Part and parcel of my Practice as Michigan Driver’s License Restoration Lawyer is helping people frame their Recovery stories, and put them into words. Anyone who hopes to win a Driver’s License Restoration case in Michigan will have to show that they are Sober. Legally speaking, they’ll have to show that their alcohol problem is “under control, and likely to remain under control.” And they can’t just waltz in and say so; the Michigan Secretary of State’s Driver Assessment and Appeal Division (DAAD) requires that a person prove these things by “clear and convincing evidence.” This means a person must essentially present an airtight case.
If I accept a Michigan License Appeal or Clearance case, I Guarantee that I will win it. A first and necessary requirement for me to accept anyone’s case is that the Client be genuinely Sober. In this article, I am going to explore what it means to bring an alcohol problem under control, and how that same thought process paves the way for a person to keep their alcohol problem under control. Much of this also applies to anyone who facing a DUI, particularly a 2nd, 3rd, or even subsequent Drunk Driving charge.
I should point out just over half of the people for whom I win License Appeals are not active in AA, while the rest (probably about 40%) attend regularly, or least somewhat regularly. AA is not necessary to win a Michigan License Restoration or Clearance, but it certainly is helpful. Even if a person has never been to an AA meeting in their life, if they are Sober, they can probably thank AA for blazing the trail from which the concepts of Recovery and Sobriety came.
One of the many cliché’s that is part of the AA legacy goes like this: “I didn’t get in trouble every time I drank, but every time I got in trouble, I had been drinking.” I think that this is one of the best ways to summarize what goes through a person’s head when they experience that “a-ha” moment and first acknowledge that their drinking has become a problem.
Much of the time, this “light bulb” moment occurs when a person gets their last DUI. Yet in any number of cases, a person will continue to drink after their final DUI, and will get their wake-up call another way. How or whenever it occurs, most people will agree that, prior to finally “seeing the light,” they had a pretty good idea that something was wrong, or that at least something had to change about their drinking. In fact, most people try to deal with this by controlling or limiting or managing their drinking in some way, only to discover that, in the long run, such plans don’t work out. AA people point to this as the very definition of insanity, describing it as doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting a different result.
From my perspective, whether it’s a last DUI, a fight with a spouse or significant other, or some other negative event, the moment that precedes a person fully accepting that their drinking is a problem is what I call a “final humiliation.” It is never part of anything good, even though I’ve had plenty of Clients who, after a time of abstinence, broke down for something as small as a toast, and, after just a sip, felt an overwhelming sense of regret. The realization that alcohol still held such power over them, or their thoughts, forced that final instance of humiliation, and led them to think “enough is enough.” People in the Recovery world call this “hitting bottom.”
The stories are as varied as the people who tell them, but without a doubt, real Sobriety cannot be found until a person has had that flash of self-insight. A person can go a long time without alcohol, but without fully accepting that they have a real problem with it, such a period is just abstinence. Real Sobriety begins when a person understands that their drinking is problematic, and that the only cure for that problem is to eliminate alcohol from their lives.
This realization comes hard, and it comes slowly. Try, for a moment, to think of a drinking problem as an infection by a virus. That virus wants to stay alive in the host body. It will resist being cast out. It will fight against any efforts of the body to overcome it. It lives at the expense of the person who has it. It is, in every sense of the word, a parasite.
In that regard, when a person has their first few thoughts that their drinking might be problematic, the “virus” inside them resists. Usually, a person has these moments of insight when their drinking brings negative consequences to the surface. A DUI is a clear example of such a negative consequence, but so is calling into work sick, when a person is hung over, or getting into a fight with a family member about their drinking. There are a million ways in which a person’s problem drinking creates negative consequences. These negative consequences are what is meant when a person says “I didn’t get in trouble every time I drank, but every time I got in trouble, I had been drinking”
Yet for every one of those negative consequences a person will suffer from their drinking, they are likely to have multiple instances where their drinking didn’t cause any. And that’s when what we’ve been describing as the “virus” almost talks to them, and says, “see, we drank just fine last night. No problems. We can handle this.” The virus doesn’t want the person to get well; that means it dies. It will do what it must to survive. The truth is that for even the vast majority of people with a drinking problem, their drinking only creates trouble a minority of times. Most of the time a problem drinker imbibes, they don’t go to hell in a hand basket.
