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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
Pamala August 13, 2009, 6:17 PM

I’m sorry but everyone has a choice. My whole family is alcoholics so you know what, I don’t drink. Plain and simple. And I don’t feel socially pressured to do so.

So this mother was not only bad but totally at fault. Addiction in no excuse. She had a choice, we all do, addicts chose not to take the steps to get healthy and in this case people died.

pb August 13, 2009, 9:17 PM

I don’t like all this “it is a disease” “no it isn’t” talk — and this holier than thou “you have a choice” business. In cases like the wrong way driver — her life was way way out of control — an accident waiting to happen — she was far beyond making the choice to not drink that day. She had no sense left — if you drink that much, in secret, every day — you are damaging your brain, and all the other organs you need to make wise decisions. This is not a simple “yes/no” she had a choice thing — she probably hasn’t made a rational choice in years. Yes — she’s responsible — but she was also mentally ill.

Patrick August 13, 2009, 9:23 PM

First and foremost, if you drink and smoke pot behind the wheel, It’s your fault.
But it is strange that the family seems very adamant that she was not someone who had ever done these activities before, and before this she seemed to be responsible.
Apparently she stopped at a McDonald’s a while before this accident and witnesses described her as normal too.
I know people who have worked fast food, and have heard plenty of stories of employees playing ‘pranks’ on patrons… spit in the burger, spike the large diet coke, etc. Hell, I remember reading a news report a few years back about someone in Europe putting LSD in fast food drinks for a laugh. His defense was “It happens all the time in America”.
Obviously the simplest answer is usually the correct one, I just hope the police did a full investigation, since smoking pot behind the wheel while guzzling Vodka, with kids in the car, all while your family has no idea, is pretty intense.

pb August 13, 2009, 10:30 PM

A judge or doctor would declare the wrong way driver “incompetent” — in cases like that responsibility for “fault” could be shifted to third parties, like her family.

kathy August 14, 2009, 1:38 AM

i know nothing about alcoholism and i dont know if mr schuler was aware of his wife’s addition or not. if he was aware, i think he must have believed she wouldnt have drank with children in the car. i hope in time the hances can have a relationship with mr schuler and their nephew. everyone blaming mr schuler does not bring the children back.

just wrong August 14, 2009, 8:13 AM

“A judge or doctor would declare the wrong way driver “incompetent” — in cases like that responsibility for “fault” could be shifted to third parties, like her family.”

Once again, a way to shift responsibility from the party at fault - THE DRIVER.

Acholic or not - she is a horrible mother if she ever drank/smoked pot and drove. My father was a raging alcoholic and never once would he put us in a car - even at his drunkest.

Anonymous August 18, 2009, 7:56 AM

it’s possible that diane’s drinking was a way of self-medicating for an underlying depression - perhaps even post partum since her little one was 2. if the family didnt see signs of alcoholism, they would also miss signs of serious depression. also not to judge, but why was diane in charge of driving 5 kids, while her husband had none? that is very stressful for a person especially someone who is vulnerable and depressed to begin with. and if it was an ongoing pattern that she was put in situations that overloaded her, she may have finally cracked.

dorleen bowers August 19, 2009, 8:36 AM

diane schuler’s so called hidden disease killed herself, her daughter, her brother’s whole family, and three other men who were going the right way. her husband knew it cause he said that she was an ocassional drinker and pot smoker but now recanted it! she may have been a great mom but great mom’s don’t put their kids life in danger. now she has a son who will be screwed up for the rest of his life! I hope he doesn’t strat drinking at six.

Melanie August 19, 2009, 2:53 PM

I could care less if she was an alcoholic or a drug attict, There is NO excuse the world that could justify what this woman did. Read all the articles her 9 year old niece was calling her Father from the car scared during this car ride where she killed herself and all these innocent people…I cannot imagine those poor kids in that car leading up to their deaths it breaks my heart. What is wrong with her husband….all he should be holding press conferences for is to tell all the families of the vicitims how sorry he is…

anonymous August 19, 2009, 6:37 PM

Maybe she used to be an addict. That might have been something she didnt share with her husband because she didnt want to take her past with her when starting new. Maybe she relapsed. Stop blaming her husband no one in her life knew about her addiction not even her best friends. Its not fair to point fingers. No one saw hs

Suzy Q August 19, 2009, 7:41 PM

I resent using the simile of an allergy to explain addiction. I unfortunately have a very severe food allergy, one which causes me to go into life-threatening anaphylaxis. Trust me, I do not crave the food which makes me sick and I obsessively examine my food to make sure it is allergen free. (I have to if I don’t want to die.) If I inadvertently tasted that food I would immediately spit it out, not consume more of it. Claiming that alcoholism is some sort of allergy is medical poppycock. Does alcohol produce histamines? Does an alcohol skin prick test produce a rash? Are there alcohol specific IGes measurable in the blood of an alcoholic? Allergies don’t work that way - do your research.

nicky August 23, 2009, 8:41 AM

i hope the devil is playing with her soul torturing it slowly for all eternity making her hear the cries of the people she killed over and over and over………..

