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The Five Stages of DWI Grief

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By: Lawrence Newman

I have counseled and represented clients as an attorney for eleven years, and prior to that practiced as a Chiropractic Physician for another ten years. Over all this time I have noticed a parallel pattern between the stages of grief with those patients with physical illness, and those people who have been charged with the crime of DWI.

In college, I took a course called, “Death and Dying,” it highlighted the work of Elizabeth Kubler-Ross. In Ross’ book by the same name she outlined five distinct stages of grief:

The five stages of grief Kubler-Ross identified are as follows:

1. Denial (this isn’t happening to me!)

2. Anger (why is this happening to me?)

3. Bargaining (I promise I’ll be a better person if…)

4. Depression (I don’t care anymore)

5. Acceptance (I’m ready for whatever comes)

Clients and patients rarely go through these five stages once but multiple times over the course of their treatment or representation. Sometimes I have seen clients cycle through all five stages in one day. I believe that part of my job as their lawyer is to help my DWI clients come to Acceptance of their situation, and be ready for whatever comes.

As they say “it is what it is.” We must deal with the cards we are dealt. We can not undo the past or feel guilt over it. The emotions of anger, denial, and depression will lock you in self destruct mode. Beating yourself up will never allow you to move forward, and you most definitely want to move forward with your life. I have witnessed way too many people carry the heavy baggage of guilt around with them over something that occurred years in the past. Wallowing in self pity can never help you, and only leads to fearful thoughts of a dark future.

Acceptance brings power because it means you understand your options. Choices and options mean power and direction. It means we have analyzed and discussed the strengths and weaknesses of your criminal case, and your unique situation. Knowing what is potentially coming or possible ie. consequences, collateral issues, penalties, DMV issues, restrictions, and conditions allows you to prepare yourself mentally.

The best defense can only come to those who are “ready” for whatever comes. What are your best options? Your choices will be highly dependent upon where you are, and where you are going. Not everyone wants to go to trial, not everyone has the same risk tolerance, and not everyone has the same goals. Becoming proactive, and taking action is always the best course.

Perceptions of your situation will change over time, recognize this. Put everything in context. Nothing is in a vacuum. Every case and situation is relative to another. I have been privileged over a twenty three year period to see the entire spectrum of human problems, and the eventual healing that comes over the course of time and with action. Acceptance was always the healthiest, saniest, and most helpful frame of mind. Acceptance brings empowerment because you can see the bigger picture. It means your head is not clouded by anger, depression, or guilt. With acceptance your mind is now clear enough to make the best decisions. Fear of the unknown is cast out by the light of acceptance and that always comes with a sense of knowing.


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Lawyer Legions Recognizes Terry Lavenstein, ESQ.

Over 40 years experience. Distinguished member of the Maryland State Bar Association and Federal Bar Association.

The article presented here is the opinion of the author. The opinions expressed in this blog are the sole opinions of the author and do not, in any form, reflect the legal advice or opinions of Lavenstein Law LLC. Lavenstein Law LLC does not co-author, nor promote the opinions, ideas, or statements published in this forum. Any information supplied in this forum is for editorial purposes only and should not be accepted as legal counsel provided by Lavenstein Law LLC. If you seek professional legal counsel in matters of criminal law, contact Lavenstein Law LLC. Lavenstein Law LLC is a criminal defense law firm in Maryland.

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