How AA Helps a Michigan Driver's License Restoration Appeal, Even if You Don't Go

February 15, 2013

Within many of the articles on this blog, and in various places on my website, I often point out that being currently involved in AA is absolutely NOT required to win a Michigan Driver's License Restoration Appeal. I go to great lengths to make clear that more than one-half of my Clients are NOT actively involved in AA at the time we begin the License Appeal process. Just by the numbers, however, the majority of my Clients have had, at some point in their lives, at least a little contact with AA. Even though this may have been what seems like a million years ago, having had any spent any time in AA, however far back in your past, can really help in a Michigan License Appeal.

Before I explain, let me reassure the reader who has never been to AA that, while helpful, past AA attendance is absolutely not necessary to win a License Restoration case. Remember, if I represent you, I guarantee a win, and AA attendance does not figure into that at all.

AA Poster 1.2.jpgAs a point of interest (actually, of great interest to me), it is generally accepted in academic circles that the Judicial system (and the Michigan Secretary of State's Driver Assessment and Appeal Division falls into that category) is 10 to 20 years behind the times in terms of understanding and using modern treatment protocols in alcohol and drug-related cases. This means that the modern trend in alcohol treatment has long ago moved away from the "AA for everybody," one-size-fits-all type approach to dealing with alcohol problems, having evolved instead to an approach that utilizes treatment tailored to the needs of the individual. The DAAD is, at least, beginning to catch up...

Yet as far along as new treatment ideas have evolved, AA remains an anchor in the whole conceptual world of Recovery and Sobriety. The notion that the only viable method for overcoming a drinking problem was to seat the drinkers around a table to tell their stories and work the 12 steps seems simple-minded now, but for a long time, it was the only thing that did work, and the only protocol for which there was demonstrated success. In the same way, certain surgeries that used to be invasive and involve lots of cutting, stitching, hospital stays and long-term healing have been replaced by much more efficient methods, including out-patient, minimally invasive procedures that have a person home for dinner that same day with a "butterfly stitch" in the place where the old-fashioned "zipper" used to be. Things change....

Perhaps the most important "gift" of AA is that, by and large, at least to people like me, who deal with DUI's, Revoked Licenses and people still struggling with an alcohol problem on the one hand, and those who have overcome a drinking problem, on the other, AA has given us the "language" of Recovery. It's hard to avoid talking about recovery from a drinking problem and not use some AA terms. And of all the AA terms out there, the granddaddy of them all is "the first step."

AA's first step has become so ubiquitous (meaning found everywhere) that the very phrase "the first step" has taken on a meaning all its own. For example, if your friend goes out and buys nicotine patches in preparation to stop smoking, you would likely congratulate him or her for recognizing that smoking was a problem, and deciding to do something about it. You'd tell that friend that recognizing the need to quit was a good "first step." While this rather misses the real point of AA's first step ("Came to believe we were powerless over alcohol, and that our lives were unmanageable"), it does serve to show how AA has become part of our culture.

Think about it this way: If someone wants to lose weight, they go to Weight Watchers. What do we, as a society, hope for in such a case? That the person knocks off some pounds, right? If someone has a gambling problem, they start going to Gamblers Anonymous. What do we hope for? That they stop gambling.

They real point of AA's first step is that a person has to stop drinking. Stop - not cut down, not slow down, not drink less...just stop. AA people describe doing this as "putting the plug in the jug." If you've been to AA, then you've been exposed to the first step. Chance are, if you only went to AA for 3 months, then you had 3 months of first step.

If you never went to AA, you still got the benefit of its first step. For all the clichés that have been distilled from that one sentence (alcohol is cunning, baffling and powerful; take it one day at a time; easy does it; alcoholism is the only disease you can have that tells you that you don't have it; being alcoholic is like having an allergy to alcohol; just do 3 things: Don't' drink, go to meetings and pray to God, etc.), the real "take away" of the first step is that you cannot drink. Going back to our examples of what we want a person to get out of Weight Watchers, or Gamblers Anonymous, what we want for someone who goes to AA is equally simple: To stop drinking.

In that respect, AA gets in its own way and tends to complicate things with concepts like its fourth step inventory. From the outside, no one cares if a person has taken a fearless and searching moral inventory (step 4), or has shared that with God and another human being (step 5). From the outside, we don't care if people go to AA meetings and do handstands while they sing Mary had a Little Lamb; if they come out of the meetings able to NOT drink, then it's working. AA can sometimes lose people because it tends, however inadvertently, to overcomplicate things.

In terms of a License Appeal, the state tends to step out of the way and concentrates (rightfully so) far more on what a person has taken from their time in AA than anything else. The day before this article was written, I had a License Hearing for a fellow who had won his Restricted License about a year ago, and went back to get a Full License. For a number of years, up to the recent past, he had gone to AA a few times a month. He quit going a little over 2 years ago. As we sat in the Hearing, he had 8 and ½ years of Sobriety under his belt. The Hearing Officer asked, of course, why he stopped going to AA, but was satisfied as my Client explained (we had gone over this extensively as part of the preparation for the Hearing) that he had enjoyed his time in AA, but had moved on because he had long ago internalized the notion that he could no longer drink and just didn't need any further support. He had gotten rather busy, working 2 jobs, and had little enough time to do anything but work and relax a little.

That really is the key. If you go to AA, or if you used to go to AA, or even if you've never gone to AA, the lesson you need to have learned, and be able to prove that you have really internalized, in the sense that it has become part of the very fiber of your being, is that you can never drink again.

And that whole concept, as we understand it, really comes from AA's first step.

Having been exposed to some AA, for however brief a period of time, is certainly helpful, although not necessary to a License Appeal. If you're in AA, then the whole concept that "I can never drink again" is old news to you. If you've never been to AA, then you'll have to show how you've incorporated that concept into your life, and your lifestyle, even though you may not be familiar with the language AA uses to describe it, and that's alright; I can help with that. The point is, if you've really quit drinking, and really understand that you simply cannot ever drink again, then you've "gotten" AA's first step, whether you "know" it, or not.