In part 1 of this article, we began our examination of how and why sobriety is a necessary and non-negotiable requirement to win a Michigan driver’s license restoration appeal. We clarified that the 2 main issues you must prove to Michigan Secretary of State’s Driver Assessment and Appeal Division, by “clear and convincing evidence” are first, that your alcohol problem is under control, and second, that it is likely to remain under control.
From that starting point, we analyzed how this all boils down to having to prove that you have been completely abstinent from alcohol for at least a year, and that you have the commitment and tools to remain abstinent for the rest of your life. We reduced this further to the paradoxically simple yet complex reality that you must be sober, and be able to prove it within the evidentiary framework of the “million little rules” that govern Michigan license appeals.
As a Michigan driver’s license restoration lawyer, I guarantee that I will win any license appeal case that I accept, but I only accept clients who are really and truly sober. This is a point that I need to be very clear about: I am not interested in taking a case for someone who has not really and truly quit drinking. Whatever else, I’m glad to speak with anyone, even if he or she is still drinking, and perhaps provide some information that can help him or her tip the scales in favor of quitting. But until a person has truly “put the plug in the jug,” I won’t undertake a license appeal. I am certainly in business to make money, but neither my integrity nor my reputation is for sale, nor am I interested in taking on a case that will wind up requiring “warranty work.”
Sobriety, as we’re describing it, involves not losing sight of the simple, yet evasive fact that once your drinking becomes a problem, you can’t go back. Ever. There is no managing or controlling it. Either you quit, and quit for good, or you struggle with alcohol and always wind up on the losing side of things. And while it’s true that most of my clients are not in AA, there are still some powerful truths that the AA program has gifted to the recovery world, and one particularly relevant to this discussion is the characterization of alcohol as “cunning, baffling, and powerful.” You don’t need to be in AA to appreciate its meaning, but you can’t lose sight of it, either. If you’ve gotten really sick from eating a particular brand or kind of food, you will probably never eat it again. Yet people will endure loss of family, friends, jobs, get sent to jail and spend fortunes cleaning up the mess caused by their drinking, only to go right back to it. This baffling and powerful reality is part of the complexity and irrationality of addiction.
A client of mine once rather astutely pointed out that the whole idea of needing to think about drinking in any context of “controlling,” “limiting” or “managing” it essentially proves that you already have a problem. Normal drinkers don’t have to think about controlling their drinking. This is, of course, is decidedly different than a normal person walking into a pastry shop an exercising some self-control. Whatever else, such a person is thinking about limiting his or her calories to under a million on a given occasion, or not buying so much that it goes stale before it gets eaten. That kind of “control” isn’t a concern about sliding into the abyss of self-destruction, and losing friends and family and getting into legal trouble and dealing with things like job loss because of a return to “old ways.”
A normal drinker will automatically stop drinking before he or she gets into trouble. That’s not to say a person who is a “normal” drinker may not have overindulged at various times in his or her life. However, when a person’s use of alcohol, or any substance, for that matter, begins to do real damage and create negative consequences for which he or she must compensate, then things are getting out of hand. Whatever else, a normal drinker doesn’t have a pattern of troubled behavior with alcohol that he or she has to avoid. A person in recovery comes to learn that once he or she has established a troubled drinking pattern, the only kind of “moderation” that works for him or her is complete and total abstinence. This is always a lesson learned the hard way, and usually only after a person has racked up countless failed attempts to control, limit or manage his or her drinking.
There is always a key moment that represents a turning point for those who really get sober. Most people call this “hitting bottom,” but not everyone. Whatever one calls it, without fail, everyone who really gets sober comes to a realization that can only be described as moment of “clarity” when he or she just “gets it” that drinking can no longer play a role in his or her life. There is no middle ground here, and this profound realization almost always comes with a cost, or as the climax to a dramatic situation, like a final DUI or some family blowout. This “epiphany” almost never comes as a result of something good. When viewed in retrospect, this moment of clarity stands as a clear dividing line between your old life and your new one.
