Wolff has earned your compassion
Our lowest points can also be turning points.
That’s worth remembering now that Bexar County Commissioner Kevin Wolff has pleaded no contest to his embarrassing summer DWI charge. Wolff drove intoxicated to a Whataburger drive-thru about 3 a.m. in July, and he then rear-ended another car in line not once, but twice. Dressed only in a T-shirt and boxer shorts, he staggered his way through a sobriety check before toppling to the ground.
He’s on probation for the next year, and he’ll have to use a breath monitor for six months. No doubt, the sting of the DWI will hover over him beyond this. Recently released dashcam footage could dog him in some future political race, and some voters have probably written him off for good. But it could have been much worse. He could have killed or injured someone, including himself.
That makes him lucky.
Looking beyond the DWI, Wolff has handled an embarrassing and startling situation with grace and dignity. Voters shouldn’t judge him solely on the DWI but the response to it as well. So far, so good.
Immediately after his arrest, a shaken Wolff held a press conference where he announced his plan to plead no contest. There would be no special treatment, he said. He took responsibility for his actions.
But he was also surprisingly open about his struggles with anxiety, depression and sleeplessness. He took Ambien to sleep. He took anti-anxiety medication to calm his mind. His blood pressure was racing. And, yes, he mixed these pills with alcohol, a terrible mistake.
His press conference was incredibly genuine, human and public. He didn’t have to open up about his mental health with all of San Antonio. But he did, and that has made all the difference.
This is how Wolff’s DWI story shifted from sneer-inducing — a politician drunk in his boxers at a drive-thru — to honest empathy about a person living with mental health pressures. Who can’t relate? Everyone is touched by mental health, either in their own lives or in the lives of friends and loved ones. The shame of it is, we rarely talk about this.
“I have been, and currently see a psychiatrist,” Wolff said during an interview after his plea. “And it’s my understanding from him, it’s a chemical imbalance. That’s part of it.”
Of course, another part of “it” is the drinking. Wolff said he has had some drinks since the DWI, “but I mean few and far between. Whereas before I would have a drink a night.”
He said he thought about Alcoholics Anonymous but instead is working with his psychiatrist. He won’t be drinking while he has the breath monitor. He no longer takes Ambien.
“I fully admit that I have a drinking problem, and I think I am addressing it appropriately,” he said.
I must admit, it felt disjointed to hear Wolff say he has “a drinking problem” but also that he has had “some drinks” since his arrest. In my mind, those two statements don’t jibe. But it’s his life and his puzzle to put together. What works for some doesn’t work for others.
He said he realizes if there is another drinking incident, his career is “done.” But more important, he said his biggest source of anguish is the toll this has taken on his family. Public officials walk a high wire, and this was one big misstep.
“It broke my heart more than anything else knowing that I let them down,” he said.
At first blush, a moment like this can really box in a person, and the anonymous online comments about Wolff have been unsurprisingly harsh. But, really, who hasn’t made mistakes, big or small, in their lives?
The true measure is how a person responds to those mistakes. In that sense, Wolff has an opportunity. He can be an honest advocate for mental health awareness, and a political leader who can speak up about the dangers of drinking and driving. He can take his required community service of 24 hours and turn it into lifelong community service.
The dashcam footage of the DWI is one part of the story. What matters more is what comes next. Our lowest points can make for incredible turning points.