Within the catalog of my Driver’s License Restoration articles, is has been my goal to cover every aspect of these cases, and address those questions which come up regularly. In that vein, I am often asked about the chances of winning a License Restoration Appeal if someone does not go to AA. I can answer that question with a bit of good news: AA is not required. In a recent blog article I began an examination of the difference between going to AA, as opposed to NOT going to AA. This article will continue that examination in more detail, with a brief look at how someone who has never gone to AA can win a License Appeal Hearing.
To be clear, active involvement in AA is helpful. But in my Driver’s License Restoration Practice, more than ½ of the people for whom I win a License Appeal are not active in the AA program. It is not necessary. Amongst my license Restoration Clients who are NOT currently active in AA, I’d say that about ½ of them had previously attended the program, even if such attendance was Court ordered. The other ½ have never been to a meeting in their lives.
It is true that back more than 10 years ago, it at least seemed impossible to win a License Appeal without being involved in AA. This lingering impression is why many old-time AA attendees will tell anyone within earshot that the only way to get a License back is to keep coming to meetings. In fact, it was the case in my own office that, about 10 or more years before now, I wouldn’t even consider accepting a License Appeal unless the person was actively involved in AA.
Much has changed for the better, and not a minute too soon. In the first instance, it needed to be recognized that imposing an AA requirement on License Restoration Petitioners was contrary to the treatment outlined by many Substance Abuse Counselors, who did not feel, in any particular case, that AA was necessary for a person’s recovery. It has always been the case that a qualified Substance Abuse Counselor would evaluate a new Client and develop the Treatment Program they felt best suited the person. In some cases, AA was recommended, and in others, it was not. So how is it that these people who spend all day, every day, treating Alcohol and Drug problems could be so wrong about what a person needs?
They could not. The State had to accept that, whatever it might prefer, diagnosing and treating an alcohol problem, and calculating what, if any, ongoing support a person may or may not need thereafter, is properly the job and role of the Substance Abuse Counseling Professional, and no one else. In other words, if a Substance Abuse Counselor assesses Joe Blow, and says that he needs one-on-one counseling once per week, then that should stand. No one can possibly be in a better position to make that determination over the Counselor, and particularly not the State.
For many people, coming to the realization that they have an alcohol problem and cannot drink again is sustainable without going to a support group. For others, it may not be so easy. Some people need AA, and some just like it. Great for them. Their License Appeal will be qualitatively different than the non-AA person’s. The key thing here is the self-realization that the person can no longer use alcohol.
In my last blog article, I wrote about how one of the “magic” elements in a License Restoration Case is the “story” of a person’s recovery. Everyone has a unique story, but if we’re talking about real recovery here, whether AA or non-AA, that recovery must begin with the fundamental understanding that the person cannot drink. Indeed, an important part of what I go over with my Clients is how we demonstrate that understanding, because the State won’t consider giving anyone a License until it is proven, by “clear and convincing evidence,” (see Rule 13) that the person is committed to that. In other words, if the State thinks there’s even a chance someone will pick up a drink at some point down the road, their Appeal is already lost.
Since the starting point for any recovery, and any story of recovery, is that “light-bulb” moment when the person understands and accepts that they can never drink again, it only makes sense that an AA person has a bit of a head start. Most people have at least heard of the “1st step” in some context or other. The 1st step in AA reads:
“We admitted we were powerless over alcohol–that our lives had become unmanageable”.
There is a lot to this, but the point is that even if a person has never gone to AA, and never even heard of the 1st step, they were at least taught, through Counseling, the meaning and implication of this step; you cannot drink again. No one emerges from Counseling having been taught that they can drink again.
I’ve often heard people mistakenly say that “The first step is admitting you have a problem.” That’s part of the 1st step, but simply admitting to a problem doesn’t begin to solve it. The 1st step requires more. It requires the person to accept that they have a problem, and that the only way to fix it is to stop drinking – completely and forever.
Those who have discussed the manifold implications of this 1st step around the tables of AA understand that this simple sentence is loaded with complexity. For all of that, however, the only thing that matters as far as staying sober is concerned, and the only thing the State cares about it a License Appeal, is that the person, at their very core, understands and accepts that they can never drink again.
Those who have never been to AA may not have all the catch-phrases their AA counterparts have to discuss this concept, but as long as they have arrived at the permanent conclusion that they can never drink again, that doesn’t matter.
Earlier, I mentioned that more than ½ of those whom I represent in a License Appeal do not have current, active AA participation. I then noted that about ½ of that group has never really been involved in AA, and about ½ used to go, often as part of a Court Order. Even a brief stint in AA, however, arms a person with some pretty valuable knowledge. Like grade school math, these lessons may not be at the surface of the person’s consciousness, but when we begin to develop the “story” of their recovery, they are often surprised at how much of what they heard when they went to AA has been retained in the recesses of their memories. Part of my job is to draw that out.
There are a variety of reasons why people stop going to AA. Some people continue to drink . For those who manage to stay sober, however, its most often the case that the program just wasn’t for them. Some people are put off by what they call the “religious” aspect of the program, others by what they see as “negativity,” and still others by what they perceive as the cult-like mentality of the program. Anyone familiar with AA would instantly counter such allegations, but the fact that anyone makes such claims is, more than anything else, proof that the program just isn’t for them.
Instead, many people come to that “1st step” epiphany by other means. For most, a wholesale change in their lifestyle is part of that transformation. Fridays and Saturdays out drinking have been replaced by Fridays and Saturdays doing other things. Soon enough, those new habits become routine. After a while, the “new habit” of living an alcohol-free lifestyle becomes old habit. And that alcohol-free lifestyle is the main ingredient in a recipe for long-term sobriety. People who truly “get” this, and have transformed their lives, are every bit as sober as those who go to AA.
In the context of a Driver’s License Appeal, its that “getting it” that’s most important, and not the source of that information. Thus, a person who goes to AA, but is still not convinced that they can’t manage their drinking, does not “get it.” A person who has never gone to AA, but clearly understands that they need to keep alcohol out of their lives forever, “gets it.” Who would you want as your kid’s school bus driver?
AA attendance is not required to win a License Appeal. What is required, however, is that a person essentially internalizes that 1st step concept that they can’t drink again. However they come to that conclusion, when they can prove they really believe it, they’ll be ready to start a License Appeal.