As a Michigan driver’s license restoration lawyer who writes about every aspect of driver’s license reinstatement appeals, I have published plenty of articles that separately detail how you can win your license back without going to AA, and, on the flip side, how AA can play a helpful role in a successful appeal. The straightforward reality is that you can win your license back either with, or without AA. When you dig a little deeper, though, it becomes clear that it’s what a person has learned about his or her drinking that matters, and not really where he or she learned it. A lot of people who go through the Michigan Secretary of State’s license appeal process have spent at least a little time in AA, but there are also plenty who have never been to a single meeting in their lives. The key to winning a Michigan license restoration or clearance case has everything to do with a person learning, whether through AA, counseling, education, self-study, or any combination of the above, that his or her relationship to alcohol has moved to a stage where drinking again is never an option.
The most important part of my job is to help my client “prove sobriety” within the framework of the license appeal process and its “million little rules.” This is where things can become very frustrating, especially for someone who has genuinely and honestly quit drinking yet still loses his or her driver’s license restoration or clearance case. It’s natural to think, “What more do they want? This isn’t fair!” And while I understand those feelings, if you want to get your license back, you have to accept the way the system works and either present a winning appeal within it, following all those that govern these cases, or fight that system and continue to lose year after year. It would take more space than I have here, and certainly way more time than the reader would likely care to spend, for me to explain how and why the driver’s license restoration process is actually not unfair, but the bottom line is that there are numerous, specific steps you need to follow to win your license back. If you have really quit drinking, then I can get you back on the road because I know exactly what to do and essentially have this down to a science. As I hinted before, the choice is rather simple: Do it the way the Secretary of State’s Administrative Hearing Section (AHS, the body that decides these cases) requires, and win your appeal, or do it your way, and lose.
In a sense, winning a license appeal is a lot like building a watch. First, you need all the right parts. Watch parts have to be made very precisely. You can’t just jam “good enough” pieces into the mechanism, or else the movement won’t work. In that way, a license appeal requires real sobriety. There is no “good enough” kind of sobriety. Either you’ve gotten sober and changed your life, or not. Even with all the right parts, however, building a watch requires putting each component in the right place, and in the right order. The same thing holds true in a license restoration appeal. Even if you have real sobriety, not putting your case together exactly as it needs to go will result in a frustrating lack of success. With that said, let’s circle back to the most important element or “part” of a license appeal case, sobriety…
There is a lingering myth – and it is resoundingly untrue – that you need to be in AA to win your license back. There was some truth to this notion years ago, but things have changed. To be perfectly clear, a significant majority of the license restoration appeals I win are for people who are not in AA, and remember, I GUARANTEE that I will win each and every license case I take. Thus, I say this as someone who knows, and who will put his money where his mouth is. Most of my clients do have some prior AA exposure, even if it was only a meeting or two. Yet the fact remains that being “in” AA is not necessary to prevail, although it can certainly be helpful. Note that I said “can” be helpful, because just being in AA is not, by itself, an asset to a license reinstatement case.
Another critically important component in a successful license appeal is that we are telling the truth. I firmly believe that you can’t “fake” sobriety, at least not to someone like me, and the whole idea is that the AHS hearing officers are supposed to be able to tell those who “walk the walk,” so to speak, from those who merely “talk the talk.” It is always a big mistake, for example, to say you go to AA if you don’t, or, equally bad, to go to AA just to make things look good. However you really got sober is your story, and however you stay sober is what works for you. If it’s real, then we’ll use it, and we’ll win with it. For those people who find a home in AA, there is nothing else quite like it. Many of these folks use the 12 steps, as the program prescribes, in all their affairs. Some go to AA for the social interaction, or as a “reminder,” and some go because, in true 12th step tradition, they know that sharing their story may help others. The key to winning is basing your license appeal on the truth.
Some folks are court ordered into AA and go because they must. For whatever reason(s), the program just isn’t for them. AA is like ethnic food; so for this example, let’s pick an ethnicity, like Thai. Some people like Thai food, while others don’t. I happen to like curry dishes, but I also understand that plenty of people (my wife, for example) do not. Then add to the mix the fact that AA meetings are like restaurants: Some are better than others, and everyone has different tastes anyway. I like Thai food, but, as luck would have it, not at the Thai restaurant closest to my house. If my first exposure to Thai food would have been there, I may have never given the cuisine a second chance. In the world of recovery and license appeals, you don’t have to either love or hate AA. It is entirely possible that a person has no dislike for the program, but has learned enough about how to stay sober and has too little free time to want to spend it at meetings. For everything I’ve just pointed out, it kind of all comes down to the old saying, “Different strokes for different folks.” The Secretary of State now understands that plenty of people get and/or stay sober without AA.
The expectation, of course, is that those who do go to AA will eventually internalize the meaning of its 1st step: “Admitted we were powerless over alcohol and that our lives became unmanageable.” It is likewise hoped that anyone still in, or who has even left the program, or anyone who, instead of AA, had some kind of alcohol counseling or treatment, understands the fundamental reality that he or she cannot drink again. This is the real takeaway, and that’s the deepest meaning of that 1st step. If you have truly accepted (and acceptance involves a lot more than just saying so) that taking a drink it just too fraught with risk for you, and that you cannot ever pick one up again, no matter what, then whether you got that from AA, counseling, or even just from hitting your head on the wall enough times, you have what it takes to stay sober, and, by extension, to win your license back. The AA saying that, “I didn’t get in trouble every time I drank, but every time I got in trouble, I had been drinking” is the cornerstone of really “getting it,” and it applies to everyone whose drinking has become problematic, regardless of any AA affiliation or lack thereof.
Winning your license back has everything to do with sobriety, but only as much to do with AA as your sobriety has to do with it. Those who are really sober will understand this almost as a matter of instinct, while those who aren’t quite “there” yet won’t. If you get it, and you need to win either your Michigan driver’s license, or a clearance of a Michigan “hold” on your driving record, I can help. If you’re not yet good with all this sobriety stuff, perhaps I can help you all the same. I can’t (and won’t) file a license appeal for anyone who isn’t genuinely sober, but I’m glad to try and help someone get his or her head around all of this. Either way, my staff and I are here to help, and we can be reached by phone, Monday through Friday, from 8:30 am until 5:00 pm at 586-465-1980.