Michigan Driver's License Restoration - AA or no AA? - Part 2

June 28, 2013

In part 1 of this article, we began a review of how AA attendance can be helpful, but is absolutely not necessary to win a Michigan driver's license restoration appeal. As a Michigan driver's license restoration lawyer, I work with both a clinical and legal knowledge of the principles of recovery every day. I have to make sure that we prove to the Michigan Secretary of State's Driver Assessment and Appeal Division (DAAD), by "clear and convincing evidence," that your alcohol problem is "likely to remain under control." This means that we have to fit the clinical indications of your transition from drinker to non-drinker - meaning your recovery - into the legal confines of proving that you're a safe bet to never drink again. And we have to do it in a way that conforms with the understanding of the hearing officers that make the final license restoration decisions. To accomplish this, I have to know specifically what kind of proofs each hearing officer is looking for.

Put more simply, we need to prove your sobriety to a hearing officer's satisfaction. Not drinking is a start, but real sobriety also involves an understanding of the need for and a real commitment to stay alcohol-free. Nothing has come close to exploring and explaining the idea that a person simply cannot control or moderate his or her drinking, and therefore must stop completely, like AA's fist step. This cornerstone concept of AA really shapes and defines the whole idea of getting over a drinking problem, and is a familiar context in which to examine a person's commitment to sobriety, even if the person doesn't go to AA.

Groupies 1.3.pngThink of it this way: If I were to talk about a specific license appeal and say we've "hit a home run," or we've "struck out," don't those descriptors help define your understanding of what happened? You know, almost by instinct, that in the "home run" case, we won, and in the case where we "struck out," we lost. Using these familiar terms is helpful by way of description of our success or failure, but it doesn't mean that we're actually playing baseball. Thus, the concept of sobriety is at least described, often enough, in "first step" terms, even for those who don't know the first thing about AA. The bottom line is that future sobriety is directly correlated to an internalized belief that you cannot drink again.

Of all the gifts that AA has passed down into the world of recovery, nothing comes close to its first step. While the language itself ("We admitted we were powerless over alcohol-that our lives had become unmanageable") is rather esoteric to the outsider, the translated meaning is simple, direct, and clear: You have to stop drinking. At some point, everyone in recovery learns this one basic fact - moderation does not work. Some people rack up an entire series of life problems, including multiple DUI's, trying to control or cut down or otherwise manage their drinking, but sooner or later, those who get better come to realize that the only way to control their drinking is to not drink at all. You can call that a recognition of your powerlessness over alcohol, or you can consider yourself completely empowered over alcohol, as long as you choose not to drink, but semantics aside, it's the same thing: Recovery begins when the drinking ends.

If you stick around AA long enough to learn some of the nuances of the first step, you'll hear all kinds of things. Many, if not most, of these "first step" idioms have little to do with the actual language of the first step, but have become so attached to the whole concept of the "first step" that they seem eternally bound together. Of particular help to the newcomer to abstinence is the whole "one day at a time" phenomenon. You don't have to go to AA to learn this. Should you find yourself sitting in front of a knowing counselor or therapist, or in the right rehab program, you may very well learn that early in a person's recovery, when the prospect of never drinking again seems incredibly hard to grasp and rather scary, it can be very helpful to just segment the commitment to not drink into 24 hour periods. You learn, in other words, to take it "one day at a time."

Therefore, if someone expresses to their counselor, or to a table of AA members that they don't know how they'll get through the rest of their lives, including every future holiday season, without so much as a glass of wine, they'll be taught about one day at a time. "Can you get through today without a drink?" will often be the reply, to which the person will respond "sure." "Then just focus on today. You can worry about tomorrow, tomorrow." This simple little trick has helped countless people string enough days together to add up to weeks, then months, and then years.

By contrast, some people come to the point of quitting drinking knowing that they need to quit forever. This gets to the larger point of this whole article; different things work for different people. The key to getting and staying sober is finding the one that actually works for you, not what someone else says will work for you.

It has become clear through modern research that a previously unexpected source is now counted as one of the most effective methods to help people get sober: Brief interventions. It goes beyond the scope of this article to explain how or why, but the sobering reality (in this case, the pun was intended) is that that alcohol awareness weekend you attended may have been exactly what was needed to get you on the road to recovery. This is not a fluke, either. Multiple studies confirm that brief interventions by the likes of counselors, doctors or even family have at least as much success as long-term, expensive rehabilitation programs. An interesting corollary to that is other research that suggests most recovery is self-motivated. While it's a bit of a twist, the idea is that no matter how bad things have gotten for someone, they won't stop drinking until they're ready. If anything, this is underscored by our understanding that just constantly lecturing and nagging a person about his or her drinking never works.

