How to Win a Michigan Driver's License Restoration Appeal Without Being Involved in AA - Part 2

November 11, 2011

In Part 1 of this article, we began discussing how a person can win a Drivers' License Restoration case without going to AA. We began by acknowledging the important role AA played in the genesis of the whole notion of "Recovery," and how AA has provided much of the language we use to talk about Recovery and Sobriety.

In this second part, we will pick up by examining how a person can get "Sober" without AA, and how and why the State recognizes that AA is but one of many viable ways to Recover from an alcohol problem. In other words, we'll discuss how and why a person can win a License Appeal without going to AA.

Choice Road2.jpgIn the first part of this article, I noted that more than half of my Clients are not actively involved in AA. Of that group, probably half, or maybe even a bit more, have at least been to AA a few times. Some went for years, some for months, and a few for at least a couple of meetings. They all have their reasons for leaving the program, from outright dislike to simply feeling strong enough in their own Sobriety to not feel the need for the kind of support offered by AA. It really doesn't matter why a person left. What matters is that, in the end, they made a conscious decision that they didn't need to go to any more meetings to stay Sober.

Whether a person attended 1000 AA meetings, or only attended 1, they undoubtedly heard the "first step." Many of those who attended AA for a while will often say that they simply "got it," and felt comfortable leaving the program. Those who only went to a few meetings often say they already "had it," and that the notion of not drinking again was something they had already accepted, meaning that AA really didn't offer them anything more than they already had.

Some people just hated AA. They found it to be too "religious," or "cult-like." Some people just don't do well in groups. Again, whatever the reason a person never attended or stopped going to AA, the key thing, at least for a License Appeal, is that they recognize that they cannot drink alcohol anymore. And even if they've never heard of AA's first step, their understanding of their situation parallels that of any AA attendee; I have an alcohol problem, and the only way to "fix" it is to completely stop drinking.

In a License Appeal, the State is looking not only for abstinence from alcohol, but a commitment to remain abstinent. This is where AA provides, or at least used to provide, an advantage. AA both implicitly and explicitly makes clear that the ONLY way to "control" an alcohol problem is to never drink again. There is no room for debate. And however much a person may like or dislike the AA program, on this score, it is 100% correct. The ONLY way to "control" an alcohol problem is to NOT drink. Period.

Anyone who has made the commitment to remain alcohol-free will also have, whether they realize it or not, made the changes necessary to support a "Sober Lifestyle." Sometimes, this is done with effort, and by plan, and others, it is just the natural by-product of deciding to become alcohol-free.

Let's say that Recovery Ron gets popped for a 2nd DUI. During his overnight, in Jail, he has that certain "epiphany" and accepts and realizes that the common denominator to all his problems is alcohol. Maybe he only drank once in a while, and thought of an alcohol problem as more akin to frequent drinking. Whatever he had previously thought, he now accepts that drinking puts him at risk for making bad judgments, and that the only way to insure that he won't have anymore such problems is to stop drinking.

The next day, Ron is Bonded out, and goes home. On Monday, after work, whereas he would usually have stopped off at a local party store to get a 6-pack, he decides that instead, he's going to get a Mountain Dew and a pack of Twinkies (or whatever). Almost instinctively, Ron will NOT go back to the usual party store. He simply wants to avoid having the guy behind the counter ask, "how come you don't get your Budweiser tonight, my friend?"

Then, when Ron's buddies call up on the weekend, to ask about him coming along to some bar or club or whatever, he tells them that he's going to "lay low" for a while, but maybe they could come by and watch movies, or go do something else.

That's the last Ron ever usually hears from his drinking buddies. Ties are usually cut with that crowd almost instantly, and permanently.

Now, Ron has to face a weekend not doing what he usually did. He has to find something to do. In some cases, people in Ron's position wonder how they're going to get by...

However it happens, they do. They find things to do. Whether they get or resume a hobby, or just catch up on movies, people in Ron's position occupy themselves. Often, they find that their relationships with friends and family begin to improve. Soon, they go out and do things that do not center on drinking. And then, one day, they look back and see that, when they decided to quit drinking, they had to find new habits to replace old habits, and that as time has passed, those once "new" habits have become old habits. In other words, not drinking becomes the norm. It becomes second nature.

Of all the overlooked things in terms of preparing a License Appeal, examining how a person has established and maintained a Sober Lifestyle has to be the biggest. This is kind of analogous to the old saying, "where there's smoke, there's fire." More than anything else, a Sober Lifestyle tends to prove Sobriety in the sense that the person is not only "talking the talk, but walking the walk."

