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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
Mark August 13, 2009, 1:06 AM

I agree with Ms.Ginsberg 100% although I do understand the anger, respectful most of the people commenting here do not have a clue about the disease of alcoholism and drug addiction.

Anonymous, “At some point, it was her choice to pick up the bottle” you are correct and what is wrong with that, a large percentage of the population drink socially. How would she know she would have a problem without taking the first drink? “It was her choice to keep drinking” Wrong, once she took the first drink she had no choice.

IDK, clearly you not an alcoholic otherwise you would not have made such a foolish statement.

Dani August 13, 2009, 1:24 AM

MARK…Are you kidding me? Did you not read my post? I am eyeball deep in knowledge of drunks! It absolutely is a choice! Your own statement of “once she took the first drink she had no choice” is the most foolish contradicting statement. If that were the case there would be no such thing as recovering alcoholics! Every time you get the urge to drink YOU HAVE A CHOICE! Its not an easy one but you have that choice to make. She also had the choice to get help, she knew it was wrong if she was hiding it from people as her husband claims. She chose to selfishly endanger everyone who was on that road that day! She CHOSE IT! Like all drunks CHOOSE to drink!!
I had an uncle who was incarcerated for 5 years and was dry for that entire period. he came home and CHOSE to drink within the first week. He is once again a falling down abusive drunk! HE CHOSE TO DRINK AGAIN!
It is NOT an illness, it is NOT a disease these words are for things like cancer, MS etc you know the things that you DON’T HAVE A CHOICE with…Drunks are DRUNKS! They are weak& selifh and pathetic! They only want to take the easy way out! This woman got off easy by dying! It’s disgusting!

Mark August 13, 2009, 1:41 AM

Dani, Yes I did read your post, and I believe either you lack any understanding of the illness or you are full of it, whichever is true, it is pointless discuss it with you.

Dani August 13, 2009, 1:53 AM

Mark, thank you for conceding to defeat in this debate. It is always wise to walk away when you know you cannot win an argument against fact and truth.

pb August 13, 2009, 1:54 AM

I can tell you — this assessment is right on — my mother also had multiple addictions — and despite doctors warnings, family members denied it — until she fell over and died with a .36 BAL — friends and relatives were “shocked” and didn’t believe the toxicology report. After she died, we found vodka bottles (beverage of choice for closet drunks) hidden throughout the house, as well as pills hidden in pockets of her cloting in the closet. I remember arguing with my mother’s brother over this — he would not assist in a family intervention, because it’s a person’s right to have a drink, and the pills were prescribed by a doctor.

Mark August 13, 2009, 2:02 AM

Dani, I do not concede a thing, now you are looking even more foolish, and arguing with fool is an exercise in frustration, you may have the last word.

pb August 13, 2009, 2:08 AM

Dani — you’ve got it wrong — I don’t think Mark is interested in debating… you have the right to believe you are right — and you are to a degree — but addiction means you are no longer in control of your choices — your body depends on the alcohol — as in my mother’s case — if she quit drinking she would go into convulsions — and possibly die, without treatment. To get treatment she’d have to admit she was a drunk. She drank to avoid the convulsions — in fact — I was the only family member that noticed it wasn’t normal to hold onto walls when you walked around the house. She had them all fooled — and she could only fool them by continuing to drink.

Dani August 13, 2009, 2:25 AM

PB I am very sorry to hear about your Mom. I don’t like to hear that anyone loses their family especially to alcohol. Please understand that what I say is said with respect and not to tarnish your mothers memory. That being said I understand the drinking to stave off the consequences of the effects of drinking. Many of them do that. But you cannot tell me she never in all her years of drinking, never did she NOT realize what she was doing was wrong! She chose to hide it, deny it and avoid getting treatment for it. The point I am trying to get across (MARK I will admit I may have gone about it more hostile then necessary),is that they are aware of what they are doing, they know its wrong, they know its no good, but they don’t care (which is often their favorite phrase when they are well into their bottles). They know that to ask for help means embarassment& humiliation for them and their family and asking for help means making hard decisions. So they tell themselves that they are in control, the ones who think they are hiding itthink its better left unexposed. They know that its easier to numb, self medicate, feel better, stop shakes, etc if they just give in and drink. They KNOW ITS EASIER AND BECAUSE THEY ARE SELFISH THEY CHOOSE THE EASY WAY. I am not disputing the fact that the addiction is not real, but rather the fact that they CHOOSE to make it easy for themselves instead of making the harder choices to make it easier on everyone else. Also, as far as everyone else who claim they knew so&so had a drinking problem, they are just as guilty! They knew but its easier to keep your mouth shut and look the other way. These people as far as I’m concerned are part of the problem because they refuse to be part of the solution! Again I am very sorry you lost your Mom.

pb August 13, 2009, 2:57 AM

Dani — absolutely — the enablers are also guilty — right up to the family doctor — he told me he wasn’t sure my mother would ever find happiness from treatment — and this was probably the best outcome for everybody involved… because she was bent on self destruction. Who knows how far back it went — my mother spiked her tea with vodka — we all thought she was drinking tea. Symptoms developed gradually over 10 years at least. She fluffed off drunken accidents and slip ups in the kitchen to “her arthritis” — to the point, that my father had meals delivered because of my mothers “arthritis”. Denial and deception — rooted in desperation not to be busted. The hard work is the hard choice, and I wish there were better resources for this from family doctors… few people have the strength to say “I am an alcoholic”.

