In part 1 of this article, we began looking at the benefits and growth of DUI sobriety courts in Michigan. We examined how these programs can help someone facing a 2nd offense DUI, and even a 3rd offense DUI, not only to get sober, but also to NOT lose their driver’s license. I pointed out that in my practice as a DUI and driver’s license restoration lawyer, I deal with alcohol problems on both sides of the equation; from those facing a drunk driving charge and struggling with their drinking, to those who have gotten sober and are ready to win back their driver’s license. In addition, I bring a clinical background and education to my practice, which initially made me a bit skeptical of sobriety courts. However, because of the many success stories I have seen, I have been won over and think everyone facing a 2nd or 3rd DUI should at least consider sobriety court, if it’s an option. We ended the first installment with 1 of 3 real-life examples of sobriety court success from my own case files. Let’s move on now to the others, and then look closer at the what sobriety court really is all about.
My second example is a situation I have dealt with many times since, but this driver’s license restoration case, from a few years ago, connected me to one of my first sobriety court graduate clients. In these cases, I am hired to get the person’s restricted sobriety court license changed to a “full” license. Normally, exploring a person’s recovery and the depth of his or her commitment to sobriety is the “meat and potatoes” of a driver’s license restoration appeal. When I walked into the room to meet this fellow (he had not been my DUI client, so he was a new to me), I was a bit skeptical of his sobriety credentials, considering that they were exclusively from his participation in the sobriety court program and that they were only a few years old, at that. Boy, was I in for a surprise. This guy told a story about having been dragged kicking and screaming into sobriety court, figuring he could live for a year or a year and a half without a drink and somehow get through it. Cloaked in denial and filled with resistance, the light switch flipped for him early on in the program and he just had an epiphany that he could and would never drink again. He said that there were 2 sayings from the AA program that hit home with him: “I didn’t get in trouble every time I drank, but every time I got in trouble, I was drinking,” and “I was sick and tired of being sick and tired.” Counseling helped him get honest with himself, and when he could no longer believe his own lies, he just knew that he had to put the plug in the jug and quit drinking for good. But for him, like my other client, it was a lot more than just not drinking that changed his life; he got sober. His whole life changed, and he was happy and upbeat and making money because he became a much better version of himself. He ditched his anger and resentments and if you met him, you’d have seen and felt just how magnetic a person he was (and still is). He too, credited sobriety court for helping him break through his denial and achieve real sobriety. The most obvious thing about the guy was that he was a happy, positive and radiant person.
The third example comes from another DUI client of mine who I got into a sobriety court. In this case, the court where his 2nd DUI was pending had (and still has) a sobriety court program. This client is amongst the very nicest of people you could ever meet, with a flair for the artistic and dramatic that makes him fun to just be around. Although he acknowledged early on that drinking had become a problem for him, and he wanted the help from sobriety court, he wasn’t quite ready, early on, to quit drinking for good. In other words, he struggled a bit. It happens. This is what people mean when they say that relapse is part of recovery. Fortunately, my client just happened to wind up in an awesome sobriety court program, and the Judge didn’t give up on him. Just like everybody else, the decision to finally stop drinking for good – the one that “stuck” and really marked the start of his sobriety – came as the all-too-cliched, but also very real “light bulb” moment. Part of his sobriety court program was to see a therapist, and at first, he didn’t much like the guy because the therapist wasn’t buying any of my client’s BS and excuses for drinking. As my client explained it, the therapist challenged him in a way that had him thinking even after the sessions ended, and it was that “food for thought” that eventually tipped the scales in his mind in favor of NOT drinking anymore. Although the decision to quit drinking was ultimately my client’s, he credited the dialogue with his therapist for helping him get to that point. On a side note, this client did not fit in well with the AA program, and to his Judge’s credit, he was allowed to use alternative community supports instead. At any rate, this dynamic fellow really came into his own and blossomed in his sobriety. More important than the external changes, however, was the fact that, internally, he was happy. He found the joy in life again, and it all came about because of his participation in the sobriety court program.
Oh, and each of these clients got a restricted license after the legally required 45 day waiting period, which made keeping their jobs and participating in the program possible. What may have seemed like the biggest benefit and incentive for getting into sobriety court in the first place was eclipsed by actually getting sober, and became icing on the cake, rather than the cake itself. For these clients, LIFE HAPPENED, and none of them could have been happier.
Of course, every one of these clients may have eventually gotten sober, and the statistics seem to tell us they would have, but when? How many DUI’s later? Would they have had to go to prison, or maybe kill someone first? Even if, as is more likely, their lives weren’t filled with tragedy, their lives would have remained empty of joy, and they would have just wasted day after day after week after month after year drinking their time away and not having any fun. Long before a person finally takes action and quits drinking, the fun of it all has run out. No one picks up a drink expecting to get miserable, but toward the end of just about everyone’s drinking career, that’s pretty much the only thing that happens. Or maybe a person gets lucky and nothing bad happens. Whatever else, by the time anyone even thinks of quitting drinking, the days of drinking being fun and anything good happening are long past. This is part of what the AA people mean when they say they grew sick and tired of being sick and tired.
