In my Driver’s License Restoration Practice, all of the people I represent are either current AA attendees, or not. Often, I am asked by those who do not have current, or even past AA attendance, if there’s any chance to get a License back without being active in AA. Sometimes, I’m asked if I think it’s a good idea for someone who has not gone, either for some time, or never before, to start going to AA. This article will focus on those inquiries.
In the year 2010, I handled over 70 Driver’s License Appeals, and I was successful in every one. I won 100% of the cases I took to Hearing. Of those cases, less than half of the People for whom I won were currently involved in AA. In other words, the majority of the cases I take (and win) are for non- AA people.
I think some of the confusion about this stems from a lack of understanding about the Driver’s License Restoration process. Many years ago, there was certainly a widely accepted perception, if not reality, that the Michigan Secretary of State, through the Driver Assessment and Appeal Division (DAAD), would not grant a License if a person couldn’t prove they were going to AA. This misunderstanding is often repeated by those who have tried to win a License and lost, as well as some who are AA regulars. More than one person has told me they remember going to AA for a while and hearing that you’d never get a License if you didn’t keep going.
This is simply not true. Lot’s of people get cleaned up and remain clean and sober without having to make a lifelong commitment to AA. Unfortunately, AA attendees sometimes lay it on a bit thick, and say that anyone who has a drinking problem, and is not drinking, but also not attending meetings, is a “dry drunk.”
AA is a great program. For some, it is the difference between being sober and not. For others it may have been a great place to get some advice and help as they got themselves better, but then they moved on. For still others, it just wasn’t a good fit, or anything they needed.
What AA does provide for anyone, and especially anyone trying to get their Michigan Driver’s License Restored, is the full spectrum of sobriety strategies. AA people typically have a cliche, or phrase, for just about everything sobriety-related. If you are into AA, you’ve heard them all.
If you’re not into AA, however, for whatever reason, then you will need to learn some of these basic sobriety concepts elsewhere. For many people, these concepts are learned through Counseling or other Outpatient Treatment.
To clarify what we’re talking about, let’s look at an example:
AA has a saying that someone in the program needs to “avoid wet places and wet faces.” This means a person trying to stay sober should not go to bars or places where drinking is the main social interaction. Nor should they hang out with their old drinking friends. This is good advice, and it’s passed quickly to newcomers. It’s a big concept, and an important one, but in AA, it can all be easily summed up in the admonition to “avoid wet places and wet faces.”
Those who never went to AA, but who have managed to get and stay sober, may not have learned the same “wet faces/wet places” language to describe this concept as their AA counterparts, but they do have the same experiences. This means the person who simply gets some outpatient Counseling will learn that in order to establish sobriety, they need to stay out of the bars and away from the drinking parties. Likewise, they’re told that they’ll have to ditch the drinking buddies. Then, before they know it, they find themselves with a full and busy life that does not involve drinking, and they realize that they really don’t miss those drinking buddies anyway. Instead, they make new friends, and have much more substantial relationships with those with whom they interact.
There are loads of other examples, but the point to all of them is that as long as a person does what’s needed to be done to remain alcohol-free, it really doesn’t matter where they learned how to do it. And the Secretary of State understands that in License Appeals.
That said, it is often the case that those with the more chronic or severe alcohol problems find their help in AA. While it’s easy to imagine someone with only 2 or 3 DUI’s, as not having a severe alcohol problem, it becomes difficult to think the same about someone with 5 or 6 DUI’s. For someone with a really deep-seated problem to go from outright alcohol dependence to complete, longtime sobriety, it usually takes more than once a week counseling sessions with a Counselor. Often, these former hardcore drinkers had numerous different Counselors, but needed more.
Even then, a person can learn some very important things about maintaining sobriety in AA, yet get to a point where they simply don’t need to keep attending meetings to remain sober. Many AA people will disagree with this, but I’ve seen far too many people who have gotten sober and moved on with their lives and who no longer go to AA to believe it isn’t done all the time.
When I handle a Driver’s License Restoration case, part of what I do with my Client is help them put terms to their experiences. A person may never have given much thought to the wholesale changes they made in their lives when they quit drinking; they just did it. My job is to help them explain that. In the “wet faces/wet places” example we looked at before, it might only be in retrospect that a person realizes they ditched the drinking friends and moved on. And they might not realize what a monumental change it was to stop going to the bars on weekends and avoid alcohol. At the time, they just did it, and it soon enough just became what they do. Yet when they look back on it, they realize that the whole direction of their social life took a 180-degree turn when they quit drinking.
The key components to winning back a License that was Revoked for multiple DUI’s is that the person be able to articulate how they “morphed” into being sober, and why that’s a forever thing. My job, in a License Restoration case, is to help the Client write that story.
And this really is why I almost never advise anyone who hasn’t been going to AA for support to start attending. It seems to undermine their story of getting and staying sober without AA. In fact, it makes it look like the temptations were so strong that they felt they couldn’t handle them on their own. If you got and remained sober without AA, then that’s your story. We’ll stick with it.