There's a lot more to all of this stuff, and one could fill a library with textbooks on these subjects. In fact, I have many of these textbooks, but I wanted to point these things out not to go off on a tangent, but to point out that the depth of our understanding about what works for a person to recover is a million miles deeper than just AA. Even so, I stand by the proposition that AA still provides the frame of reference, and stands as the "granddaddy" of all recovery concepts.

Accordingly, whether a person goes to AA, has never gone, uses the help of a good counselor or was helped by a brief intervention, if he or she has really managed to get sober, it is a certainty that one key message was heard loud and clear: No more drinking, because any attempts to "control" it just don't work. They never have and they never will. This message is really the "take away" from AA's first step, and the necessary foundation of all sobriety.

In that sense, the whole "take away" from the AA program in general, and not just its first step, is the idea that a person has to completely stop drinking. Think about the take away from Weight Watchers: Eat better, and pay attention to diet and exercise. If someone you know goes to Weight Watchers, isn't all you really care about that they lose weight? Isn't the real "take away" from Weight Watchers that you lose weight? It's the same thing for gambler's anonymous. Isn't the "take away" from that that a person no longer gambles? The first step of AA is defining, but the larger idea of the whole program is, of course, to stop drinking.

Some people (meaning 2 out of 3) maintain sobriety without having to continue to attend AA meetings. One thing that number don't tell us, though, is how many people spent some time in AA, left the program, and were not able to stay sober. For all the knocks against AA, we also know that AA involvement is still one of the strongest predictors of continued abstinence. Going to meetings involves both explicit and implicit reminders that maintaining sobriety means not drinking. You can leave AA, but you had better take with you the fundamental understanding that you can't ever drink again. This is why being in AA is always helpful in a Michigan driver's license restoration case.

For those who don't attend AA, the key thing to bear in mind in a license appeal is that you have to be able to identify how you came to be convinced you had to stop drinking, and what tools you've acquired to do that. This can be a formidable task, and that's really where I come in as your lawyer. I didn't just learn this stuff on my own. I am formally involved in the University, post-graduate level study of alcohol and addiction issues. I have a thorough knowledge of the issues involved in a license appeal not only from the legal side of things, but from the clinical side of things, as well. This makes me unique amongst those lawyers who "do" license restorations, and explains not only why I describe myself as a Michigan drivers license restoration lawyer, but how and why I provide a guarantee that, if I accept your license appeal, I'll win your case.

Of course, you truly have to be sober before I'll take your case. I don't mess around with anyone who is still drinking, or who thinks he or she can still have an occasional drink. I can clearly and easily identify the hallmarks of a commitment to sobriety. I can tell who has it, and who doesn't. The whole point of the license appeal process is to screen out anyone who still drinks, or harbors a belief that he or she can. The fact that I require a person to really be sober before I'll take his or her case also separates me from the pack as a Michigan driver's license restoration attorney. My income would take a healthy jump if I just signed up anyone willing to pay, but my integrity is not for sale. I don't try and "dupe" the state. I want the satisfaction of helping only those people who are genuinely sober win back their licenses, or win the clearance of a Michigan hold upon your driving record..

When the ingredients of real sobriety are present, then I can begin to help you shape the story of his your recovery. How did you make the transition from drinker to non-drinker? For those in AA, this is likely a familiar story. If you don't regularly tell your story at meetings, you will typically need more help putting it together. The good news is that I can get that story out of you easily enough because once you've had you're "a-ha" moment, or otherwise come to just realize that you just couldn't drink anymore, that story is still inside of you, even if it's not at the front of your consciousness. I'll help you draw it out, put it in order, and put the right words to it. As long as it's true, it has all the ingredients needed to be a winner.

Being actively involved in AA offers certain benefits in a Michigan driver's license restoration appeal. Even so, not being currently active in AA is not any kind of disadvantage. My job, in either case, is to make sure that the story of your transition from drinker to non-drinker is related to the DAAD in both the proper clinical and legal terms. If you're genuinely sober, I will do just that. I'll win your case, and always back up my confidence with a published guarantee.