Can a person win back their Michigan Driver’s License without going to AA? This article will address this question, and explain why the answer is not only “yes,” but also how and why the majority of the License Appeals I file and win (and since about June of 2009, I have won 189 out of the last 191 cases I have accepted) are for people who are not currently attending AA.
Many of the people with whom I speak tell me that they’ve heard that “you can’t win your License back without being in AA.” To be clear: That’s DEAD WRONG. I ought to know; I win such cases multiple times per week.
However, many years ago, that statement was much closer to the truth than it is now. If the reader had called my Office in back 1991 or 1992 and inquired about a License Appeal, the very first question I would have had is whether or not they were currently attending AA. If they were not, I would have simply instructed them to start going, and call me back after they had at least a year of attendance under their belt.
The pendulum has swung the other way, and I think this represents a better understanding on the Michigan Secretary of State’s Driver Assessment and Appeal Division’s (DAAD) part that AA is a great program, and, in fact the ONLY program, for some, but NOT all people. To be clear about this: The MAJORITY of people for whom I win a License Appeal are NOT currently involved in AA.
This is not a knock against AA. As I noted, AA is a great program for lots of people. In fact, it is the only path to true Sobriety for SOME of them. But, in my opinion, one of its biggest shortcomings is that AA kind of “preaches” that it is, without exception, the ONLY legitimate path to true Sobriety.
Years ago, when I had a Substance Abuse Counselor as a Legal Assistant (she later left and became an Ordained Minister, and then moved on to become a College Professor), she helped me understand the whole notion of “Recovery” and “Sobriety” from a more holistic, panoramic perspective. She explained that there were various “schools of thought” about Recovery. Which one worked best for any particular person was a matter of choice, and fit, and that a “one size fits all” approach is just plain wrong-headed.
AA, for example, is the biggest of all such organized schools of thought. Much like different religions, some understand that the “path” chosen by one person may be different than that chosen by another, but that, in the final analysis, they were all roads leading to the same place. Thus, a person might be Catholic, or Lutheran, or Episcopalian, or whatever, but each of these religions essentially leads to the same destination.
Amongst the various approaches, however, there are a few who think that theirs is the ONLY way. We’ve all heard of some rather extreme religions that believe that following anything other than what they teach means you’ll burn in Hell. The problem with that kind of short-sighted thinking is rather self-evident.
The analogy to religion can be carried a bit too far, principally because there are plenty of people who neither need nor want ANY religion, and they seem to get along just fine. In the world of Recovery, however, it is essential that a person have a commitment to not drink again. In other words, a Sober person has to believe that they have a problem, and that the way to fix that problem is to remain alcohol and substance-free. Whatever path they choose to accomplish that goal is up to them; in the end, it is the destination that counts, and not the specific road they follow to get there.
AA does not really recognize the legitimacy of this approach, at least not officially. There is a term that AA people use for others who have stopped drinking, but do not attend meetings: They are called “dry drunks.” I have a problem with that, because I deal with people who have had DECADES of Sobriety without the help of AA. And, to be fair, most AA people are not so judgmental. To use the religion analogy again, the Catholic Church doesn’t approve of birth control, but plenty of church-going Catholics use it, anyway.
Most of my Clients maintain their Sobriety by living what’s called a “Sober Lifestyle.” They recognize that they cannot drink, so they remove alcohol from their lives. That’s not to say they don’t attend weddings and birthday parties and barbeques sometimes, where alcohol is served, it simply means they are aware of their alcohol problem and, like a kid with a peanut allergy who is offered a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup, they politely decline.
Before we delve into some of the implications of a “Sober Lifestyle,” let’s examine the undeniable importance of AA, even for those who’ve never set foot in a meeting.
Think about modern psychology for a moment. We all have heard and used certain terms like “sub-conscious” and “ego.” All of these concepts and terms were “discovered” by Sigmund Freud. It was Freud who gave us the notion of the “anal-retentive” personality type. Today, we simply describe such a person by calling them “anal.” The point I am trying to make is that these terms did not exist before Sigmund Freud “invented” them. Before Freud, there was no understandable concept of the “ego,” or the “sub-conscious.” Our founding fathers would have cocked their heads in bewilderment at the use of those terms. Can you imagine Thomas Jefferson describing George Washington as “anal?”
