The Sobriety Requirement in a Michigan Driver’s License Restoration or Clearance Case

This real “meat and potatoes” of a Michigan driver’s license restoration case focuses on whether or not you have really quit drinking. It only makes sense that the state makes sure a person is not at risk for another DUI by making sure the person can prove he or she is not a risk to drink again. Non-drinkers are simply not a threat to drive drunk. It is easy, perhaps to a point of oversimplification, to say that sobriety is a first requirement in a license restoration or clearance appeal. Similarly, it is easy to say that you’re sober, but the test, both to win back your license and to remain alcohol-free over the long term, is whether or not you really accept that you cannot ever drink again. In this article, I want to look at the markers of real sobriety and how their presence helps a license appeal filed with the Michigan Secretary of State Administrative Hearing Section (AHS). Every so often, it becomes necessary for me to do an article like this to keep it front and center that you must have genuinely quit drinking to win your license back and to identify with those who have made the profound life changes involved in getting sober.

Sign.jpgNothing in life is perfect, but the “ideal” candidate to win a Michigan driver’s license restoration or clearance case is someone who, after racking up multiple DUI’s, has a “light bulb” moment (AA people call this “hitting bottom”) and realizes that alcohol can no longer be in his or her life. From that point, pretty much everything changes. The drinking friends are ditched and there is no more going to bars or alcohol purchases.. At first, this requires a big adjustment. It’s easy to quit drinking, but staying quit takes a lot of commitment and work. There is what could almost be a “mourning period” when a person first eliminates alcohol from his or her life. When friends call to go out, or the usual stop to pick up something to drink on the way home is suddenly cut out of a person’s routine, there is a void, and it takes time to fill. However, for those that have really had their wake-up call and finally quit drinking, there soon enough comes a point where life gets a lot better. Another AA saying describes this well: “My worst day sober beats the hell out of my best day drunk.” These are the foundational experiences of a person’s recovery story and upon which we will build a winning license appeal.

No one quits drinking because it’s working out so well. By the time most people get a 2nd or 3rd (or 4th, 5th, or even 6th) DUI, drinking has become a problem that affects more than just driving. Of course, plenty of people don’t see it at the time, but hindsight being 20-20, most people can see this rather clearly in retrospect. And by the time anyone decides to quit, it’s safe to say that drinking wasn’t fun anymore. Perhaps part of the problem is that drinking and the activities that surround it become a habit, but not necessarily a physically addicting habit to everyone. In other words, even though a person may not be physically dependent upon alcohol, he or she may have no idea how to spend the weekends without it, or without the usual circle of friends who drink. Fast forward a few years, though, and instead of missing those friends, the sober person feels sorry for them, because they don’t know anything better and haven’t moved passed the miserable existence of working all week just to get f-d up all weekend.

When you think about it, it’s kind of sad that someone would work hard all week, putting up with all the garbage that life and a job throws at them, and think that the ultimate reward for all of that is to get hammered Friday and Saturday night. Of course, over time drinking days often grow to include Thursday and Sunday nights, and can even eat into the work week, as well. When a person is caught up in that lifestyle, it’s not unusual for them to think of anyone staying home on a Friday or Saturday night as some kind of loser, as though the person at home is somehow missing out. If and when these people become sober, they have to shake their heads at that kind of thinking. Many of my sober clients cherish family time and being at home on the weekends in a way they never thought possible.

And that kind of clear thinking does a lot more than just open up the weekends. Without fail, and I mean, quite literally, with no exceptions whatsoever, when a person gets sober, the trajectory of his or her life aims up a lot higher than it did before. People go back to school and wrap up a college degree; some go back and earn a graduate degree. Many find better employment, and some even become their own boss. While the circle of “friends” shrinks, as the drinking buddies get left out, they find that their relationships get much better because, once sober, they earn back the trust and respect of those who really matter. Most of all, sober people actually do things. Drunks talk about doing things, and talk about all kinds of things, but they don’t really ever do anything except drink and talk. When people get sober, they begin to live life. It’s not like sobriety means a person has to take up mountain climbing, but even if a person just gets into Netflix or video games, they’re doing a lot more than getting wasted until they pass out.

It’s normal for a person in recovery to have thoughts of drinking pass through their head every now and then. Getting sober doesn’t mean that some part of your brain stops working. The key is to understand that we all have thoughts; it’s the actions we do or do not take that define us. Sober people don’t spend time feeling like they’re “missing out.” They move on. This is probably the key to the whole sobriety thing, which, in turn, is the key to wining a license appeal. At the outset, I noted that it’s really easy to say you’re sober. A client of mine once observed that saying you cannot drink is easy, but accepting it takes work. In the real world, we often try and “scare” people out of drinking. The court system sure does. When you’re on probation, you are told that if you drink, you can (and likely will) get sent to jail. A spouse or partner can threaten to leave if the other person drinks. The fear of another DUI can be a strong disincentive. None of these things, however, is enough to keep a person from alcohol forever. There will inevitably come a time when getting caught or getting in trouble seems remote or unlikely enough that the person will pick up again. To a person, these folks, merely scared out of drinking, have felt that they were “missing out.”

Those people who genuinely accept that they cannot drink (in AA terms, this is the core meaning of the first step: “Admitted we were powerless over alcohol and that our lives became unmanageable”) don’t need fear to keep them from picking up another drink because they have moved way past that and are enjoying their sobriety. Every day, I meet with people who have found a partner, saved a relationship or done something like really getting into staying healthy and attribute that to getting sober. Once a person accepts that he or she cannot drink anymore, they quit bumming out over it and move on. When you talk to these people about what keeps them sober, they don’t list all the problems that a drink would bring nearly as quickly as they talk about all the good things that not drinking has allowed to happen in their lives.

Yet as good as this sounds, you can’t make a person “accept” his or her powerlessness, or that he or she can’t drink. It’s a life lesson that has to come from within. When you spend as much time as I (or the Secretary of State hearing officers) do in this field, you come to develop a feel for this. That’s why an important part of my job is helping my clients develop their recovery story. It’s not that we can make one up where it doesn’t already exist, but rather that many people have never thought about it this way. As much “feel good” as there is to this, I have to help cast it in the legal framework of a license appeal. Fortunately, I’m good enough at doing this that when I do take a case, I do so with a guarantee that I will win it.

If there is a litmus test here, it’s that those people who really “get it,” meaning those who have honestly accepted that they cannot drink again (and therefore present as viable candidates to win a license appeal case), understand this, even if they’ve never thought of it this way. If this doesn’t make any sense to you, then you’re probably not there yet; that’s okay. Know this, however; nobody gets sober without trying. Pretty much everyone who has gotten sober has heard all about it before and didn’t think it was for them. Many people get sober after trying and failing any number of times before. Never quit quitting. That’s the value of a lot of AA and counseling; it may not work right then and there, but the things one hears eventually come back to have meaning later on. As much as there is a first step, there are even steps leading up to that. I am happy to talk to anyone about this, and has nothing to do with setting up a client for the future. If I can help someone who is struggling with his or her relationship to alcohol tip the decisional balance in favor of not drinking anymore, I’m glad to do it.

If you’re sober and need to win your license back, or you now live out of state and need a clearance of a Michigan hold on your driving record, I can get you back on the road, guaranteed. Call my office, Monday through Friday, from 8:30 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. (EST) at 248-986-9700 or 586-465-1980 and we’ll talk about your situation. We’re here to help. If you’re not yet sober, but want to talk about things, call anyway. Even though you may not be ready to file a license appeal, you may be ready to give some serious consideration about ending your relationship with alcohol. Again, we’re here to help.