Why a “Sober Lifestyle” is Important in a Michigan Driver’s License Restoration Appeal

Part of what “inspires” me to write any given article on this blog is often that a particular subject has come up in my dealings with Clients and/or those who call my Office. Recently, the subject of a “sober lifestyle” has come up in several contexts, and, given its importance and relevance to a License Appeal, I thought we might put this issue on the table for a closer examination.

The whole concept of a “sober lifestyle” is more or less an inherent and necessary, if not overlooked, component of Recovery and Sobriety, much like electricity is a necessary element of watching TV. It’s there, but we don’t spend much time thinking about it.

No Booze2.jpgHowever, the State, particularly the Hearing Officers of the Secretary of State’s Driver Assessment and Appeal Division (DAAD), do think about it. They look for it in any License Appeal that they decide.

In other License Restoration articles, I have examined the finer points of the issues involved in a License Appeal. Here, we can simply and summarily point out that the two main issues being evaluated by those Hearing Officers are whether the person filing the License Appeal can prove, by Clear and Convincing Evidence, that:

  1. Their alcohol problem is under control, and, (more importantly), that
  2. Their alcohol problem is LIKELY to remain under control.

As I noted above, the whole notion of a “sober lifestyle” is, more often than not, just an inherent part of a person’s Sobriety. Once a person has maintained Sobriety for any length of time, the whole “sober lifestyle” thing becomes second nature, like brushing your teeth in the morning before you leave for the day. However, that “sober lifestyle” is also one of the strongest predictors of a person’s likelihood to remain alcohol-free, or to use the State’s terminology, that the person’s alcohol problem “is likely to remain under control.”

For the reader who has undergone the transformation from drinker to non-drinker, let’s rewind a bit, to right before your last drink. On that score, the majority, although not all of those who get Sober, fix their last drink as the date of their last DUI Arrest. It really doesn’t matter when it was; just think back to a few weeks before you “put the plug in the jug,” to use a familiar phrase.

You probably hung with a particular group of friends. And you probably hung out at any number of particular places. In addition, most drinkers usually tend to buy their alcohol at the same place, or couple of places. There is a certain routine. Even for those “closet drinkers” who imbibed privately, often at home, there was, in most cases, a certain predictable regularity to their drinking behavior.

This also applies to those who could be described as “binge drinkers.” Even though a person’s drinking may have been sporadic, there still was that same element of predictability to it, often that having been the risk of bad things happening once they started. It is often said by and of these people that “I didn’t necessarily get into trouble every time I drank, but every time I got into trouble, I had been drinking.”

Now, turn to the first day after a person decides to quit drinking. Most people, as I noted, make this commitment after having been Arrested for their last DUI, whether that last DUI was their 2nd, or 3rd, or 5th, or 13th. Soon enough, “bar night” rolls around, or some friends call to go out, and the person finally steps up and says “no.” Even those who may have not yet committed to remaining alcohol-free for life will respond to their “friends” that they need to lay low, or take a break for a bit.

And then a curious thing happens. Those “friends” disappear. They vanish. It’s like ties have been instantly and permanently cut with them. It’s cold, instant, and permanent. In most cases, they never see their “drinking buddies” again.

Other things start to happen, as well. Maybe the person used to stop off at ABC party store after work on Fridays and by their beer, or liquor, or whatever. Now, when Friday rolls around, the person plans on getting a bag of chips and a diet Mountain Dew, or whatever, instead of their usual alcoholic beverage.

Almost instinctively, the person avoids ABC party store. They almost automatically go elsewhere. They simply don’t want to walk into the store and have Sam, the guy behind the counter, ask something like “you want your vodka tonight?” or “how come you don’t get your Budweiser today?” The person just knows that part of getting cleaned up is replacing old habits with new habits.

Many people find their way to AA, at least for a while. Whether through AA or other Counseling, they learn the importance of avoiding “wet places and wet faces.” Whatever path they follow, they first begin to focus on NOT doing what they had been doing before. Again, it is a matter of replacing old habits with new habits.

At first, this takes work. Changing any routine requires effort. As a lady I once knew said to me, early in her transformation from drinker to non-drinker, “do I miss my old friend (meaning her drink of choice)? Of course I do, but I know we had to sever our relationship.”

Often, the thought of an upcoming weekend is almost frightening to a person who has decided to give up drinking. What will they do? They imagine themselves sitting on the couch, bored, and cut off from the familiar world. Will they be able to get through without cracking?

However it happens, it happens. They make it through the weekend. They find things to do.

Other changes take place, as well. The person will make sure that there isn’t any alcohol kept in their home. Partners, roommates and/or spouses don’t drink around the person in Recovery, if at all. Many of these “significant others” give up drinking altogether in order to help and support the other person’s Sobriety. And each successive weekend becomes progressively easier.

Then, at some point, without ever realizing it, those “new” habits become old habits. The person has successfully filled in the “empty” spaces created by not drinking with other things. And those things have now become routine. NOT drinking becomes as second nature as breathing. It just happens.

And it is at that point, when an alcohol-free lifestyle becomes second nature, that a person can be truly seen as having established a “sober lifestyle.”

Very often, people in Recovery will take to things like exercising, or getting outdoors, or becoming involved in some activity, as part of the recovery process. They’ll find, or re-discover some hobby or interest to occupy their time.

The DAAD knows that such a change and/or transformation is an inherent part of getting and maintaining Sobriety. That’s why they look for it in every License Appeal. Whether such changes are dramatic and exciting, or more subdued and subtle, they are always present as a person becomes Sober.

Part of my job, as the Lawyer for the person in a Driver’s License Restoration Appeal is to help put that transformation into words. Establishing a “sober lifestyle” is a story. My job is to help write that story.

In the end, the State isn’t so concerned about all the details of that story as much as it is concerned that there IS a story there. As we noted, some people make significant changes, and take up exciting new activities. Others just kind of plod through things, but nevertheless establish a lifestyle and routine that is grounded in being and remaining alcohol-free. Whatever the details, in any case where a person has gone from being a drinker of whatever frequency to a committed non-drinker, there will always be the verifiable hallmarks of a “sober lifestyle.”

Having established a “sober lifestyle,” and then maintaining it is seen as both a necessary and VERY strong indicator of the likelihood that a person will remain alcohol-free. And given the proofs that need to be made in order to win a License Appeal (and remember, the person must prove their case by “Clear and Convincing Evidence), particularly that the person’s “alcohol problem is likely to remain under control,” this critical component cannot be overlooked. Instead, it must be clearly and properly presented in order to insure the person does, in fact, get back on the road again.