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Drinking and Driving the City Bus

Drinking and Driving Bus

When one thinks of an alcoholic, he or she thinks of someone that isn’t dressed neatly, possibly has trouble getting out of bed, and spends all of his or her money and time on alcohol. The stereotypical alcoholic also maybe has trouble keeping friends and regularly gets into arguments with family. And perhaps the biggest stereotype of all is that an alcoholic can’t keep a job. However, there are alcoholics that don’t fit these stereotypes.

At Transitions Recovery, we see people every day who have jobs, have a great family, and are functioning for now. They come to us because they don’t want to lose those things, which, often when they do come to us, is often about to happen.

A Decade of Driving, Stress, and Disgust

Matthew Archer had driven a city bus in Miami for almost a decade. When he first took the job he was surprised at the stress that accompanied it. Originally, he thought driving a bus wouldn’t be that different from driving a bigger truck. He realized early on that he was very wrong.

Driving a city bus brought with it all sorts of stress that he couldn’t have imagined when he interviewed for the job. He was told his dispatcher would be his support line in terms of routes and detours. To this day, that has never happened. The dispatchers themselves are under extreme amounts of stress and rarely act as a support line but more of a hindrance.

And even if the dispatcher did support Matthew, more than likely his radio wouldn’t allow proper communication anyway. Everything on Matthew’s bus was archaic and in some sort of disarray, so simply communicating could be a challenge.

Besides for the difficult, technical aspects of his bus, the actual driving of the bus was stressful as well. Every day was different. Construction or car accidents—which were daily—could throw his day into chaos causing him to be late to every stop the rest of the day.

And on top of other people’s accidents, Matthew had to worry about his own. Miami was a big city with lots of people driving, walking, riding bikes—Matthew always had to be attentive to the situation around him.

But, being attentive to the driving situation was made harder by his passengers. He couldn’t say all of his passengers were rude or disruptive, but a good deal of them were. While he was trying to avoid colliding with inattentive drivers, he was also dealing with people shouting at him about being late or shouting at one another.

It wasn’t uncommon for Matthew to have to use his own phone to call the police for fights that broke out as using the radio simply would take too long. Matthew also learned early on when he caught someone doing something wrong, if they ran off the bus, to just let them go.

And if that wasn’t enough there were the patients that used his bus as their own personal bathroom. Whether it was defecating or throwing up—Matthew needed to clean up the messes himself as he didn’t make it back to the station for hours sometimes and the smells could be unbearable on a hot Miami afternoon.

A Lot of Driving And a Little Drinking…At First

When Matthew got the job in late 2007, the economy in Miami crashed due to its own housing crisis and when the Great Recession hit the rest of the world, Miami was particularly hit hard. That’s why, initially, Matthew was excited about having a steady-paying, union job with good benefits.

When he was hired, Matthew was single and in his late twenties. At the time, he enjoyed hitting the bars several nights a week with his friends. Miami has a great nightlife and Matthew took full advantage of it.

At first, he laughed off the stress of being a bus driver. He joked with his friends nightly, would throw a few back, and then call it a night. But, as the years passed and his friends developed different careers and grew families of their own, the nightlife decreased and the stress increased.

Without his friends to drink socially, Matthew found himself drinking more by himself. Initially, it started when the nights with friends decreased. On the evenings when he would meet friends, he would arrive extra early and grab a drink or two before they arrived or he would stay after they left and have more drinks. As the nights with friends disappeared altogether, he began to drink at home by himself. He told himself that there was no harm—he wasn’t hurting anyone if he drank alone.

His job didn’t allow him to see much of his coworkers, but rumors flew. He had heard of drivers that used different, more illegal drugs to cope and they were still on the job. So, Matthew started thinking to himself, “What was the harm if I have a little to drink on my lunchbreak?”

He had to eat quickly, usually by himself at a bus depot. No one would know if he did have a drink, and it would take the edge off for the afternoon. His afternoons were relaxed and, soon, he began drinking in the morning before work so his mornings could also be relaxed.

He promised himself that was the extent.

The New Norm

Of course that wasn’t the extent. Matthew had become a functional alcoholic. And, like all functional alcoholics, he regularly exceeded his limits. What was one in the morning slowly turned into two, then three.

As he grew his tolerance and needed more alcohol, he limited his food intake. He also began structuring his day around drinking. As a bus driver, it was easier for someone like Matthew to organize his day around drinking. There were very few coworkers to monitor his actions and, when he would pull into a bus depot, it was easy for him to claim an unexpected bathroom break, and take his time a have a drink inside.

If he was ever late in the morning due to drinking, he would just tell the dispatcher he wasn’t a “morning person.” Matthew reasoned that the city had a hard time holding onto drivers—it would never let a long-term driver like him go.

Drinking had consumed his everyday life and yet, he hid it well. Matthew was never very close to his family and his friends grew distant. There was no one to watch him to notice the signs.

A Close Call and a Wake-up Call

As the years went by, Matthew never felt he had a problem. He did notice he started to have trouble remembering sudden changes to his route and the passengers started to anger him more. However, Matthew thought the passengers really were more unruly and the route just had more obstacles than it used to. Matthew never considered that all of his drinking had started to take a toll on his concentration and focus.

That all changed one spring day. It was mid-afternoon and schools had let out for an early release. Matthew knew he had to be extra vigilant as more kids would be out. Matthew had stopped at a light. As he sat waiting, he pulled his water bottle out and took a drink. Of course it wasn’t water, it was vodka. As he drank, two of the passengers became loud—both laughing obnoxiously with one another.

Irritated, Matthew turned around to yell at them to keep it down and as he did, the light changed and cars started beeping at him to go. He quickly turned around and began going and, just as he started, a kid on his bike, came from what seemed out of nowhere and swerved right in front of Matthew. Matthew quickly hit the brakes even causing one passenger to fall to the bus floor. Luckily, he avoided the kid and no one behind his bus hit him, but this acted as a wakeup call.

He finished his route that day without further incidents and decided he needed to make some changes.

Doing the Right Thing for Him

One of the things Matthew liked most about his job was the fact that he was in a union and had good benefits. Regularly, Matthew received emails for counseling and other special services. After the near miss, Matthew did report to his union representative and asked that he be given help for what had become a problem.

Matthew was worried he could possibly lose his job, and that the union representative would be upset with Matthew for keeping this to himself for so long. However it was the exact opposite. The representative had lauded Matthew for taking the necessary steps to recover. The representative commended Matthew for coming forward before an actual accident had occurred.

Matthew was referred to a program that specializes in treatment for alcoholism. He currently is still in treatment and plans to return to his job as soon as he is able.

Transitions Recovery has a long history of working with unions, particularly with city employees and transport drivers in Miami, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and across the US. Looking to learn more? Get in touch through our website  or just call 1-800-626-1980.