AA is NOT Necessary to win a Michigan Driver’s License Appeal

One of the most common misconceptions about winning back your Michigan driver’s license is that you have to be in AA to do so. Many people convicted of 2 or more DUI’s are ordered by their Judge to attend AA for a time. The cold, hard truth is that while some folks take to the program, most people don’t like it. Unfortunately, a lot of people otherwise eligible to file a Michigan driver’s license restoration appeal are under the misunderstanding that they need AA in order to win. This is simply NOT true. I am a busy driver’s license appeal lawyer and I guarantee to win every case I take, so I speak from unmatched successful experience when I point out that the majority of my clients are not involved in AA.

Room_Main 1.2.jpgFor some reason, there is a lingering notion that sobriety isn’t “official” or real if it’s not backed by AA attendance. That’s just plain wrong, and should help us appreciate the significance of the old saying that “the proof is in the pudding.” If you have been abstinent from alcohol for any length of time and you do not attend AA, then you know, because you are living proof, that a person can remain sober without attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. More important than what you or I know, at least within the context of a driver’s license restoration appeal, is the fact that the Michigan Secretary of State, through its Driver Assessment and Appeal Division (DAAD, and formerly known as the DLAD) also understands that many people can maintain an alcohol-fee life without having to be “in” AA. This was not always the case, however, and it is this leftover vestige from days gone by that perpetuates this urban legend that you can’t stay sober, much less win your license back without being part of the program.

As a DUI and license appeal lawyer with extensive post-graduate clinical training in addiction studies, I know that numerous studies have empirically validated the fact (and yes, it is a fact) that the majority of people who maintain long-term sobriety do it without staying in AA. More specifically, studies show, and my real-world experience confirms, that about 2 out of 3 people who manage sustained abstinence from alcohol do so on their own, without AA, and often with only the support of family, friends, and a better outlook on life. If this sounds like you, then the only thing preventing you from starting the process to get your license back is your own hesitation.

Often enough, someone will call my office wanting to know if he or she should “start” going to AA, or go “back” to AA in order to look good for a license appeal. While my answer is almost always “no,” it’s not just about convenience. Part and parcel of the whole driver’s license and clearance process is being honest; if you’re genuinely and honestly sober, then the story of how you got there shouldn’t be dressed up for the sake of appearance. You either attend AA to stay sober, or not. If not, then let’s begin the license appeal process by being truthful. If you don’t drink, and you don’t feel the need to go to AA, I will make sure you slip a valid license back into your wallet without having to be at meetings you don’t need attend just to “look good.” The whole idea of winning a license appeal based upon anything other than the straight truth is really antithetical to the larger principles of honesty in recovery, and nothing I want any part of.

As it turns out, amongst those 2 out of 3 people who maintain sobriety without attending AA, the majority have, in the past, gone to meetings, even if only for a brief stint. In many of these cases, their attendance at AA was mandated by a court order. The reasons people have for not staying in AA are all over the map, but the one unifying factor in all the stories of those who have maintained sobriety is that the person felt strong enough in his or her commitment to not drink again. As it turns out, AA often lays a foundation for a person’s ability and otherwise has a way of restating a person’s resolution to live alcohol-free. While different people can take different things from their time in AA, the real gift of the program is the idea that a person is “powerless” over alcohol. For all that has been written about this, the translation (that helps with a license appeal) is the notion that a person simply cannot drink again, meaning never, not once, and not even a sip.

This concept of “powerlessness” is passed on even to people who have never set foot in an AA meeting. The message of every rehab program and substance abuse counselor is that you cannot pick up another drink – ever. While in AA this is discussed as “powerlessness,” the take away is the simple idea that you just cannot pick up. You can spend 20 years in AA, but until you internalize the notion that you cannot consume alcohol, you haven’t really gotten the message. By contrast, some people have never been to a single AA meeting but have hit bottom so hard that they have an epiphany moment that leaves them without a molecule of doubt that they can never drink again.

To be sure, there are some diehards who want to find a way to drink again, even after alcohol has done nothing for them but cause trouble. For all that we could say about that, you can take this to the bank: You will NEVER win your license back if you so much as hint that you think you may ever be able to drink again.

In fact, this very concept highlights a subtle, but important difference as it relates to “getting it.” This distinction is really as much about the essence of true sobriety as it is a license appeal. Lots of people “know” that they should not drink, or need to quit drinking, or that even one drink is a potentially troublesome risk, but they drink anyway. This is why we often describe someone as having a troubled relationship with alcohol. “Knowing” that you need to quit, and actually quitting are two different things. When the understanding that you need to stop drinking internalizes to the point that you take action and do whatever is necessary to remain alcohol-free, that’s “getting it.” A client of mine once said something to the effect that you can say you’re powerless all you want, but it’s really accepting it (or, as I put it, “internalizing” it) that matters.

There are 2 things you must prove, by what is legally defined as “clear and convincing evidence,” to win restoration of your Michigan license or the clearance of a Michigan hold upon your driving record: First, you must prove that your alcohol problem is “under control,” and second, you must prove that it “is likely to remain under control.” We can simplify things here by equating “under control” with showing you haven’t had a drink in a specified and demonstrable period of time, and “likely to remain under control” with a firm commitment and ability (I often say “having the tools”) to remain alcohol-free.

The notion of “getting it,” of internalizing that you can never drink again speaks directly to the requirement that your alcohol problem “is likely to remain under control.” This is the key to winning back your license, and it matters far more whether you really “get it” than whether or not you are going to meetings.

That said, AA people have an advantage because they have all kinds of clichés and phrases that capture the essence of “getting it.” That’s great, but the problem is anyone can repeat those phrases without really believing them. In fact, AA has a phrase about that very idea, encouraging people to come back to meetings and “fake it ’till you make it,” with the idea that you may not “get it” now, but you might/will later. This is actually good advice for anyone struggling with his or her drinking, but it doesn’t help a hearing officer deciding a license appeal. For my part, I can rather easily distinguish between someone who knows all the buzzwords and someone who is the real deal, and a very big part of what I do to win a case is show how my client has, in fact, really “gotten it.” This is the same distinction as being able to talk the talk or walk the walk. The markers of real sobriety cannot be faked, and all the buzzwords and phrases in the world don’t cut to the heart of the matter. However, when a person has really had that life-changing experience of having had enough (the AA cliché here is “sick and tired of being sick and tired”), and then making all the changes to establish a sober lifestyle, it is more than enough, if presented properly, to prove the issues in a license reinstatement appeal. If you’ve had this “a-ha” moment in your life, I can take that and turn it into a winning case so that you can get back on the road.