By Alex Otte

It might sound strange to say, but today, I celebrate 11 years since the day my life was forever changed because of one man’s wrong choice. I say “celebrate,” even though the day itself and the week leading up to it have been and will be difficult, gut wrenching and triggering of a trauma I cannot explain. I have spent the past 11 years trying to find a way to make what happened to me make sense, and with that, I will celebrate a life that there’s no reason I should be here to live – nor should I have to.

I’m here because someone else got to make a choice for me. He chose to drink. He chose to get in a boat. Other people chose not to stop him. Because of his choice, I chose to fight to be the last little girl this would ever happen to – and 11 years later, we know that I wasn’t.

MADD National President Alex Otte at the U.S. Capitol on June 30 advocating for drunk driving prevention technology on all new cars.

The best, and also worst, part about this community is that we all *get it.* I think when we try to explain to most people why a day like today is so triggering, they sympathize, but can’t possibly understand. While it’s a tragedy in and of itself, we do understand.

As some of you may have heard me say, it’s nearly impossible for me to articulate the trauma that comes with living the rest of your life as a victim of this crime. Between the physical injuries that will never go away and the questions of why something so preventable had to happen to me – I’m not sure that it ever gets easier. It hasn’t yet. But it’s even more impossible for me to explain the devastation that comes with the realization that it keeps happening, and that we haven’t stopped it yet.

I used to say that while I would fight for the rest of my life to see a day when there would be no more victims of drunk driving, I didn’t believe that it would happen in my lifetime. Now, I do. Because of the herculean efforts of the last six months and all the years before, and the dedication of every victim and volunteer who has bravely shared their story, I do believe that we will all get to see a day when there is a last family lost to a preventable tragedy, and a last little girl left to live the rest of her life with the consequences of someone else’s choice.

Today will be hard for me, as have the 10 years of anniversaries before it. I actually think this year might be harder, as July 2 falls on a Friday, just as it did 11 years ago. I say often that there are good days and bad days. Most of the time by now, the good days outweigh the bad – but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t all hard. I want to encourage all of you to give yourself grace on the hard days and allow yourself to be happy on the good ones. Not a single thing in life is the same as it would have been had that day not happened, but we still have so much to be proud of. This year is different, too, because I truly believe that this will be the year our country will take the biggest step toward ending drunk driving.