December 19, 2013

Making a U-turn: After DUI, man quits alcohol

After DUI, man quits alcohol with family, friends' support

by Sarah Einselen Pharos-Tribune

---- — Benjamin K. Stephenson chokes up when he thinks of that day.

Nineteen months ago, Stephenson wrecked his car near High and Eighth streets while driving under the influence of alcohol. He'd hit a parked car just before midnight May 12, 2012, according to reports at the time, and went to Logansport Memorial Hospital for treatment of a cut on his forehead.

He remembers waking up in the hospital with a bandage on his forehead and an intravenous line going into one arm, hearing a friend tell him he was going to be arrested on a DUI charge.

Police reports at the time indicated he'd been driving at about four times the legal blood alcohol limit. But in the weeks following the crash until now, that wasn't what he thought about most.

It was what could have been — but wasn't.

"I could've killed somebody," he said in an interview this month. "A little kid crossing the street, a family in a car — but I didn't. I got lucky. I believe somebody was looking out for me."

That was the day Stephenson decided to quit drinking alcohol altogether after several years of progressively worse alcohol abuse.

A 2006 graduate from Logansport High School who played on the school's soccer team and worked at Arone's Hardware, he'd started drinking on weekends in high school. Then the summer of 2006, after graduation, he began blacking out after heavy drinking.

Alcohol stayed with him while studying at Indiana University-Kokomo to earn a bachelor's degree in business management. He was arrested in Logansport in 2008 on a public intoxication charge, and for a few months after that stayed away from alcohol. Stephenson returned to drinking, however. After graduating from IUK in 2010, he'd drink alcohol on weekends after work at the Braun Corp. facility in Winamac.

"Every Monday I was like, God I don't want to do that again next weekend," Stephenson recalled. But in what he described as a "downward spiral," the habit persisted and he began purchasing alcoholic drinks on the way home from work on Fridays, popping open a can while driving.

He knew he was addicted to alcohol, he said, "but I also didn't know what to do about it and I didn't have the strength or desire to stop."

Gradually, holding a can of beer next to the steering wheel felt more acceptable, as long as he thought he wasn't drunk. But "when you're drunk, the line gets blurred," he said. To the point where, with a .32 blood alcohol content the night of the wreck, he'd felt fine.

Stephenson missed an opening shift at Arone's Hardware the day after the wreck. He called Arone's owner Pat Arone after leaving the Cass County Jail, expecting to be fired — or at least to hear her excuse him.

That wasn't what he got.

"He called me and apologized," recalled Arone, who's owned the hardware store for the past 38 years. "He broke down, and I said, well Ben, what you did was wrong. But we all make mistakes, and as long as you learn by it, it's OK — I said, you've still got a job as long as you want it."

Arone chose not to fire him, she said, because she believed he was honest and "everybody deserves a second chance."

Stephenson remembers having to promise it wouldn't happen again. He meant it.

For several weeks after the wreck, Stephenson wouldn't even think about having a beer. However, he knew that he'd have to make a conscious decision not to drink as the memory of the wreck faded. He'd begin remembering only the "good stuff" from nights he'd be drinking and feel a desire to get those feelings back.

"You learn to deal with it and you learn to believe what is real," he said. "In reality, I know that's going to lead me to being passed out on my couch with pizza rolls and a half-drunk bottle of vodka."

He has tried to combat that desire by changing his habits — spending more time with his parents and two brothers and steering clear of where he used to drink alcohol. He attended meetings with other people recovering from substance abuse, making new friends who'd support his desire to remain sober.

"Basically, nobody wants to go through it alone," Stephenson said. He was grateful for support from his family and some friends, who reassured him in the face of others' distancing.

"When you go in the grocery store and people have read about you ... everybody gives you a look," Stephenson said. "You know people are talking about you."

He returned to work at Braun for several months following the wreck until receiving a job offer at Jim Kitchell Agency, where he started work as an insurance agent in November 2012. "I think they just took a leap of faith," he said, when hiring him.

This past fall, he also took on a volunteer coaching position with Logansport Youth Soccer, teaching 7-year-old boys each Friday evening the skills he'd practiced in high school. He has also gotten involved in an adult soccer league based in Kokomo.

Stephenson says he's not perfect — "I still screw up and make mistakes every day." But he says the people who stuck by his side have "won the day." He hasn't had a drop of alcohol since the wreck, he said.

"I believe there was a reason I was the one that wrecked the car that night," he said. "For me, I feel like if one person reads it and feels better, or thinks maybe if this guy can do it, why can't I? Maybe they won't have to wreck their car to figure it out."

Sarah Einselen is news editor at the Pharos-Tribune. She can be reached at or 574-732-5151. Twitter: @PharosSME.