For most people who win back their Michigan driver’s license (or a clearance of Michigan’s hold on their driving record), getting back on the road represents putting the last piece of the puzzle back into a fully rebuilt life. In that sense, restoration of your driver’s license goes hand in hand with the restoration of your life. Given that the real meat and potatoes of a driver’s license appeal is demonstrating that you are a safe bet to never drink again, this whole “last piece of the puzzle” stuff has some real evidentiary importance to it, as well. It requires a deep commitment and profound life changes to first decide to quit drinking, and then to stay quit. There is no one who will report that life today, as a non-drinker, looks much like it did back when you were drinking. A lot of times, those people who focus too much on the whole “I need a license” thing are those who did not spend enough time caught up in getting sober, and this usually marks a clear distinction between those who just want to win and those who have what it takes to actually win.
Sobriety, of course, is the key. The journey to sobriety is a truly humbling and difficult ride. There is no way to fake it, meaning both the experiences of claiming one’s sobriety and the joy of living it thereafter, although as the hearing officers in the Michigan Secretary of State’s Administrative Hearing Section (AHS) know all-to-well, there is also no shortage of people who will try. Amongst the lot of pretenders and scammers are also those who really think, at least at the moment, that they are sober; the sworn-to-quit and those afraid to pick up again. These people may have quit drinking, but they have not begun to really get sober. Conspicuously lacking in all of their stories, yet uniquely present in the “last piece of the puzzle” reports, is how obtaining and maintaining sobriety became, to the exclusion of all other pursuits, job number one in such a profound way as to eclipse even the inconvenience of not being able to drive. As poetically as this can be described, you either get it, or not. The same, by extension, will hold true for the outcome of your appeal to get your driver’s license back.
This distinction often shows up most vividly in the differences between the story told by an honestly sober person going through the license appeal process and the information provided by the writers of his or her letters of support. Well-intentioned friends or family will often skip over (and may not be intimately familiar with) the details of a person’s labors to get sober or efforts at remaining so, and then go on to explain how tough it has been for him or her to function without a driver’s license, and how he or she “deserves” it back. Given that the SOLE discretion to make that decision rests with the hearing officer, I normally advise the letter writers (usually by revising their letters with my red pen) to cull some of these opinion statements and focus more on the facts of how the person has remained alcohol-free, and since when. By contrast, the subject of these letters will often speak very little of his or her struggles to get around, focusing instead (and somewhat ironically, considering that they’ve had no ability to drive for the last however many years) on how much better life is now, without alcohol, than it was back in the day. This is not a bad contrast in the evidence, but rather part of that greater imperfection that is always present in stores that are true.