Steer Into It
I spent a little more than 16 years of my adult life in Wisconsin and Minnesota, and those winters there are still very much a part of me. Living in the North Country, I looked for the arrival of winter sometime around Thanksgiving and really didn’t expect to see bare turf again until sometime in March. Snow and cold came and stayed, and any late January or early February thaw only served to make the remaining days of winter seem colder and longer.
Although the winter season has much beauty and serenity to offer, it also can be very dangerous. There is no more helpless feeling than to be driving along at a normally safe highway speed (or maybe faster) and hit a patch of black ice. We can’t see it, but suddenly we feel our car slip out of control and begin to glide with a will of its own. Stepping on the brake and turning the steering wheel do nothing. In fact, they may cause or accelerate our loss of control. We are sailing, careening, without a lifeline. It’s a surreal and terrifying experience—especially as we observe our vehicle rapidly approaching a solid stationary object like a tree.
In a lot of ways, that is what it felt like to this alcoholic to approach and hit bottom. Totally out of control, frantic to do something and knowing that my best instincts were useless, and in fact were what got me there in the first place.
With that similarity in mind, I wanted to pass on to my fellow alcoholics a few lessons I learned about recovery from my years of winter driving. I am by no means an expert. I have not driven in wintry conditions much of late and I am very aware that I’m always in danger of forgetting what I’ve learned. But with that caution to my fellows, here are some tips I’ve learned for “black ice” recovery. I hope they may be of some use to you, if you hit a patch of glare ice in your sobriety.
First, don’t jam on the brakes. When you’re driving in wintry conditions or feel yourself begin to slip, pump the brakes, applying them gently and repeatedly. Similarly, slamming on the brakes will lessen your chance of recovery, not hasten it. In other words, don’t apply the tools you have available with the same abandon that you once used in drinking and driving. Instead of all or nothing—easy does it.
Second, don’t try to turn away from your skid. Instead, steer into it. You’ll have a better chance of recovery if you go with your vehicle, not fight against it, by feeling where it is taking you. Once you understand that, you may be given an opportunity to steer out of the skid. And of course, whatever you do, don’t apply more gas thinking you will power out of a glare ice skid. More gas isn’t going to help.
Third, and finally, if you do hit that tree or end up in the ditch, make AA your first call. Emergency road service is a benefit of the program.
So that’s it, my simple three-step program for “black ice” recovery. It may be a counterintuitive program, but I think counterintuitive is a good rule of thumb for drunks—not to mention winter drivers.