One thing that modern treatment is starting to acknowledge now is that quitting drinking is hard. That’s not meant as some “duh” statement, because we’re not talking about withdrawals and all that, but rather the idea that when anyone stops drinking, it involves a lot of sudden changes, including social changes. Whether you’d go to the bar with your friends, or go home and drink alone, you are, with a flip of that same light switch, without anything to do. It’s not enough to say your routine has changed; instead, you no longer have a routine. At first, it can seem like you’re never going to have fun again. You have nothing to do. Your friends are out, and it seems like they’re having fun, and you can’t go. Or, you drive home a different way and avoid the liquor or the party store and instead of drinking the night away, you wonder what the hell you’re supposed to do with all this time. There is a legitimate “mourning period” that a person will pass through as he or she transitions to an alcohol-fee lifestyle. It’s not uncommon for someone to feel, early on, like they miss alcohol, like an old friend. Fortunately, this usually doesn’t last very long, and soon enough, a person will begin to fill in the time squandered (and yes, when one looks back at all the time he or she spent drinking, “squandered” is the right word) with alcohol with productive things. Life becomes fun again.
Moreover, and without fail, when people get sober, they do a hell of a lot more than just stay out of trouble: you can stand back and watch the trajectory of their lives rise. People finish degrees, go on for advanced degrees, get certifications or complete vocational training, get better jobs, earn recognition at their old job because their performance improves in every aspect; their relationships improve, they have money, they feel better physically, emotionally and even spiritually. They get busy, and begin living again. By contrast, drunks do absolutely none of that, and just watch life pass them by with a drink in their hand.
On this theme, a few years ago client of mine (a bartender, no less) who didn’t get sober until he was well into his 60’s once said to me, “Jeff, drunks don’t ‘do’ a goddamn thing. They drink and bullshit, but that’s all they do.” He went on to say that since he had gotten sober, he took up walking, and that his daughter had gotten him into Netflix. It wasn’t that he was scaling Mt. Everest, or building ships in a bottle, but that even by getting into TV shows, he was doing a lot more than just holding a drink and BS-ing with a bunch of other drunks. How many drunken, “save the world” conversations are ever remembered the next day. Who has ever patented a great idea they got while drunk? When people get sober, they lose the drinking friends (all of whom, they soon find out, were never really “true friends” anyway) and begin to earn back the trust and respect of the people in their lives who really matter. Relationships improve, and are repaired. Sobriety brings the ability to see how pervasive the drinking had become, and how so much (if not all) of what a person did revolved around it. Sober people look back and realize that they never really “did” that much of anything as much as they may have changed backdrops and locations of where they went to drink.
But one doesn’t get there the day after he or she quits drinking. It doesn’t take forever, but it does take a little time to transition from drinker to non-drinker. One of the more interesting, if not ugly realities, is that even people who relapse and go back to drinking at least remember how good it felt to be sober, and that in and of itself becomes the incentive to try again. Sobriety courts help with this.
The whole notion of sobriety court is a good thing, at least in theory. In practice, however, there can be a few challenges. It has been recognized in the last number of years that, clinically speaking, different people get sober in different ways. AA is a great program, and may be the greatest thing for one person, but it may do nothing for another. Craig the Counselor may be able to “reach” more people than Tina the Therapist, but the people who respond well to Tina may be completely turned off by Craig. As a wise old man once said, “That’s why there are prize-fights and horse races, and why the paint store sells different colors.” The better sobriety court programs understand this reality, and work with it. Hopefully, those that don’t will catch up. The fact that some drug counselor himself got sober 20-some years ago by doing a conventional IOP (Intensive Outpatient Program) along with a couple of AA meetings per week means little more than that was the right plan for him. Accordingly, sobriety courts should be as flexible as possible in directing people into the kinds of services that will work best for them. It may be easier to run a “one-size-fits-all” program, but is also guaranteed to be less effective overall. These are important considerations, but in the larger picture, they’re not deal breakers for most people.
There is a lot more to all of this, but I think that after 2 installments, we’ve at least surveyed the landscape of sobriety courts well enough. If you’re facing a 2nd offense or a 3rd offense DUI anywhere in the greater Detroit, Tri-County area, I can help. As you look for a lawyer, read his or her articles and see if the analysis resonates with you. You should always do your homework and be a smart consumer; check around, and then ring my office. All of my consultations are done over the phone, right when you call, and you can find us here to help Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. until 5:00 p.m., at 586-465-1980.