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Diane Schuler Was Not a Bad Mom

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Diane's behavior was not her fault, for she was in the grips of a serious and progressive illness that not only poisoned her body, but made it impossible for her mind to make rational choices.

diane schuler and family

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 (including herself), there are many questions swirling about the character of the woman who was behind the wheel, and the people in her life who proclaim that she didn't have a problem with drugs and alcohol. What kind of mother would drive drunk and stoned with her own children in her car and risk their lives, as well as the lives of her nieces and other drivers on the road? How is it possible that Diane's husband and brother could deny that she was a substance abuser in light of the horror that unfolded while she was under the influence of alcohol and drugs?

While the magnitude of this tragedy is unique, the familial denial is not. As the former clinical coordinator of a drug and alcohol treatment program, I frequently encountered people closest to the alcoholic or addict who were unable to acknowledge the gravity of their loved one's disorder. There are many reasons why family members deny the alcoholic's problems, but commonly it is due to a deep sense of shame over the alcoholic's behavior, or to maintain the family's reputation and project the illusion of a "perfect family."

With the denial comes enabling; an enabler is a person who subconsciously supports the alcoholic by denying that the drinking problem exists, and helping the alcoholic to get out of the scrapes caused by his drinking or using. The enabler makes excuses for the alcoholic, and thus allows the alcoholic to continue her destructive pattern. Without question, Daniel Schuler enabled his wife's alcoholism and drug addiction. There is no other explanation for his vehement and pathological denial of her drinking, and his tolerating her driving with his children in her car while she was under the influence.

Now comes the question of the morality of Diane; how could this woman have behaved in such a reckless and egregious manner? It would be simple to write her off as an amoral sociopath -- a woman who only cared about gratifying her own immediate needs, and who was incapable of feeling empathy for others. But for alcoholics and addicts, that explanation lacks the depth of understanding of the malady and is not sufficient enough.

Alcoholism and addiction are illnesses of the body, mind, and spirit. The effect produced by these substances is a manifestation of an allergy; this allergy is evidenced by the fact that once the alcoholic or addict begins drinking or using, they are unable to stop. Furthermore, those who become alcoholic or addicted lose the power of choice when it comes to drinking or using. These types can never safely use alcohol in any form at all, and it seems undeniable that Diane Schuler was in this category.

People like Diane drink and use because they like the effect produced by alcohol and drugs. They become physically and psychologically addicted to these substances. The sensation is so seductive that while they can admit it is harmful, they learn to rationalize their drinking and using. Once they are under the influence, all bets are off. Their actions and behavior are now dictated by the cocktail of substances consumed, and they are powerless to change unless they get sober. An illness of this sort affects others in a way unlike any other human sickness. If a person has cancer, all feel sorry for her, and no one is angry or takes it personally. But alcoholism and addiction are illnesses that negatively impact everyone whose lives touch the sufferer's -- which is blatantly obvious in this tragedy.

People who knew Diane described her as a loving and devoted mother, and many have questioned the incongruence of how this woman who truly loved her children could behave so appallingly. It is my belief that it is entirely possible for a woman to both love her children and behave recklessly while under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol. Being an alcoholic and an addict did not make Diane Schuler a bad mother who was incapable of being "good"; rather, it made her a sick woman who needed to get well.

I will go even further to say that her behavior while under the influence was not her fault, for she was in the grips of a serious and progressive illness that not only poisoned her body, but made it impossible for her mind to make rational choices. But she was indeed responsible for the tragedy that ensued, as are the people in her life who enabled her illness to progress to this shocking level.

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78 comments so far | Post a comment now
Jamie August 12, 2009, 8:03 AM

“I will go even further to say that her behavior while under the influence was not her fault, for she was in the grips of a serious and progressive illness that not only poisoned her body” You are so so so wrong!! She HAD a choice to get high/drunk and then drive - no one forced her. I’m tired of hearing that alcholism is disease that no one has choice or control over - way to enable and not add to the addicts culpability- one chooses to drink or not and one chooses to get help or not to. She chose not to. She had a choice - she chose to kill those children by her actions.