Mark August 13, 2009, 3:11 AM

I was a practicing alcoholic for many years during that time I was in complete denial about my illness. After several DUI’s, many bar fights, losing my family, my home, my job I was still in denial and I still truly did not believe I had a drinking problem, even when I conceded to love ones that I may have a problem for the purpose of ending an argument there always have to be a compromise, I will only drink wine, never drink before 6 pm you get the point, anyway obviously none of these compromises worked. Every family member and friend realized I had a serious problem and yet I truly believed I did not. One day after I had lost everything a friend tricked me into going to an AA meeting, and the light went on, the speaker told my story and for the first time in my drinking career I realized I was an alcoholic, I have been sober for over 14 years during that time I have listened to thousands of alcoholics and addicts, I have tried and succeeded in helped many, for the last few years I have spent of the time I allot for being of service to helping the mentally ill homeless, many abuse drugs and alcohol once they hit the streets. Today I am very successful in all areas of my life, I am one of the lucky ones.

pb August 13, 2009, 3:45 AM

Mark… the ones who have the strength sure are the lucky ones — but boy do they ever have to work hard. Congratulations. I had a friend in San Francisco with a story like yours, but he didn’t survive … you really have to want to survive. I just read that the husband of the ‘wrong way driver’ is a public safety official for the Nassau County police… what a horror. Yet familiar — he’s pointing his finger at a medical condition, just like my family did.

siz August 13, 2009, 9:04 AM

I am in such a similar situation, but the disaster has not happened yet, knock on wood. Mother gets a DUI with child in the car. State ordered treatment helps for the one year probationary period while breathalyzer is in the car. DUI was a warning sign.

Husband gets arrested multiple times for arguments with wife while she is under the influence. Underlying reasons for the arrest never come out in court. Husband cannot get the court to realize that wife is an alcoholic.

Wife refuses to admit that she has an issue, and refuses to get help. The hidden drinking goes on. Child finds alcohol throughout the house, but wife still does not think she has an issue. Wife still drives under the influence, since she feels that she is “capable”.

And life goes on. How to intervene? Just not sure. How to stop it? Not sure either. The pending lawsuites against Daniel Schuler will cause other husbands to hide known additiections. I dont want to be liable, but dont know how to stop it. Just not good. And addiction is a disease.

Mark August 13, 2009, 11:50 AM

Siz, I am sorry for your predicament, unfortunately it not uncommon. In my experience until a person realizes they have a problem and there is a solution you are powerless to stop them drinking, you can only interrupt it. The husband must stop her from driving while under the influence, he should call the police whenever he is aware of this situation, the safety of child and other should be paramount, the cost of dealing with another DUI would be insignificant compared to the possible outcome should she continue to drink and drive. First and foremost he has to ensure the safety of his child, he would be well advised to talk with an attorney to discusses his options. Sometimes difficult choices have to be made, taking the child legally and leaving the wife may be necessary. When the wife loses everything she just may then realize she has a problem and look for a solution. Good luck

Mark August 13, 2009, 12:12 PM

Siz, one last thought, the husband should contact Al-Anon, they are a great resource and offer needed support.

J August 13, 2009, 1:06 PM

She is a horrible mother and fully responsible. I come from a family of alcholics and it IS a choice, not a disease. You can choose to get counseling and you can choose to stop drinking. Cancer is a disease - you don’t get a choose to get it or stop it and you can’t counsel it away.

Alcoholics call it a disease as an excuse. I’ve seen this with so many addicts “Oh it’s a disease, I can’t help it”. But they can help because I’ve seen people in my family quit.

People choose to drink or get high , period. It is not a disease.

mommy<3 August 13, 2009, 3:00 PM

she’s a horrible person, and it’s not the DISEASE that killed all these people - it was HER. she could of waited til she got home to start drinking/smoking pot for the day!! I hope she is rotting in hell.

Bill August 13, 2009, 3:32 PM

This is to Mark and Dani: Mark, you absolutely have a choice not to drink. Dani, the drivel you hear from Mark is simply what they teach him in AA: “Ooh, I have a disease, I can’t help it, I’m powerless over alcohol…” That’s bullshit, as is trying to argue with people like him who can’t take responsibility. Alcoholism is not a disease and never has been. It’s a behavior problem and a treatable one. Btw, I’m a former alcoholic.

Dani August 13, 2009, 3:45 PM

Thanks Bill!! I agree as you can very well see from my posts. I do not wat to take away anything from Mark though, he did quit drinking and is helping people and that is admirable. The thing that I don’t agree with is not holding people accountable for their actions. If he and everyone else continues to tell these people that its a disease, they have it in their mind as an automatic excuse for their behavior. Again I state cancer, MS etc these are illnesses, diseases that cannot be avoided by choice or denial. I am glad you understood that I was not trying to be a b*tch but rather contribute to correcting what is wrong.

Mark August 13, 2009, 3:54 PM

Bill, I had a dear friend that uttered the very same sentiment you expressed, he also believed he was no longer an alcoholic. He died three years ago, he choked on his own vomit and his blood alcohol was 3 times the legal limit. Take care.

Bill August 13, 2009, 3:59 PM

Dani - thanks. I like reading your posts. Anyway, Mark is the tip of the AA iceberg. He and his brethren should really be taken to task about promoting what AA teaches, and that is horrendously inaccurate disinformation about the subject of alcohol, alcoholism, and the treatment of same. Diane Shuler killed all those people. It was her fault. It’s terriby terribly sad, of course. But she alone is to blame.

I have a one-step program: don’t ingest ethyl alcohol. No crazy pseudo-religiosity, no thought-stopping slgans that masquerade as wisdom, no meetings… it works fine. In fact, Havard University has found that 80% of people who successfully stop drinking, do it alone. Whereas AA tends to increase binge-drinking, increase arrests, and increase the ultimate cost of treatment because it’s so harmful.


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