Michigan License Restortation Appeals – Everyone’s Recovery is Different

Having a keen understanding the concepts and principles of Sobriety and Recovery is necessary in order to be a successful License Restoration Lawyer. Beyond a working knowledge of the 12 steps of AA, or the somewhat simple notion of Abstinence, there lies a whole, vast world of different Recovery strategies people use to get and stay sober. This article will focus on how everyone has their own, unique approach to Sobriety, and how being able to articulate that approach is fundamental to winning a License Appeal.

In the body of my various Driver’s License Restoration articles, I have pointed out how the Michigan Secretary of State’s Driver Assessment and Appeal Division (DAAD) has evolved from an agency that pretty much used to only grant Licenses to those actively involved in AA to an agency that has taken on a much broader, more progressive view of the Recovery process. One thing that has not changed a bit, however, is the fact that simply showing up at a Hearing and declaring “I quit drinking” is a sure-fire way to lose a License Appeal.

storybook2.pngI have likewise noted that more than half of the Clients for whom I win back a License are NOT actively involved in AA. Of those, about a third to a half have some prior AA contact. A fair number have never been to a 12 step meeting in their life.

As a group, however, my Clients, meaning people who can and will win (or already have won) their License Appeal, are able, by the time we get to our Hearing, to talk about their personal Recovery strategy. Often enough, when I first meet a Client, they need some help in being able to recount, much less describe, the kinds of changes they went through from being a drinker at the time of their last DUI Arrest to being a non-drinker ready to win a License Appeal. Many of them, at least at first, can’t do much better than say “I quit drinking.” That’s where I come in.

In another article about License Restoration, I observed that everyone undertaking a License Appeal has a “Recovery story.” It may not be written yet, but as I discussed in that article, the process a person undergoes in changing from a drinker into a non-drinker is a “story” in every sense of the word. My job as the person’s Lawyer is to be, amongst other things, a kind of “ghost writer” who helps the person put the words to that story. And make no mistake, those words are important. In order to win a License Appeal, a Recovery story has to hit certain marks. Certain phrases are important. As different as they may be, every Recovery story has certain elements in common.

Some people find and fall in love with AA. AA is still the “golden child” of all Recovery programs. Even if a person never stepped foot into an AA meeting, chances are, if they went through any kind of Counseling or Rehab, they learned certain concepts that have their origin in AA.

For example, the notion of not being able to drink again, or having to remain abstinent, has its roots in AA’s first, and most important step: “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol–that our lives had become unmanageable.”

There are loads of more examples, of course, but the point is that all Recovery stories start from this point.

Those who find a home in AA find a lot more than just strategies to stay sober. Whatever it is they find, rather than judge them for it, I think we should, instead, applaud them for it. Whatever a person finds, that works, to get and keep them sober, is obviously the right choice for them.

Other people went to AA for a time, either because they were Court-ordered, or because they though they should. Some hated every minute of it, while others didn’t mind, or even enjoyed it – for a while. Often, those that discontinue AA attendance talk of “negativity,” or a kind of “cult-like” intensity. Some people find that AA regulars remind them of people of a certain religion, who feel that their way is the only way. Understandably, that can turn a lot of people off.

I also see a fair number of people who still go to AA, but aren’t, by any means, “zealots.” These people often express a fear of being asked to talk about the program in much detail, especially as we move up from the first step. It seems that some people just go to AA, and seem to get enough out of it without the need to keep working the steps over and over. Other AA members see that as wrong. Again, the bigger point here is that if it works, it works.

Those that make progress with one-on-one Counseling are sometimes perplexed at the mind-set that dictates the ONLY way to give up drinking is to become a lifetime AA member. Often, the self-revelations made during Counseling sessions are more than enough to teach a person that they must maintain lifetime abstinence.

My job as a License Restoration Lawyer is to help the Client describe their journey. It is, of course, a foundational requirement that a person knows and appreciate sobriety. I won’t screw around with anyone who tries to tell me that they can learn this stuff, and say whatever it is they think I want them to say, but maintains they’ll have a drink now and then, no matter what anyone says. When I say my job is to help someone write their Recovery story, I’m talking about a biography here, not a work of fiction.

In the larger picture, there are countless ways to achieve and maintain sobriety. Many people know this, while others disagree with it. Those that disagree, however, must understand that everyone is different, and what works for one person may not work for another. Everyone is unique. Long ago, I fell in love with the line “that’s why there are prize-fights and horse-races, and why the paint store has different colors.” Recovery really is no different. It certainly is fair for someone to say something like “this is the ONLY way that works for me.” It isn’t fair to hold that view about anyone else.

As a License Restoration Lawyer, I have handled cases for highly active AA people, others who used to, but no longer go to AA, those involved in Rational Recovery, those who have gotten and maintained Sobriety through Counseling, and even those who have, on their own, gotten into “cognitive restructuring” and found that journaling every day is the best way for them to remain sober. I’ve pretty much seen it all. That broader, more holistic understanding of Sobriety and Recovery is necessary to help my Clients, who may come from any “school” of Recovery, translate their experiences into a “Recovery story.” Despite having handled hundreds and hundreds of cases, the one constant is that every person’s story, just like the person themselves, is unique.