In our modern society, these terms are now part of our everyday vocabulary. So much so, in fact that we don’t pause to think about where these terms originated.
Sigmund Freud has been called the “father” of modern psychology. He is responsible for more about our understanding about ourselves and how we think and why we act the way we do than any single person who ever existed. Yet, for all the things Freud got right, he also had a few kooky ideas, as well. One shining example of where he went off the rails is something called the “Oedipal Complex.” According to Freud, at some point, most (or was it all?) boys go through a stage where they want to marry their mothers and kill their fathers. I must have missed that one. In fact, I’ve never met anyone who even begins to understand that, much less relates to it. Does that mean that we discount everything Freud said, and, as the adage goes, “throw the baby out with the bathwater?”
Of course not! Big and great ideas can change the world, quite literally, but they also are constantly improved upon. Think of the automobile. A top-of-the-line 2012 model sedan is much different and better and improved than what would have been a top-of-the-line model from 1922.
AA is much the same. AA gave us the language of alcoholism and Recovery. AA gave us the “first step.” Almost every person who speaks English has, at some point in their lives, spoken of something and used the term “first step.” If Fat Tony, for example, tells his friends that, at 420 pounds, he knows he has to make a serious lifestyle change and lose a lot of weight, and announces he’s joined Weight Watchers, his friends will congratulate him for having taken “the first step” by recognizing the problem and deciding to do something about it. Ditto for anyone who announces a plan to quit smoking, or make any other change that is warranted.
What is lost in all this is that no one realizes the whole notion of “the first step” comes from AA, anymore than we acknowledge that the term “sub-conscious” comes from Freud. The idea that a person will recognize a problem, admit that they have a problem, and then commit to fixing that problem, as a “first step,” didn’t exist before AA. In other words, AA gave us that term, and many more in the language of Recovery and Sobriety.
The text of AA’s first step isn’t nearly as clear, or as helpful, at least to an outsider, as is its usual interpretation:
“We admitted that we were powerless over alcohol – that our lives had become unmanageable.”
As it turns out the real implication of AA’s first step is that a person with a drinking problem finally admits that they have a problem, and acknowledges that they must completely stop drinking. Forever. Using alcohol either makes, or at least puts the person at risk of losing control.
This is much easier for a heavy drinker to accept. The “binge” drinker, on the other hand, often thinks that their failure to reign in their drinking, or, in other words, their failure to control or manage it, will eventually result in their getting to this stage where they are obviously “out of control.” It takes a few (or even many) beatings, really, for them to understand that its not the quantity of their drinking, but the quality, meaning the piling up of negative consequences, that separates them from a normal drinker, and identifies them as a problem drinker. To put it another way, some people have to wrestle with the idea that a drinking problem is NOT a matter of how often they drink, but rather that when they do drink, they are at risk to lose the ability to exercise good judgment, even if that only really happens once in a while.
In other words, a normal drinker can drink once a year, or a hundred times per year, and never have to worry about “losing control.” However, a person with a drinking problem may also drink once per year, or even a hundred times per year without any problems, but someday, when they least expect it, and certainly even though they have planned on it NOT happening, that beer after work or glass of wine with dinner turns into a lot more drinks, and then something bad happens, like another DUI.
There are loads more examples of how AA has influenced the whole field of Recovery, but this article is decidedly NOT about AA. Nevertheless, no serious discussion of Sobriety can ignore the seminal role of AA in the language and basis of the concept and process of Recovery.
In Part 2 of this article, we’ll resume by examining how AA influenced, if not created, the whole notion of “Recovery” and Sobriety. Then, we will shift our focus to the kinds of things that the Secretary of State looks for in a License Appeal, with an eye toward showing how those insights and Recovery strategies are not in any way unique to AA, although their origins may be tied to the program. We shall see how NOT being involved in AA has nothing to do with winning a Driver’s License Restoration case, and why that is so.