In my world of driver’s license restoration, criminal and DUI cases, the word “sobriety” really takes a beating. It is chronically overused, while seldom fully understood. In the context of a Michigan driver’s license appeal case, for example, the key inquiry is whether or not a person has really quit drinking and is a safe bet to never drink again; this hints at the deeper, truer meaning of the word. The concern that a person will drink and drive again is pretty well obviated when it’s clear that he or she has both the commitment and the tools to remain alcohol-free for life. As often used, however, the word “sober” is simply intended to mean “not drunk.” Real “sobriety,” however, is qualitatively different from merely “sober,” as in not drunk. It is this deeper notion of sobriety, which involves a person having quit drinking for good, that is fundamental to winning a driver’s license appeal. It can also be important in criminal and DUI cases, as well. I’ve had 1st offense DUI clients who are exhausted by their drinking and are ready to quit, while, by contrast, I’ve had people with 4 or more DUI’s who insist that no matter how things might look, they don’t have any kind of problem with alcohol. Sobriety, or a lack of it, always plays a central role in all driver’s license restoration and DUI cases, while playing anything from a leading to a supporting role in many criminal cases, as well. In this short article, I want to take a closer look at the true meaning of the term “sobriety.”
“Sober” can mean that a person is either “not drunk” or he or she has moved past drinking to an alcohol-free lifestyle. When we hear that a person has been “sober” for a certain number of years, the term essentially means the same thing as the notion of “sobriety” that I want to explore here. As the defining point of this article, the reader will either “get” this, or not. If you or someone you know well has gone through the life-changing process of getting sober, then you understand the profound transition involved, and how completely one must abandon (i.e., surrender) any notion of “controlling” his or her drinking to get well. This kind of personal metamorphosis is a fundamental requirement to winning back a driver’s license that has been revoked for multiple DUI’s. Because I only do license appeals for people who have genuinely embraced sobriety, I can and do guarantee a win in every case I take. A client of mine really defined this in the clearest way when he observed that you can admit you have a problem with drinking, and you can even “admit” that you’re powerless over alcohol all day long; what matters is truly accepting it. This is an interesting take on AA’s 1st step, “Admitted we were powerless over alcohol and that our lives became unmanageable.” In the way that the AA people mean it, acceptance is implicit in the admission, but what my client was trying to say is that many people “know” they have a problem with drinking even while they are still struggling with trying to control it, whereas once someone fully “accepts” his or her powerlessness over alcohol, there are no more attempts at control. Instead, there is a simple surrender, and the fight just ends. By the time most people hit this point, drinking is no longer fun anymore, and usually hasn’t been for a while.
As anyone who has done this knows, the very moment you surrender and give up the battle with the bottle, you actually win. This applies whether you’ve ever been to an AA meeting or not. I like AA, but only when it is accurately seen as just one of many ways to help people get sober. It frustrates me that some Judges are all too quick to force people to go to meetings without any real understanding of larger recovery principles or the potential efficacy of AA for any particular person. AA is a great program for some individuals, but certainly not for everyone, or, indeed, even for most people. If you’re facing a DUI, the last thing you need is to be forced into getting the “wrong” kind of help. Research proves that this can have the opposite of the desired effect. Yet whether AA is right or not for someone, many of its lessons are universal…