During a meeting with a new driver’s license restoration client this week, I was reminded that there are a lot of misconceptions about the Michigan driver’s license restoration/clearance process. In this and the next article, I will take up two of the more common misunderstandings about winning back your Michigan license: First, in this article, we’ll examine why being in AA is NOT necessary to win. In the next installment, we’ll dispel the notion that you first have to lose a license appeal before you can win.
Let’s begin this article with the conclusion, and examine the details thereafter. You do not need to be involved in AA to win a driver’s license restoration appeal. I guarantee that if I take your license restoration or clearance case, I will win it. It is from this position of authority that I can point out that less than half of my clients are actively involved in AA. Put another way, more than half of my clients for whom I win license appeals are not involved in the Alcoholics Anonymous program. Considering that I file and win more than 100 license appeals each year, I can back up what I say with more experience in any given year than almost any other lawyer will have in an entire lifetime.
Winning a license restoration case without AA was not always the case. Years ago, it seemed almost impossible to win your license back in Michigan without being in AA. In fact, there was a time when I’d screen potential license restoration clients by simply asking if they were currently attending AA; if their answer was yes, then we’d talk. If the answer was no, then I’d tell them go to AA, get a year of it under their belt, and call me back. As unfair as it was, that was how things worked.
Things have changed. There is a long story behind how and why things are better now, but I doubt the reader isn’t interested in all of that; I certainly wouldn’t be if I were just interested in getting my license back. The bottom line is that the DAAD (Michigan Secretary of State Driver Assessment and Appeal Division) has evolved, at least to a point, and understands that AA isn’t for everyone. And it is on precisely this point where I bring an unrivaled advantage because I have a formal clinical education in the field of addiction studies at the post-graduate level that has afforded me a comprehensive, fundamental and modern understanding of the development, diagnosis and treatment of alcohol and drug problems. This helps me win license reinstatement cases, especially for people who are not in AA.
My formal and specialized education means enable me to examine and then explain, in both proper clinical and necessary legal terms, the recovery of someone who is not in AA. This is important, because in order to win a Michigan license clearance or restoration appeal, you have to prove 2 things: First, that your alcohol problem is under control, and second, that your alcohol problem is likely to remain under control. These two things must be proven by what is defined as “clear and convincing evidence.” I have examined that in enough detail elsewhere; the point here is that you have to convince the hearing officer that you’re a safe bet to never drink again, and you have to do that by more than just saying so…
I heard a great line today that fits here: In theory, there is no difference between practice and theory, whereas in practice, there is a huge difference between theory and practice. In theory, the DAAD, meaning the agency in general, and the hearing officers that decide the license reinstatement cases in particular, should be acquainted with the entire spectrum of recovery process that people use to go from drinker to non-drinker. In practice, the only people who really know about all of this are the more holistic and/or modern substance abuse counselors, and guys like me, who actually study this stuff.
In the real world, most people who can talk about recovery (as distinguished from those who are actually in recovery) are limited to doing so in terms that are AA-based. Whatever else, AA still holds an authoritative position in the world because it provides what is essentially the language of recovery. I can take whatever terms a person uses to describe his or her journey from drinker to non-drinker and at least translate that into the language that will resonate with the hearing officer. In some of my earlier driver’s license restoration blog articles, I explained that the transformation a person undergoes as he or she morphs from drinking to becoming alcohol-free is really his or her recovery story, and that an important part of my job is to help cast that story in the proper terms. We are trying to win your license back, after all. We don’t need to come up with a best-selling story as long as it sells well enough at the DAAD to win your case.
The most important part of this story is that it is true. I note everywhere that I don’t get involved with anyone who has not really quit drinking. If, however, a person has really gotten sober, I will guarantee that I’ll win his or her license back. This is key, because although we may have to translate a person’s recovery story a bit, we won’t have to fabricate any part of it. This points to a common distinction between AA and non-AA people. Whatever else, people who are really involved in AA are used to telling their story at meetings. When I have a client that is active in the program, I call their AA experience as I prep them for their hearing. I’ll tell my client that as I ask certain questions, to think of answering them as they would if they were sitting at a first step table.
This can be challenging for anyone who no longer goes to AA, and makes no sense to anyone who has never gone to AA. It is here that I focus my efforts as I help the person frame his or her narrative in ways he or she may have never thought before. Not to be immodest about it, but I do this rather well, as I win almost every case I take the first time (I wouldn’t offer a guarantee otherwise).
For those people who went to AA but stopped, the simple reality is that the program didn’t offer enough to keep them coming back. I am surprised at how frequently people will ask about going back to AA “to make it look good.” I have one simple question for anyone who wonders if he or she should go back: Do you really want to? Of course, the answer is always “no,” because if someone really wanted to go, they’d be going. If your recovery has been sustained without AA, then why would you even consider pretending otherwise? If AA is not part of your sobriety, then lets win your license back honestly.
While I can do it in person, it really falls beyond the depth of this article to explain how even a person who has never set foot in an AA meeting still gets some benefit from AA. The basis of all counseling is to help a person unlearn drinking behavior, and that starts with helping the person understand that the first drink is the problem. AA bundles this concept into its first step, which provides that “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol and that our lives had become unmanageable.” For all the interpretation you can put on this, it comes down to accepting that you cannot drink anymore, and that the first drink is the one that starts it all. The takeaway is simple: No drinking – not a drop – ever again.
While most people who are in recovery will have some counseling or even AA to their credit, and will have learned in some way or another that the key to sobriety is just not picking up that first drink, there are some people who figure this out on their own. To be sure, when that happens, it’s usually a lesson that has been learned the hard way, after everything else has failed, but the larger point is that it all comes back to just not picking up a drink.
Because AA gives us the language of recovery, it presents a challenge to explain recovery without using AA terms. In the last number of years, skilled counselors have found tremendous success in helping people get and stay sober using techniques like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), rational emotive behavioral therapy (REBT), motivational interviewing (MI) as well as brief interventions. These methods have been empirically validated again and again, and are in use all around the country. This is not to take anything away from AA, but AA is to recovery what weight watchers is to weight loss; just another method of getting it done.
The problem, of course, is in being able to articulate this to a hearing officer whose programming is in AA lexicon. I can; I not only have more experience than I’ll ever need, but I have the clinical background and the language of the clinician at my disposal. I do this all the time, and I do it well enough to bet that if I take your case (real sobriety being the main prerequisite), I will win it, no AA required.
In the next article, we will dispel another misconception about winning a Michigan driver’s license restoration or clearance case – the idea that you have to lose first, before you can win. If there was even a grain of truth to that, I would not offer a win-guarantee in every license appeal case I take.