I have pointed out in numerous articles on this blog and on my website that you don’t need to be in AA to win a Michigan Driver’s License Appeal. I guarantee I’ll win every case I take, and the reality is that less than half of my Clients are active in AA. That translates to mean that more than half of my Clients, all of whom are guaranteed a win, are not involved in AA. Yet there exists a lingering notion that you have to be in AA to win your license back, or that it’s “better” if you are. While active involvement in AA is never a bad thing, and can usually be made to work to your advantage, in the context of a Driver’s License Restoration case, such involvement is absolutely not necessary.
This means that not being in AA doesn’t present any problem in winning a License Restoration or Clearance case. Problems do arise, however, when people don’t believe this and claim to be involved in AA when they’re not, or otherwise exaggerate the extent of their involvement in and knowledge of the AA program. You can’t fake this stuff.
At a Driver’s License Restoration Hearing, you will likely be asked about your AA involvement. If you don’t go, or haven’t gone for quite a while, then you won’t be pressed on the subject any further, except that some Hearing Officers may ask why. This isn’t a bad thing, but as anyone who has ever gone to AA knows, the AA program teaches that once you begin attending meetings, you should always keep attending. While I entirely disagree with this sentiment, some of the program’s more vocal advocates will call someone who no longer attends meetings, but is also no longer drinking, a “dry drunk.” That’s not only wrong, it’s counter-productive. Fortunately, most people active in AA know that what works for one person may not work for another, and don’t hold such a misguided view.
If you never went to AA, then you’ll have to explain to the Hearing Officer what you learned about your relationship to alcohol and how you internalized that. You’ll have to describe the tools you’ve developed to avoid triggers and relapse and what changes you’ve made in your life to insure that happens. While this might sound like a tall order, it is precisely the stuff that I help with to insure you win. Remember, I guarantee you’ll win, so I’ll do whatever is necessary to make sure you’re fully prepared for your Hearing.
If you did attend AA in the past, but no longer attend now, then the Hearing Officer is going to want to know why you stopped. This is not an accusatory question. Instead, the Hearing Officer will be looking to see if you simply got what you needed from your time in the program, or had some “issue” with it (many people complain about the “religious” aspect of AA) or simply found something better. Plenty of people find that, by the time they ever get to AA, they’ve just “moved on” and have established a busy, sober lifestyle.
One of the worst things a person can do, however, is to think that they’ve spent enough time around AA to make it seem like they are active in the program, or that they learned things that they cannot articulate very well. This may work for someone who has a few years of attendance to their credit, and only recently quit going, but not for someone who only went for a short time and hasn’t been back for a long while.
As with most of my blog articles, this one was inspired by real life events. Not that long ago, I had a Hearing with a Client who was, without a doubt, really and truly sober. He claimed that for about 8 years, he went to AA 3 to 4 times per week, and then, in the last year, cut back to about once a week. As luck would have it, his case was assigned to the one Hearing Officer who will ask anyone who claims to be involved in AA to repeat a few selected steps. Of course, anyone who has been to between 1500 and 2100 meetings and who still goes should know the steps, right?
At the Hearing, my poor Client couldn’t recall a single step he was asked about, so the frustrated Hearing Officer asked him to recite any step; he couldn’t. He literally couldn’t put two words together that had anything to do with any of the 12 Steps of AA or the serenity prayer. He couldn’t say a single thing about the program other than that he goes to meetings. It was hardly a convincing performance.
Later, he admitted that he grossly exaggerated his AA attendance. He pointed out that he has been sober for nearly 10 years, a fact I did not doubt. Even though he wasn’t exactly truthful about his involvement in AA, and in large part because I know he’s genuinely sober, I am sticking with him and will honor my guarantee and get him back on the road.
The more important point here, however, is that he would have easily won his Appeal right then and there if he had not “fibbed” about his involvement in AA. It would have been no problem for me to work up his case as a guy who did about a year or two in AA long ago, and who has just moved on and lives an alcohol-free sober lifestyle now. He wouldn’t have been asked about any steps. But because he opened the door by claiming a familiarity with the steps of AA, he was asked about it. Had he been more truthful, he’d be driving right now.
This is not an isolated phenomenon. Many years ago, it was the case that the DAAD practically required AA in order to restore a driver’s license. That has changed, but the notion that you have to be in AA to get your license back still lingers. As the case I have just described illustrates, that’s not only untrue, but causes problems. In fact, this misnomer is almost persistent enough to be considered an urban legend.
Beyond exaggerating or faking AA attendance, some people get the idea that they should start going to, or start going back to AA to help their case. This is an equally bad idea. If you’ve maintained your sobriety without AA, and then start going to AA, the DAAD will rightfully wonder if you’ve been struggling with your abstinence and needed some support group help. If that’s the case, then they’ll also likely conclude that perhaps you need a bit more time in the program before a decision can be made on a License Appeal. On the other hand, if you admit you went back to make it “look good,” you won’t be able to offer any real benefit of your AA attendance, and the DAAD will wonder what else you’ll do or say to “look good.”
The best thing to do is to be honest. Think about my guarantee for a moment: If you’re honestly sober, and I take your case, I guarantee I’ll win your license back. You’ll only pay me once. That’s because the real meat and potatoes of a License Appeal is proving, by what’s called “clear and convincing evidence,” that you’re a safe bet to never drink again. Under the DAAD’s Rule 13, this means proving that your alcohol problem is “likely to remain under control.” AA is not required to prove that point, but honesty is. Either you get it, or you don’t. Either you’ve changed your life and committed to remain alcohol-free, or not. If you have, then AA may or may not be a part of that. There’s no point in putting up a phony facade to try and make things “look good.”
AA is an important player in the world of recovery, but it does not define nor does it own the concept of sobriety. AA is the right program for some people, but not for everyone. The DAAD knows this. If you’re really sober, that’s all that matters. You don’t need to go to AA. Moreover, you should never use AA just to “look good,” because you’ll wind up looking just the opposite.