We need to hit the pause button here for a second. As a general observation, human beings change, or change behaviors, when their existing behaviors become too uncomfortable for them to keep. As I pointed out, in the world of alcohol problems, this is called “hitting bottom.” And everyone has a different bottom. This is really just another way of describing what I called the “final humiliation.” When a person has just had enough; when, as the AA people describe it, they’ve become “sick and tired of being sick and tired,” then they get motivated to change.
But in the absence of those uncomfortable moments, there is no motivation to change. Aside from all the Recovery stuff, humans are creatures of habit. Every time we perform an action that is habit, unless we’re in some way punished or penalized (or made to experience negative consequences, or feel discomfort) for it, it is reinforced.
This means, then, that there is a kind of sliding scale between reward and punishment for drinking. When the punishments come too frequently, or become too hurtful, then a person will begin to think about changing things. That last punishment, what I have called the final humiliation, is really nothing more than a drinker hitting bottom.
That’s when the switch flips. That’s when a person realizes that they may not get in trouble every time they drink, but that every time they wind up in a fix, drinking is part of it. From that insight, they can see and admit that their efforts to make this not happen again have not worked. They are open, then, to the idea that eliminating drinking may be the solution to the problem. If they’ve been to AA, or if they’ve had enough alcohol education or counseling, this often dovetails right into AA’s first step notion of being “powerless” over alcohol. This is really that critical moment where some people “get it.”
Thus, a person might suddenly accept that being “powerless” does not mean that every time they drink they wind up in trouble, but rather that once they begin to drink, they are powerless to predict if that occasion will be one of those occasions where they go off the rails because of their drinking, and wind up in some kind of trouble, and/or powerless to do anything about it once they pick up that first drink.
This realization is huge. As an example, if a person had orange juice with breakfast every morning, but sometimes, orange juice made them sick, they’d surely stop drinking it. Can you imagine such a person thinking, “I only get sick once every two or three weeks, so the odds are pretty good.” No way! In fact, if a person got sick from orange juice as infrequently as once every two or three months, they’d surely stop drinking it. But alcohol is different. When a person doesn’t get in trouble because of their drinking, the alcohol often produces its desired effect. In terms of the “desired effect,” people drink for all kinds of reasons…
Lot’s of experts speak of alcohol use as a way to stop feeling pain, and while I’m not going to try and diminish that, I also think that plenty of people who develop a drinking problem aren’t necessarily running away from something. Not everyone drinks to forget a regrettable childhood, or to escape some hurt or other. Some people just drink because they like it, and it gets out of control. From my perspective, this is a HUGE mistake that many Recovery “experts” make. In fact, I think it sends some people who might otherwise be open to getting help running for the hills. Sometimes, people drink to have fun, but they keep drinking after it isn’t fun anymore.
Whatever the reasons, when the trouble outweighs the fun, people get motivated to stop. Where that balance lies is always different, and varies from person to person. Some people will hit bottom when they feel a dent in their pride, while others can lose everything and keep drinking. Statistically, 95% of all alcoholics die of their disease, and do so at an average of 26 years earlier than they otherwise would have. Three out of 4 alcoholics never even seek treatment. This means a lot of people never hit bottom. How much lower can a panhandling bum go?
For the purpose of this discussion, it is that flash of awareness, that moment of having hit bottom that motivates a person to finally decide to quit drinking that keeps them from ever drinking again. When enough is really enough, then things change.
What about those people who seem to have this epiphany, only to go back to drinking? That’s actually an easy distinction to make. They never really hit bottom. They may have banged themselves up a bit after a fall, but whatever they hit was, at best, a false bottom. This is frustrating to those on the outside, like family, because the fact that a person has a drinking problem is often PAINFULLY obvious to them. When someone picks up their 4th or 5th DUI, outsiders can only marvel at how the drinker does not recognize the severity of their problem, much less that they have one in the first place. This is why, though, many people do NOT get over a drinking problem.
And this holds true for all kinds of problems. Lots of obese people stay fat, even though they have to take all kinds of medicine for conditions brought on by being so heavy. Many people can never give up smoking, even though they have a phlegm-filled cough, and know they couldn’t run a block if their life depended on it. Drinking is no different. Only a rather lucky minority of people have what it takes to conquer the problem. It all begins when a person experiences that final humiliation, and that, as we have discussed, equates to hitting a bottom so hard, and so low, that the person never forgets it.
This, of course, is a summary discussion of what it means for a person to realize they have an alcohol problem. Even calling this the tip of the iceberg is a gross understatement. Everyone gets better in their own way, but, as general idea, this discussion isn’t far off the mark.