In my Office, this is a huge focal point in the preparation of a License Appeal. I have noted that my first meeting with a new Client takes about 3 hours. Helping the person backtrack through the changes they've made in their life, and being able to uncover the story of how they went from drinker to non-drinker, meaning how they began and established a Sober Lifestyle, takes up a significant chunk of that time, as well as a figuring prominently into our continued preparation of the Appeal.

Up to now, we have not discussed the role of counseling or rehab. They are important. It is often as a result of such counseling or rehab that people actually come to accept, formally and finally, that they do, in fact, have an alcohol problem. If we think back to our example of Recovery Ron, while he may have had an "epiphany" during his overnight in Jail, subsequent counseling or rehab will help him qualitatively understand more specifically how and why his drinking is a problem. Ron may need clarification that being "alcoholic" is NOT synonymous with being an everyday drinker, or being "alcohol dependent." Ron surely could use a little guidance about such things as avoiding drinking establishments and drinking situations. And Ron will certainly need to hear, and perhaps multiple times, that having a drinking problem doesn't mean a person has to learn to control their drinking, but rather, at the point a person has to even think about controlling their drinking, they already have a problem, and the only "control" that will work is to eliminate alcohol from their lives.

Under Michigan Law, a person convicted of a DUI 2nd Offense must be Ordered, by the Court, to undergo substance abuse and/or alcohol counseling or rehabilitation. This means that, for the majority of people seeking Restoration of a Driver's License, some kind of past treatment will be part of their background, because. In other words, in Order to have had their License Revoked in the first place, a person will have had to racked up either 2 DUI's within 7 years, or 3 within 10. If either the 2nd or 3rd Offense was resolved, in Michigan, as a 2ndOffense or 3rd Offense, then substance abuse counseling will have been Ordered.

Some people may have had a 1st DUI in Michigan, and then picked up another within 7 years in another state, or, if the 2nd Offense was, in fact, a Michigan case, may have been able to plea-bargain the charge down to another 1st Offense, and thereby avoid the requirement of having been Ordered into Counseling.

The toughest of all situations for me to handle, as a Driver's License Restoration Lawyer, are those wherein the person has never had any kind of counseling, or treatment, or AA. These cases can be won, but they represent an uphill battle every step of the way.

As I have pointed out in other articles, and while this is a major oversimplification, the two main issues that need to be proven in a License Appeal are that:

1. The person's alcohol problem is under control, and

2. The person's alcohol problem is likely to remain under control.

In another series of articles (to which I linked above), I called this second issue, that the person's alcohol problem is likely to remain under control, the most important part of a License Appeal. And it is.

Taking that to be true, this means, then, that the State is kind of going to say "explain what's different about you now as opposed to when you were drinking. What did you learn through counseling, treatment or AA about alcohol, and yourself, and your drinking? Then, show us how that insight and knowledge you gained should convince us that you are a safe bet to never drink again."

Simply saying "I just knew I couldn't drink anymore and decided to quit" won't win a License Appeal. In fact, you'd be hard-pressed to find a strategy more likely to lose than that, except perhaps to show up and say, "I need my License back because I need a ride to the bar."

In the end, winning a License Appeal without going to AA is about showing what a person has learned about alcohol, alcoholism, and themselves. It means being able to tell the story about how they went from drinker, to non-drinker. It involves explaining the details of, first deciding upon, and then building, and thereafter maintaining a Sober Lifestyle. It necessarily includes a person having come to understand that, at the point where they ever needed to think about controlling or limiting or managing their drinking, they already had a problem, and that the only way to control that problem is to completely eliminate alcohol from their lives.

AA teaches people how to get and stay Sober. For some, it was the teacher who helped them get over the hump. Others may stay in the program for any of many different reasons. Still others learn what they need without AA, in a kind of "self study." Whether a person becomes and thereafter maintains their Sobriety as a result of, or with the help of AA, or not, the larger point is that they get, and then stay Sober, and have a plan to remain Sober for life.

The DAAD recognizes that there are different paths a person can follow to reach this goal. No longer are they as concerned with the particular path a person chooses to follow as they are with whether or not a person filing a License Appeal has, in fact, reached that goal of getting Sober, maintaining that Sobriety, and having a plan to remain alcohol-free for life.

This is why I can truthfully report that more than half of the Driver's License Restoration cases I handle (and win) are for people NOT currently involved in AA. However, the one thing all of my Clients have in common is their Sobriety, even though they may have followed very different roads to reach that destination.