As a Michigan driver’s license restoration lawyer, I either win back your Michigan license or I win a clearance of Michigan’s hold on your driving record that prevents you from getting a license in a different state. Specifically, I win an appeal of the Michigan Secretary of State’s revocation of your driving privileges by challenging it at a hearing before the Driver Assessment and Appeal Division, known as the DAAD, and sometimes (although mistakenly) still called the “DLAD,” even though that name changed to the DAAD a number of years ago. One of the most common questions I am asked about the whole license appeal process is whether or not a person needs to be going to AA in order to win. The answer is no, and this 2-part article will explain why.
On both my website and in the license restoration articles on this blog, I have given separate treatment to how and why AA attendance is not necessary to win a license appeal, as well as how a person’s current attendance can play a helpful role in a Michigan license restoration case. This time, I am going to squeeze both of those perspectives into a single article. Accordingly, and to keep this piece of readable length, I’ll be summarizing, more than explaining, certain elements of the license appeal process in order to make the larger point.
First and foremost, it would be disingenuous to deny that being involved in AA is anything less than helpful in a Michigan license appeal. Everybody knows about AA, even if they don’t know the first thing about any of its 12 steps. Helpful is a far cry, however, from necessary. AA is definitely not necessary to win a license restoration case. More importantly, not going to AA does not pose any kind difficulty to succeeding with your appeal, if things are done right.
For as much as we can say that AA “helps” a license appeal, we should really ask why. The 2 main legal issues in a license restoration or clearance case are:
1. That your alcohol problem is under control, and 2. That your alcohol problem is likely to remain under control.
This means, more than anything else, that you have to prove that you’re not likely to ever drink again. To put it another way, you have to prove (and the state requires all your proof to be by “clear and convincing evidence”) that you have the commitment and ability to remain abstinent from alcohol for the rest of your life.
Beyond the fact that AA is about the first thing that comes to mind when someone says “drinking problem,” what is it about AA that’s so special, and why, then, if it is so helpful to a license appeal, can we honestly say that it is not necessary? As we survey the landscape of Michigan license restorations and where AA fits in, we’ll look for answers to these questions.
A little history (remember, we’re summarizing here) will help. Prior to AA, which was founded August 11, 1938, there really was no way to help a person get past a drinking problem beyond lecturing them incessantly, and we know how well that works. Thus, Alcoholic Anonymous presented itself as the first real way to help people get sober.
Simply by being the first real method to achieve sobriety, AA necessarily blazed the trail into the world of recovery. That means that AA essentially created the language of recovery, and simultaneously gave rise to many of the concepts we use today in talking about overcoming a drinking problem. Without a doubt, we know that AA works. If you can follow the program, AA will help you get sober. But many people have serious issues with “the program.” One of the most common is the whole role of “God” or a “higher power” in one’s personal recovery. Chances are, if you’ve read this far, you have at least a passing familiarity with all of this.
Thus, if you’re more of an individualist, and don’t really have a working role for “God” or a “higher power” in your life, this can be a deal breaker for AA. Well meaning AA people will try and skirt this issue by trying some pretty faulty logic about the whole “higher power” thing with a skeptical newcomer. We’ll get to that in a moment. To put this in perspective, though, let’s quickly review the 12 steps:
1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol-that our lives had become unmanageable.
2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
8. Make a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
11. Sought through prayer and meditations to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.
It really requires a person to suspend all logic to follow or work steps 2, 3, 5, 6, 7 and 10 without some belief in God. Some people can get around this by simply looking to a kind of undefined “higher power,” but however you cut it, that tends to mean some kind of “supreme being” or higher consciousness. Even so, things really go off the rails when someone suggests to a skeptical newcomer to “the program” that anything can be their higher power, including the table they’re sitting at, or a tree.
Really? So if I’m coming to AA and I’m a committed non-believer (and for the record, I do believe in God, but I’m arguing the other side here), I have to believe the table or the tree can somehow restore me to sanity (step 2), and I have to seek, through prayer and meditation, to improve my conscious contact with the table or the tree, as I understand it, praying only for the knowledge of its (meaning the table or the tree’s) will for me and the power to carry that out (step 10)? The reality is that anyone who buys that has a lot more problems than just a troubled relationship to alcohol.
Other people are pushed away by the whole 1st step concept of “powerlessness.” While I think this is far more a matter of semantics than anything else and can be rather easily clarified, or at least rendered a non-issue, it really underscores the point that, once you’ve lost a person, you’ve lost them. Some people would simply much rather hear that they can be empowered to overcome a drinking problem rather than buy into the belief that the only way to get better is to admit that they are powerless.
Some people thrive in AA. Other folks find their spirituality there; others just ignore any conflict with their beliefs, or lack thereof, and really grow in sobriety by working the steps that apply to them. For some, AA is a near-perfect fit right from the start. What we really know from more recent research is that of those people who are able to maintain long-term abstinence from alcohol, about 1 out of 3 do it with AA. This means the other 2 out of 3 maintain sobriety while not being involved in AA. But that only tells part of the story.
Of the roughly 2 out of 3 people who maintain their sobriety without AA, you’ll find a pretty diverse mix of methods used to do it, but you’ll also find that many, if not most of those who maintain sobriety without AA have had at least some experience with it. Thus, most (but certainly not all) people who are sober have at least had a little contact with AA, even if that contact was only enough to determine that the program just wasn’t for them.
Even those who have never been to a single AA meeting in their life, but have otherwise managed to get sober will almost certainly still gotten some of the benefit of the AA program, even though, consciously, they don’t know the first thing about it. We can intellectualize all day long, but just about every kind of recovery method or program that has ever been devised owes its very existence to AA. AA came first. This is kind of like the fact that, had it not been for the Wright brothers and their first flight at Kitty Hawk, there wouldn’t be jet planes or space shuttles. The modern fighter jet of today bears little resemblance to the wooden biplanes of the early 1900’s but they owe their very existence to those first “flying machines.”
The same holds true for recovery programs. Without AA, we’d probably still have incessant lecturing as our only “cure” for problem drinking. AA is, therefore, the real granddaddy of all recovery.
In part 2 of this article, we’ll continue our examination of winning a Michigan license restoration case with and without AA involvement. We’ll pick up by looking at the real cornerstone of the AA program – the first step, and how that one sentence really summarizes the meaning of all sobriety, including the sobriety of those who don’t go to AA.