No one every simply and only “quits drinking,” either, at least for good. If drinking has become a problem, then successfully and permanently quitting involves a whole spectrum of life changes, from how you deal with stress, celebrate happy events and socialize, to who you hang around with (or not, once the drinking stops), where you hang out, what you do, and how you relate to friends and family, many of whom have been sidelined while you continued to drink. In other words, really quitting drinking involves countless, almost global personal changes. Staying sober necessarily involves a “sober lifestyle.” While everyone has his or her own understanding of what that means, it certainly means a new, alcohol-free way of living very different from your drinking lifestyle.
This is true for just about everyone, no matter what the relationship for alcohol. Obviously, the kind of everyday, all-night drinker with a regular seat at the bar will have to make more dramatic and immediate changes to his or her lifestyle than a person who was a “binge” drinker, or who didn’t surround him or herself with an army of “drinking friends.” Some people, in fact, learn to become very adept at hiding their drinking. Whether you lived at the bar or kept your drinking secret and only binged, the changes necessary to support lifetime sobriety are still profound.
In time, not drinking becomes second nature for a person who has embraced sobriety. That’s both a blessing and a curse, because as easy as it becomes to not pick up a drink, a person can, if he or she loses sight of things, become convinced that, with enough sober time to his or her credit, things are somehow different, and that a glass of wine with dinner would be okay because he or she sees a very diminished role for alcohol in his or her life. We’ve already discussed this risk of relapse, but real sobriety means never, ever forgetting that you can’t go back. The key to success here is to always remember that your drinking problem can go into remission, and remain that way for life, but that the first drink restarts everything all over again.
Most people find that sobriety brings all kinds of other positive changes to their lives beyond not just getting in trouble anymore. It is very common, for example, that a person will finish up a college degree, or go back to school for an advanced degree, or get “entrepreneurial” and start (or rebuild) a business, or at least do so much better at work that promotions and pay raises become the norm, and not the exception. The simple and delightful reality is that sober people succeed. Being sober doesn’t make your debts go away, nor does it put more money in your pocket, but it changes your direction in life in a major way. Whatever else, everyone who gets sober reports feeling better physically and emotionally, having better relationships with the people in their lives that matter, and having better finances because they are not blowing money like they used to.
This hardly scratches the surface of how things change once the drinking stops, but if you’re really sober, then you have already experienced at least some of these dramatic changes, and just “get it.” If all of this puzzles you, or seems too wordy, or just too much, then you probably haven’t had your wake-up call yet. That’s fine. For those lucky enough to “get it,” it never comes too soon. I’ve had clients with 13 DUI’s and others with more than 22 rehabs before the light bulb finally went off. Ironically, being smart is sometimes an obstacle to “getting it” because smarter people will often think themselves right out of getting or staying sober. They’ll convince themselves that, because they are intelligent, they should somehow have a better capacity to control their drinking, and we know how that goes…
All of this analysis needs to be related in your various letters of support and to the counselor who does your substance abuse evaluation, who, in turn, will need to translate and relate it clearly, but succinctly, on the state’s substance abuse evaluation form that’s filed as part of your license appeal. This is why my first meeting with a new client is scheduled for 3 hours; I need to know that all of this gets communicated thoroughly so that the evaluator “hears” it from the client. To make sure of that, I have developed a “substance abuse evaluation checklist” that I fill out as I go over the substance abuse evaluation, line-by-line, with my client. I send a copy of the checklist with the client to give to the evaluator so that I can make sure nothing is missed. Likewise, I review the letters of support line-by-line to make sure they provide the information they must.
In the end, this all works out rather well, because underlying everything we’ve just discussed is the unrivaled power satisfaction of knowing that your appeal will win because it is completely based upon the truth. Nothing can provide better or more confidence than that. If you’ve really quit drinking, I can help you put together a winning case and get you back on the road with a valid license back into your wallet. It all starts, however, with sobriety.