I think you would be singing quite a different tune if YOUR children had been killed by her while she was drunk driving.

Mom2two August 12, 2009, 8:56 AM

My husband doesn’t understand why I’m following this situation. But I grew up with an alcoholic mother. She drove drunk on a regular basis, with us in the car. My father knew about it, the 2 of them had TREMENDOUS fights about it but that never put an end to it. Living this first hand I can see both the author’s point of view and the point of view expressed by Jamie (above). My Dad defended my mother when her alcoholism became the talk of the neighbourhood. Publicly denying it but privately fighting a battle. Diane Schuler’s husband’s denial of her alcoholism is only making the situation worse. I strongly believe that there is NO WAY he didn’t know about her addictions. The family of alcoholics get so used to hiding the truth but it’s time for it to stop!

Hexicon August 12, 2009, 9:47 AM

She was responsible but it wasn’t her fault? How cute. Of course it was her fault, and that’s why she would have been charged with murder had she survived.

Angela August 12, 2009, 10:22 AM

Are you kidding me lady? Not her fault. Is this the nonsense you feed your clients? It was her fault; no one forced her to drink, smoke dope and drive. You ridiculous mommies need to grow up and take responsibility for yourselves. Once you have kids stop acting like children! You aren’t freewheelin’ young adults anymore. If you want that lifestyle, don’t have the kids.

Gail Cooke August 12, 2009, 10:40 AM

You know what, she still took people with her when she died. Alcoholics know that what they are doing is wrong (a friend of mine takes care of one and he knows what he is doing is wrong) and therefore they are culpable. Too bad so sad…the bottom line is she killed people and quite frankly I don’t feel sorry for her. I feel sorry for her family and the families of the other victims. If she were still alive, as far as I’m concerned she could rot in prison.

JB August 12, 2009, 11:10 AM

Sounds like you are the one in denial! I happen to have 2 addicts in my life, one is a drunk the other is in pain management. Both make decisions everyday not to put others at risk by NOT getting behind the wheel of a car because they know better. Addicted or not a person is still aware of right and wrong. The problem she had was there before she became addicted and she choose to self-medicate rather than get help. The world is bigger than any one of us out there. There is no shame in asking for help, it shows courage, strength and caring for others when you take care of yourself and your well-being so that you may take care of others.

nolamom August 12, 2009, 11:23 AM

Mom2two I agree with you 100%… I grew up exactly the same. But the only difference is my mom’s alcoholism was a family secret . She work as nurse full-time, no one ever knew!I am following this very closely, it hits too close to home!
She might have had medical problems but that doesn’t explain the blood alcohol OR THC. I agree with you it’s got to stop. I feel for the kids in this situtation because I know I was helpless and deeply affected as a child.

Claudia August 12, 2009, 11:38 AM

Diane Schuler was a good mom and a terrible drunk. She owed it to her family to get help. She made the decision to take her first drink that day, and sentenced her family and 3 strangers to death, and her survivors to a lifetime of pain.

Heather R August 12, 2009, 11:45 AM

Interesting perspective, especially on the familial denial. Hopefully this tragedy will be a wake-up call to those who are addicted and to their families—get help, and don’t get behind the wheel until you are 100 percent healthy and sober.

JC August 12, 2009, 12:04 PM

Diane’s behavior WAS her fault when she had the option of staying on the side of the road. I agree with Angela- this is a terrible thing to feed your clients.

