I earn most of my living winning Michigan driver’s license restoration cases. I guarantee that I will win back your license, or, if you live out of state, win a clearance of the Michigan “hold” on your driving record so that you can renew or obtain a license in another state. The cost for admission, so to speak, is that you must really have quit drinking in order for me to take your case. This 2-part article will be about sobriety, and how and why it is a non-negotiable requirement to win a Michigan license appeal.
The term “sobriety” has 2 meanings: For those people who have really gotten sober, it encompasses all the changes you made in your life to eliminate alcohol from it. Sobriety, in this sense, is almost a state of being. It is a place you get to after an often-difficult journey. It means fundamentally understanding that there is no such thing as limiting or controlling your drinking. Sobriety is a state of being; a state of mind; a journey, and, a way of living.
To those who haven’t really hit bottom, or those who don’t understand (or may not have a reason to understand) a drinking problem, “sobriety” can mean something like “not drunk,” or just not getting into trouble from your drinking. In the minds of those still struggling with a drinking problem, “sobriety, ” whatever other meaning(s) it may have, does not equate to “quit,” as in quit “for good.”
Here’s how all this relates to winning back your driver’s license: The Michigan Secretary of State’s Driver Assessment and Appeal Division, known as the DAAD, requires that you prove, by “clear and convincing evidence,” that your alcohol problem is under control, and that it is likely to remain under control. There is, of course, a lot more to a license appeal, but these are the two key legal issues, and if you fail to prove both that your alcohol problem is under control, and, more important, that your alcohol problem is likely to remain under control, by overwhelming, indisputable evidence, then the Secretary of State will deny your appeal.
The state considers your alcohol problem as “under control” when you can prove that you have been completely abstinent from alcohol for a period of time. In the real world, this translates to not having consumed any alcohol for more than a year. In my practice, I prefer that a person have closer to 2 years of abstinence by the time we go in for a license hearing. As it turns out, many of my clients have a lot more sober time than that by the time they call me, so that’s usually not a problem. Most of the time, those individuals who “get it,” and are really sober, intuitively understand these concepts of abstinence and sobriety. Unfortunately, plenty of people don’t “get it,” because my office still gets calls from lots of folks who want to argue that “under control” means that they can still drink, as long as that drinking doesn’t cause problems.
It doesn’t work that way. “Under control” means that you have stopped drinking completely, and for good. In the context of a DAAD license restoration appeal, “under control” means that you can provide a sobriety date. If you know what a “sobriety date” is, and, more importantly, if you actually have one, then at least you’re in the ballpark. If, however, the concept of a sobriety date sounds like a bad night out with a non-drinker, you’re not there yet…
While fixing a date of your last drink is critically important to the DAAD, it’s also relatively easy, especially when it’s true. More important is being able to prove (remember, by “clear and convincing evidence”) that your alcohol problem is under control, however, is proving that it is “likely to remain under control.” Here, the DAAD needs convincing reassurance that you will remain alcohol free. If the question “for how long?” even crosses your mind, then you’re not completely sober, at least yet. If you’re really in recovery, then you know full well that real sobriety is a forever kind of thing.
Here we arrive at the heart and soul of Michigan driver’s license appeal, and the real essence of sobriety; coming to the realization that you can never drink again. This necessarily involves making the commitment to stay sober, acquiring the tools to do just that, and then following it up by making (and enjoying) a better life without alcohol. In other words, it means you walk the walk, and not just talk the talk. If this describes you, then I will win your license back, assuming you are legally eligible, or at least when you become eligible.
Here also is where my understanding goes way beyond just the “legal” stuff and is unique amongst lawyers. Long ago, I learned that the weak link in all recovery is the complete and final elimination of any serious thought that you can ever drink again. Those who remain sober have internalized this concept; those who relapse struggle with it. To enable me help my clients fit the clinical details of their recovery into the legal framework of a DAAD license appeal, I decided to formalize my understanding. I became actively enrolled in the study of alcohol and addiction issues at the post-graduate level. This required going to a real University campus and taking classes (at the cost of more than $12,000 per year), writing papers, and passing exams.
Whatever else, I have clinician’s understanding of alcohol and addiction issues. If the heart and soul of a Michigan driver’s license restoration case is being able to prove sobriety, then it only makes sense to have a lawyer’s understanding of “proof,” and a clinician’s understanding of “”sobriety.” This gives me a huge advantage when handling a license appeal and accounts, in part, why I guarantee my results.
As much as I know the signs of solid recovery, I also fundamentally know the risks to lasting sobriety, as well. For example, even among those who attend AA, there can, in some cases, develop a sense of overconfidence that eventually leads a person to pick up a drink. I’ve heard it described in countless ways, but my favorite came from a client who said there is an “inner idiot” voice that occasionally tells him that things are different now, and that he could somehow have a drink, just one drink, without going down the tubes. This is something that sober people learn to just ignore for the rest of their lives.
Those who have time at AA have probably heard the stories of people with years and years of sobriety who’ve relapsed and started drinking again. People with more than enough clean time to know better suddenly feel that enough time has passed since their last drink so that it would be okay to enjoy a glass of wine with dinner. For every single person who tries this, that first drink represents the starting bell to a quick descent back into the abyss of problem drinking. The whole “progressive” concept of alcoholism smacks them upside the head, and hard. Some take that single drink, or even a couple of drinks, but quickly feel the power of alcohol, and reacquaint themselves with what it means to be powerless. These lucky souls are able to stop before things get out of hand.
Others go back to drinking full time, while their lives spiral out of control. Usually, a person caught up in such a relapse seriously disappoints his or her family and friends. Amongst the other damage these relapsers do, they distance, if not alienate, those who have invested the most in their recovery. Absolutely no one, however, who has a real drinking problem can ever go back to being a normal, social drinker. It has never happened in the history of the world because it cannot happen, and it never will. Sadly, that doesn’t stop some people from trying to be the first…
This is where we separate the wheat from the chaff, or the winners from the losers. The whole point of the license appeal process is for the DAAD to make sure that anyone to whom it even considers returning a license is done with drinking for good. In short, the DAAD wants to make sure that a person is really and truly sober before it will put him or her back on the road. Sobriety, then, is the beginning, the middle and the end point of a license appeal. In every sense of the word, a license appeal is about sobriety, and sobriety, in that context is about the recovery story of the person filing the appeal.
In part 2 of this article, we’ll pick up our discussion of how and why sobriety is a necessary and non-negotiable requirement to win a Michigan driver’s license reinstatement/restoration appeal.