How Being Involved in AA can Help win a Michigan Driver’s License Restoration Case – Part 1

In a my various blog articles about Driver’s License Restoration, I have written in some detail about how someone who does not go to AA can still win a License Appeal. I have noted that somewhat more that ½ of the people for whom I win a License Appeal are not involved in AA. To date, I have not addressed how those who are actively involved in AA have an advantage in that regard. This article will focus on a Driver’s License Appeal for someone who is active in AA. Because even a relatively brief overview of this subject will take some space, this article will be broken into 2 parts.

The reader should bear in mind, as we begin, that I never encourage anyone who does or has not gone to AA to start doing so. I believe that whatever a person has done to get and remain sober is, at the core, the truth of their “story” of recovery. Winning a License Appeal is all about properly relating that process. Thus, when someone who has become and remained sober asks me if they should start going to, or going back to AA, I always say “no.”

bigbook2.jpgPerhaps part of that is because those who are actively involved in AA undergo a number of transformations as part of their growth within the program. One of those transformations involves becoming honest, both to themselves, and with others. The AA credo, “To thine own self be true” mandates a personal honesty that is an anathema to the practicing alcoholic. AA people want to tell their story because its both true, and because one of the ways they learn to get better is by sharing stories.

If winning a License Appeal was as simple as going in and showing that someone has been in AA for some number of years, this would be about the end of our discussion, and I’d be out of business. The reader seeking to learn about the legal issues involved in Driver’s License Restoration Appeal should take the time to read most of the articles from the Driver’s License Restoration section of this blog, starting from the bottom, and reading up. For purposes of this discussion, the most important issue (and the one that causes more License Appeals to lose than any other) is set forth in DAAD Rule 13 as follows:

The Petitioner, by clear and convincing evidence, must prove the following:

* * *
(2) That the Petitioner’s alcohol problem…is likely to remain under control.

In other words, the person needs to prove that they are a safe bet to never drink again.

At first glance, it would seem that just being involved in AA is enough to satisfy that requirement. However, the State knows that any number of people become involved in AA, for varying lengths of time, and then have a “slip,” or relapse. The upshot of that is that there are people are going to meetings at any given time who will drink again. In that sense, they may be able to parrot the steps or words of AA, but they clearly don’t yet “get it.” Lots of people who finally and subsequently embrace sobriety will say they needed that “slip,” or relapse, to reinforce those lessons of AA, that, until then, were perhaps understood intellectually, but not as the immutable truths they are. “Getting it” means coming to an understanding, at the core of a person’s being, that the principal lesson of AA, that a person can never drink again without picking up where they left off, is unquestionable. Therefore, an important part of what the DAAD tries to discern is if a person going to AA has really “gotten it” or not.

A prominent characteristic of many of those who really “get it” is an enthusiasm for the program that is unmistakable. Recovering alcoholics have a profound sense of gratitude. It takes about 3 seconds, when they begin talking about their recovery, to see that they are truly grateful for it. There’s an exuberance about them that just cannot be faked.

Not everyone, however, is naturally disposed to be chatty, effervescent, or outgoing. Quieter people are no less affected by the disease of alcoholism, and no less successful than their bubbly counterparts at becoming and remaining sober. They might just have a harder time talking about it. With proper preparation, however, they can be just as convincing as anyone about the fact that they “get it.”

Those who practice the 12 steps tend to think of themselves as “working the program.” For them, the 12 steps are principles to be learned, and then practiced on an on-going basis. Beyond what amounts to internalizing the 1st step and its numerous implications, people in the program really work and wrestle with concepts such as “Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.” People can spend an infinite amount of time on a step like this. Some, who are not religious, cannot abide in a higher power that resembles anything like a Supreme Being. Instead, they “work” the 2nd step to find that higher power in a tree, or in the larger human consciousness, or in the aggregated strength of others who come to the tables. In short, the higher power can be anything greater than the person looking for it.

Sounds easy enough, right? Anyone who has tried it knows its not. Not many people wind up at their first AA meeting on a roll. Even those who are religious need to reestablish their faith. Sometimes, that leads them on a very different path than the religion in which they were raised. Those who do not or choose not to practice an established religion often find themselves becoming far more “spiritual” as part of their recovery. Whatever the process, the larger point is that this step, like all the others, involves a process to fully understand it.

That’s not to say that an early understanding is inferior to one which is more mature. Instead, and from the perspective of the State in a License Appeal, someone active in the program will always be somewhere in the process of coming to truly understand any given step. Someone not active in the program will think they’ve already gotten that understanding. This is why it is so easy to spot someone who is faking AA involvement. Maybe they went for short while, or not, but all they can do is memorize the steps, and repeat them. Looking deeper, however, such a person will have nothing substantial to say about them.

This can result in an interesting dichotomy. Someone working the program may have a particular understanding of any given step at one time, and then another, different understanding, or interpretation of that same step later on. Perhaps it was with the help and guidance of their fellow AA members that their understanding changed, and grew. Maybe the beliefs they held a year or two ago are very different from those they hold now. The State, however, is not interested in analyzing or critiquing the person’s program. Instead, the State just wants to make sure that they have one.

In part 2 of this article, we’ll continue our examination of the advantage that AA affords someone Appealing Restoration of a Driver’s License.