do everything within your power to avoid getting behind the wheel or letting any of your friends who also may be using behind the wheel.

Support Your Community Members

As a community, we need to unveil the mystery behind addiction so we can better understand how to support a loved one who may be going through it. Problems that appear in the dark, will only grow in the dark. As active members of society, we need to check in on our friends and family when we notice signs of addiction. People who are hiding addiction due to fear of backlash may be more likely to go outside their home to use. These people also may be more likely to drink undercover in their car while heading to or from work. I understand that a million feelings and reactions are flying through your head (trust me, I had a partner who hid addiction from me in our own home), but scolding and screaming will not work in this case. We have to understand that this individual is struggling on both a physical and mental level. They are not able to reason clearly with you and they also may have a thick wall of boundaries up around the subject as a whole, making conversation nearly impossible. Remember that addiction is a disease that you and your loved ones are battling. It should be a team effort against the addiction, not the individual.

Approach conversations and "interventions" with curiosity and love, not blame. Make sure that you have done research on their substance(s) of choice, the side effects, and how to best aid someone going through that experience. Know that these situations are delicate, and we can often do more harm than good when high emotions get involved. Do not be afraid to reach out to a counselor, therapist, or local organization to help you formulate a plan for what you are going to say, when you are going to say it, and how you are going to stay regulated during the conversation. Local and national groups often provide resources and meetings for family member support.

Begin the conversation by saying you have noticed some things and you want to get their feedback. Ask about their experience or perception of the situation. Ask how you can aid in their recovery or harm reduction. Avoid placing blame or making ultimatum statements like "if you loved us, you'd quit." Know that this will be a triggering and potentially embarrassing situation for them. We want to use extreme caution when dealing with an individual who feels as though they have been "caught" or "outed." Plant seeds of love and support and let them know you are here for them. This is also an okay time to set boundaries if you need to, but let them know how they can achieve closeness again and that you are looking forward to that.

Get Active

There are many ways that you can dedicate your time and energy to helping this health crisis in your neck of the woods. You can volunteer at a local center, vote for officials who support improving mental health and addiction programs, and rally your community around the cause. If you are someone who has skills that can aid addicts, consider starting a local support group or facilitating community meetings. If you are someone who has overcome addiction yourself, consider helping guide your community on their best steps forward. Be visible and use your voice, get a movement going.

Local Resources:

As we continue on this journey of fighting addiction and impaired driving in New Hanover County, check back here for additional information.

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