Anonymous August 12, 2009, 1:37 PM

It was most certainly her fault. Alcoholism is a difficult disease and may have made completely diminished her willpower not to drink, but NOBODY - I repeat NOBODY - is BORN an alcoholic. At some point, it was her choice to pick up the bottle. It was her choice to keep drinking. It was her choice not to get treatment when her drinking got out of control. And I have an awfully hard time believing she didn’t realize that driving under the influence with children in the car was risky. I’m sorry, but it all boils down to her choices. Even though she was an alcoholic, and alcoholism is a serious disease, it was her choice in the first place. Which makes this HER fault.

mommy<3 August 12, 2009, 2:13 PM

Everyone always wants to put the blame on alcohol/drug addictions… in my eyes, that’s BS. This was HER fault, she CHOSE to take the first drink, and first smoke of the day - my aunt is a SEVERE alcoholic (she only has 5% of her liver left) & she has a slight mental retardation & even SHE wouldn’t put her kids, and her neices/nephews in a vehicle with her behind the wheel! I have NO sympathy for this woman, but I do have sympathy for her family and the family of the others she KILLED.

joe August 12, 2009, 2:19 PM

just because someone was highly intoxicated does not mean that they were an alcoholic. For all we know, she never drank but something set her off that day and she decided to kill herself and decided to drink to steel her nerves. I hate the way these articles jump to the conclusion that she was an alcoholic / had a long-term ongoing addiction. Maybe that was true but there is not much evidence other than this single incident which just as likely could have been a one-off under the scenario i described.

JS August 12, 2009, 2:31 PM

Diabetes and no treatment, tooth absess, no treatment… Why would she neglect her health like that? I live in the area and before her wrong-way turn (which is all but impossible to make), Diane would have passed a grocery store, church with playground (on a Sunday), many residences, and many safe places to pull over where the children would have been safe and she could have used a phone. I truly believe her ride down the Taconic was a determination to die.

Gigohead  August 12, 2009, 2:42 PM

Ms.Ginsberg wrote: I will go even further to say that her behavior while under the influence was not her fault, for she was in the grips of a serious and progressive illness that not only poisoned her body, but made it impossible for her mind to make rational choices.

Here is what I have to say:
I will go even further to say that her behavior while under the influence was completely her fault, for she was in the grips of her steering wheel as she put the key in to the ignition. Yes, a serious and progressive illness that not only poisoned her body, that made it impossible for her mind to make rational choices, but when she got into the car and loaded up her vodka bottle she was rational enough to realize, “Hey, this may cause my kids to DIE!”.
She had a choice:

Drink or don’t drink….she chose wrong and it cost people their lives! PERIOD!!

anon August 12, 2009, 2:51 PM

I couldn’t get past your title … Yes! She was a bad mother … wife and person. Terrible and selfish, I might add.

Anonymous August 12, 2009, 3:55 PM

a tooth abscess can progress into a brain abscess and cause confusion and irrational behavior
we hope some medical professionals will look into this possibility

Tina August 12, 2009, 6:55 PM

Who’s fault was it? She drank, she drove and killed eight people including herself. And what about the pot?

Ken August 12, 2009, 9:28 PM

She had a choice and she made a bad one. A good mother does not get drunk and smoke pot.

Dani August 12, 2009, 11:04 PM

IDK Why my last post did not take so here is the short version of it. I come from an entire family of drunks. All different degrees from falling down, abusive to the ones who think no one knows. I too was a drunk for a long time. I can tell you this IT IS A CHOICE! I resent society making an excuse for people who make bad choices by labeling it an illness or a disease. Thats B.S.! Cancer is an illness,a disease, you don’t have a choice with cancer. Drunks, have a choice. They choose the easy way out! They choose to shirk responsibility and think the world should bow down and understand and take pity on them cuz they are “sick”. ITS A LOAD OF CRAP LADY!! People like you who keep coddling these pathetic excuses for human beings are the reason why this country is going down the toilet! No one is held accountable for anything anymore! BEING A DRUNK IS A CHOICE! Not everything you do is easy, doing the right thing is never easy but its NOT impossible. They just want to take the easy way out! Its disgusting and a disgrace and disrespectful to all those that she murdered because she CHOSE to drink and drive! Shame on you for this pathetic article and shame on her for murdering those innocent victims!!!!!!!

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