In part 1 of this article, I began outlining my views on what it takes to be a Michigan driver’s license restoration lawyer. I pointed out that the primary legal issue in a license appeal, that you prove by “clear and convincing evidence” that your alcohol problem is likely to remain under control, requires fitting certain clinical criteria into a legal framework set up by the Michigan Secretary of State through its Driver Assessment and Appeal Division, or DAAD. In this second part, we’ll pick up with my role, somewhat comparable to a psychotherapist’s role, in going back and exploring the mental processes that were going on inside your head when you decided to quit drinking, and how you grappled with and eventually came to understand and internalize those recovery concepts that helped you become a non-drinker. More specifically, we’ll look at how whatever you’ve learned about why you cannot drink is enough to sustain your continued sobriety and prove to the state that you’re a safe and sober bet to put back on the road.
If you’ve been to AA, but no longer go, you may not remember certain phrases that nevertheless doubtlessly influenced your recovery. If you spent weeks or months, but not necessarily years in AA, you probably spent much of that time working the first step. Even if you hated AA, you likely came to understand that there is a ton of not-so-obvious meaning in that first step. It’s wording is esoteric to an outsider: “We admitted that we were powerless over alcohol, and that our lives had become unmanageable.” Of course you learned the somewhat obvious meaning that you must admit you have a problem, but newcomers are given lots of advice (this is sometimes a problem) about the other, subtler meanings of the first step, like taking it “one day at a time,” and thinking of alcohol as “cunning, baffling and powerful.” You heard phrases like “avoid wet faces and wet places,” and that you just need “to put the plug in the jug.”
For some people, AA is a great match. Some of this may have to do with finding the right meeting, or at least finding a meeting without the wrong person. Almost everyone who has gone to AA has had an experience at some meeting or other with someone that has too strong a personality, or is just too opinionated, or is otherwise some combination of a blowhard, loudmouthed know-it-all. That kind of personality is a complete turn off. Unfortunately, some people don’t take the time to look around for another meeting without Mr. or Ms. Obnoxious, and just write AA off because that kind of experience. As a license restoration lawyer, the entire palate of these things are as familiar to me as is my drive to work.
Understanding things like the background of AA, and how it was founded (by Dr. Bob and Bill W.,) and how the disease model of alcoholism came to gain favor, and how that was influenced by the work of E.M Jellinek is foundational to what I do. In order to win a license appeal in a world where about 1 out of 3 people in recovery are involved in AA, you better darn well be an expert of sorts in AA. Knowing that there are 12 steps, or even knowing those steps is a far cry from “knowing” AA. To fully understand something, you need to know the good and the bad, and understand how those things contribute to a client either being a good fit with AA, or not.
Accordingly, it is equally, if not more important to understand the other ways that people recover, given that 2 out of 3 will do it without continued involvement in AA. To understand the broader concepts of recovery, however, you must first understand the various theories of addiction. There is a growing body of scientific research in this field. I am familiar with all of the major theories of addiction because I have formally studied them. This becomes important in reviewing a substance abuse evaluation, for example, because each and every evaluator bases his or her findings on whatever theory they believe. As an example, I recently reviewed an evaluation wherein the evaluator clearly noted that the person was in the “maintenance stage” of recovery. She used this term formally, meaning she viewed the process of addiction and recovery from the perspective of what’s know as the trans-theoretical model popularized by Carlos DiClemente. Unfortunately, she had given the client a “fair” prognosis for continued abstinence, a conclusion about which I disagreed. My formal, post-graduate addiction studies education allowed me to communicate with her, in the language of her profession, how and why I believed her prognosis to be inconsistent with her diagnosis. I know the trans-theoretical model (TTM) rather well.
By contrast to being an active AA member, some people just go through a term outpatient counseling and manage to quit drinking. Other people go for longer-term therapy. What matters is that you’ve come away from whatever you’ve done with a complete understanding that, in order to remain sober, you can’t ever drink again. Because just saying so isn’t enough to win a license appeal, I’ll help you go back and explain what was going on inside your head as you became alcohol free, even if it’s been a long time. To do that, however, requires that I understand the broad panorama of ways people come to understand the nature of their drinking problems, and the strategies and tools they use to make the transition from drinker to non-drinker.
While the DAAD hearing officers (at least those before whom I practice) generally have a solid understanding of recovery concepts, they are not clinicians. In the academic/research world, there is an important concept, relevant here, called diffusion. Diffusion refers to how long it takes for things discovered in the research setting to find their way into practice. Generally speaking, new concepts confirmed through research take about a decade or so to become mainstream in the treatment setting. A lot of this has to do with the way treatment providers are trained. For example, 20 and 30 years ago, AA was still king of the hill, meaning that most clinicians had a bias for AA as part of a recovery program. Back then, many clinicians were people who had gone through their own recovery, and AA was the order of the day. Many of those counselors are still working in the field, but over the last decade, newer therapists with more updated treatment methods beyond AA have come into the field, both changing the makeup with their presence and helping to broaden the understanding of older, established clinicians.
While diffusion is measured in years in the clinical setting, it is measured in decades in the judicial setting. As AA is quickly becoming regarded as simply one of a multitude of treatment methodologies in the clinical world, the new crop of sobriety courts popping up all over Michigan are exclusively AA oriented. In other words, the modern counselor knows that AA only works for about 1 out of 3 people in recovery, but the court system doesn’t even recognize any recovery processes beyond AA. Thus, the judicial system is a solid 20 years behind current treatment protocols.
Fortunately, the DAAD hearing officers (again, at least those before whom I practice) have a much better understanding of treatment and recovery concepts than do most state Judges. To be fair, the hearing officers spend pretty much all day, every day dealing with these very issues, while a Judge has to decide all kinds of things, from a trespass case to a lawsuit to a speeding ticket and everything in-between. Even so, part of my role in representing a license restoration client whose recovery isn’t based on AA, or could otherwise be described as “non-traditional,” is to enlighten the hearing officer about its efficacy. Dogma and myth and superstition must give way to