Jennifer Ginsberg: In the aftermath of the horrific tragedy that resulted in Diane Schuler crashing her car into another vehicle head-on and killing eight people, an age-old question regarding the malady of alcoholism has resurfaced: is it an illness or a choice?
People on one side of the fence are quick to condemn alcoholics as weak, immoral, sub-humans who not only lack self-control but are incapable of feeling empathy for others. On the other side, there are those who view alcoholism as a disease, not unlike diabetes or cancer, which requires vigilant treatment in order for the illness to be arrested.
My view as a therapist with more than 15 years of experience in the fields of alcoholism, addiction, and recovery is that alcoholism and addiction are illnesses, but this does not expunge the alcoholic/addict from the obligation to work her ass off to get and stay sober. This also does not excuse the alcoholic's behavior when they are under the influence. Recovering alcoholics are required to make amends for their behavior, and are taught that while having the malady of alcoholism is not their fault, they are indeed responsible for their actions.
While there is a large measure of free will when it comes to initially picking up that first drink or drug, there is no question that one's judgment is impaired while under the influence. It is medically proven that the body of an alcoholic becomes physically dependent on alcohol, and getting sober is the result of an elusive combination of desperation, followed by the willingness to change, and a hell of a lot of grace. Furthermore, alcoholism and addiction are often characterized by relapse, and maintaining sobriety is hard work.
Alcoholism is an illness of denial. It is a malady that tells the sufferer that they don't have it, even in light of total chaos and destruction, which is often obvious to everyone else in the sufferer's life. Rather than dehumanize those that are afflicted, we should stop enabling their alcoholism by denying the gravity of their problems. Instead of resorting to extremes of either demonizing the alcoholic or absolving them of their actions, we can recognize that they are sick individuals who need to take responsibility for their behavior. We have an obligation to help them by squarely confronting their alcoholism, rather than denying it.
How many of us have known and loved an alcoholic or addict, but have inadvertently helped exacerbate the situation by cleaning up their messes or flat-out denying that the problem exists? We only have to look at Daniel Schuler, Diane's husband, who now is begrudgingly admitting that his wife "occasionally smoked pot and drank," to witness the potentially tragic and deadly result of enabling an alcoholic.
I am certain that many of the women reading this article have struggled, or are struggling, with alcoholism and addiction. It is easy to demonize Diane Schuler, one sick woman, whose disastrous judgment was partly influenced by the cocktail of substances she imbibed on that fateful day of inconceivable destruction. How about shifting the focus off the question of her morality by taking this opportunity to examine our own behavior? It is incongruent to condemn one woman whose conduct under the influence resulted in a dramatic and horrific outcome, while rationalizing those times we get behind the wheel after having one too many, or we pop a pill to "take the edge off" before we pick up our kids at school.
If this does not reflect your experience, than perhaps you can breathe a sigh of relief and feel empathy for those who fight to stay sober one day at a time. If you struggle with alcoholism and addiction in your own life, if you look at Diane Schuler and know, "There but for the grace of God go I," do everything in your power to confront your illness head-on and get sober.
Whatever it takes.
|Jennifer Ginsberg is a Los Angeles mother, writer, and addiction specialist with over 15 years of experience in the fields of alcoholism, addiction, and recovery. After receiving her MSW from the USC School Of Social Work and MAJCS from Hebrew Union College, Jennifer served as the clinical director of a 120-bed drug and alcohol treatment facility. She also co-developed an addiction prevention program for Jewish youth, which has been implemented in synagogues nationally. Jennifer now works privately with people who are impacted by the devastating effects of drugs and alcohol and writes about all topics related to motherhood, addiction, and women in politics. Read more about her life at angstmom.com|