I provide a guarantee that if I take your Michigan driver’s license restoration or clearance case, I’ll win it. My confidence is based upon the fact that I will only take a case for someone who has honestly quit drinking and is really and truly sober. Still, while being sober is a necessary prerequisite to winning a license appeal, it is hardly enough. Being sober is one thing, but proving it is another. How do you prove sobriety? The easy answer, and the best I have, is to hire me, but that wouldn’t make much of an article, would it? In this installment, we’ll examine the central role each person’s unique recovery story plays in a license reinstatement case.
The inspiration for this article, like so many others, came from my day-to-day experience. In this case, it landed in my inbox. A person who emailed me asked, “Other than AA attendance…what are some effective ways to prove that I am sober and have been since…March of 2010?” My response was as follows:
“‘Proving’ sobriety…depends on the interplay of a lot of things. These include your recovery story, which is really the theme of your case…. There can be a lot to this, and that’s why my first meeting with a new client lasts at least 3 hours. In a way, this amounts to a rather long-winded way of saying, ‘It depends.'”
When you think about it, if you’re genuinely sober, then “proving” it to the Michigan Secretary of State means, amongst other things, proving how your life has changed since you gave up drinking. Some people get into and continue to use AA for support. Other folks went to AA for a while, sometimes under court order, and managed to find and sustain their sobriety without it. Still others discovered a path to recovery quite independent from AA. As more than 2 decades of experience has taught me, there are really as many ways to get sober as there are sober people. Everyone has his or her own “recovery story,” and it becomes the main theme in each license appeal case. For many people, the life changes are dramatic and wide reaching, but that’s not necessarily the case for everyone. As the old saying goes, “You are special and unique – just like everyone else.” Let’s see how that takes center stage in driver’s license reinstatement appeal…
At first glance, the most obvious objective evidence of sobriety is the fact that you don’t drink anymore. Not drinking is called abstinence. Abstinence is qualitatively different than sobriety, because all sober people must, by definition, be abstinent, but not all abstinent people are necessarily sober. These distinctions matter a great deal to people are sober, or who live in the recovery world. They can be all but invisible, however, to people who don’t really know the deeper meaning of sobriety. My office gets plenty of calls from people who equate sobriety with merely not being drunk, not being a heavy or regular drinker, or just taking a break from alcohol. If I can be of any assistance to these people, it is to perhaps help them understand that while the license appeal process requires sobriety, real sobriety is a state of being, rather than just “not drinking.”
When speaking of recovery, we often talk of the path to sobriety, and that getting sober is a process. While that’s certainly true, such descriptions tend to overlook the fact that arriving at the decision to get sober is a process, as well. The process of coming to the decision to drink no more is also very relevant in a driver’s license restoration case. Remember, there are 2 main legal issues in a license appeal: First, proving that your alcohol problem is under control, meaning that we prove when you last drank (this necessarily involves the decision to stop), and second, that your alcohol problem is likely to remain under control, meaning that you prove you’re a safe bet to never drink again (relevant here, of course, is the decision to remain alcohol-free). This all translates, in a somewhat loose sense, to “proving sobriety.” Even though the more important legal concern in a license restoration appeal is that you won’t ever drink again (which in turn translates to you having both the commitment and the tools to remain sober), evaluating the strength of that commitment typically involves understanding how you came to it. In other words, we circle back to what brought you to the moment when you decided to quit drinking. Committing to not drink again always comes after a person realizes that he or she cannot drink again, and most people don’t get to that point without having wasted a lot of time and effort trying to cut down, limit or otherwise moderate their drinking without success. In fact, most people never get to this point, and only a lucky minority ever fully realizes that there is no way to control their drinking and, as the saying goes, “put the plug in the jug.”
This is important stuff. My first meeting with a new client takes 3 hours. This allows me to really dig into how he or she arrived at the decision to quit drinking and what was done to make that decision a reality. While everyone’s recovery story is uniquely his or her own, I have learned over the years how to help each client put that story to words. Some people are better at narrating their recovery journey than others, but even the best storytellers aren’t aware of how that story has to fit within the template of a winning license appeal. In that context, the question, “How do you prove sobriety” is more appropriately asked, “How do you prove sobriety in a way that will help you win your license back?”
Some very legitimate answers to the first way of asking that question won’t fly in a license restoration case. For example, everyone who is really sober knows that true sobriety means not only abstaining from alcohol, but all mood and mind altering medications, as well. If Bill hasn’t had a drink in 7 years, but smokes the occasional joint, everyone who is really sober would know he is not. If someone files a license appeal and admits to smoking weed on and off while drinking, he or she is going to need to prove not only abstinence from alcohol, but marijuana, as well, and the kind of proof required by the Secretary of State is going to have come from all fronts.
The net effect of this is that sometimes, genuinely sober people lose license appeals. I get these cases all the time when people have tried to win their license back without a lawyer, or with some attorney who doesn’t really concentrate in license cases, only to fall short. I understand how frustrating it is when someone really has quit drinking and then feels like he or she isn’t believed, but this goes right to the point of both proving sobriety, and proving it in a way that will win your license back. There are no easy instructions here, because proving sobriety means proving your sobriety, and that requires telling your recovery story. While there are certainly common traits to recovery and sobriety in general, everyone’s journey is different, and that’s where I help. I know what the state is looking for, and what elements of any recovery story need to be told, or emphasized; I also know what needs to be downplayed. The essence of winning your license back is proving that you have quit drinking and will remain alcohol free. How you got to that point and how you’ve stayed and will continue to stay on course is unique to you.
Thus, “proving sobriety” is about distilling the essence of that journey you’ve taken and fitting into the legal framework of a license restoration appeal. In the first place, then, you have to know what that framework is; you have to “see” it. If you don’t, then you’re flying blind. From there, you have to lay out your story, in more or less a linear way, and then take those elements that fit into the framework, put them in, and then evaluate whether they help your case, hurt your case, or are simply inert. If something doesn’t help your case, then it has no place in it.
This can get overwhelming. In fact, if it’s not, then you’re probably missing something. I’m here to help. No matter where in the world you live, if you’re struggling with a Michigan driver’s license revocation or “hold,” and you’ve really quit drinking, I can get you back on the road, guaranteed. To find out how, call my office anytime, Monday through Friday, from 8:30 am until 5:00 pm, at 586-465-1980.