SHIRLEY August 25, 2009, 12:03 AM


Shirley August 25, 2009, 12:12 AM

Diane Shuler may not have seemed like
a bad mom, but she made a horrible de-
cision that cost her, her children, &
others their lives.
Alcoholics get very clever at hiding
what they’re doing from the public, so
that they won’t be shamed. But, it all
comes out in tragedies such as this.
It’s not just her, it’s countless other
people who are getting into a vehicle
when they have no business doing so, &
by doing so, they cost innocent people
their lives.
I am a recovering alcoholic myself, &
with the help of nutritional products
that are helping to undo some of the
damage I did to my liver, & helping me
to curb my cravings, I am on the way
to becoming alcohol free.

steve August 26, 2009, 12:21 AM

“alcoholism as an “allergy” theory is something conceived of a long time ago and seems to be ingrained in some from AA.
To my knowledge there is ZERO scientific evidence to back this up, and typically people avoid allergy inciting agents to avoid suffering.
Current physiologic brain imaging technology does indeed show changes caused by addiction and does lend solid support to the disease model.
I am married to an alcoholic and have become hated because I took the car keys away from her. I can comment that although my wife is in strong denial of having a problem, she was able to plan her work schedule around her drinking. She knows not to schedule herself the AM after the drinking night. In a similar light, Diane Schuler should have NOT taken that first drink knowing she had to drive.

Sure non-alcoholics may be highly intoxicated but are much more likely to be cognizant of their impairment and not drive. The alcoholic can be grandiose, arrogant and self centered thereby putting others at risk, especially while driving. I have seen this behavior firsthand when dealing with my wife. Even mentioning alcohol is a problem fills her with rage. Alcohol becomes the center of the universe, the reason for living, and the family/loved ones are simply there to provide a base camp from which to base the drinking. Not to mention bailing them out and covering up for them.
Diane Schuler should have chosen to begin her “bender” after the children had safely reached their destination.
One book “I’ll quit tomorrow” is excellent reading and sheds light on the psychologic mechanisms involved in . Denial, euphoric recall, delusion, rationalization, paranoid demonization. How the family/loved ones are manipulated.

Angela August 26, 2009, 9:37 PM

I believe in what this author says. I don’t think that she is saying that Diane was not responsible for her actions, only that it was the alcohol that caused it. I know of a friend who has a similar issue and no matter how many friends or family try to intervene, she and her husband remain stubbornly rooted in their denial. Those of us who love her pray that she and her children don’t end up like Diane and that she becomes enlightened before another like tragedy occurs. Its a sad thing to watch and makes us all feel helpless.

nicky August 26, 2009, 9:47 PM

people who remain stubbornly rooted in denial should kill themselves and not other innocent people i have a solution caught driving drunk once 1 year in jail caught again 5 years hard labor if you kill anyone under the influence of alcohol or drugs execution that will stop the problem enough already with this nonsense if you drink dont drive period end of story

momof5 September 1, 2009, 10:36 PM

I am married to an alcoholic and we have 5 kids. My husband wouldn’t drink when I met him but several years later it came on like Gang Busters! I am very upset now because my husband drove with one of our kids while drunk. This isn’t the first time and we have been fighting to say the least. I so much as tried to prove he was drunk by asking him to get in the car with me and drive to the police station for a sobriety test. He told me where to go of course. I was going to call them to our house to report it but our kids were upset thinking he would be arrested. Slurring his speach, and stumbling around not to mention the way the truck is parked in our driveway and he denies he was drunk. I am at my witts end and have been reading up on this. I know he wants to stop and admitts how reckless it is WHEN he’s sober. It seems that after one drink he loses all sense of right and wrong and does become powerless to the alcohol. I love him but fear for my childrens safty. His mom and dad were both bad alcoholics. When sober he is a good, dedicated, dad and loves his kids. When our children were babies he never took them alone because I have nursed all of them. Now that they are older and into sports he is way more involved but I can’t trust him to stay sober. It is so hard to understand how a dad could do this when I know how much he loves his kids. The addiction is so hard to understand when you have no experience and after all these years of dealing I still can’t get it. A friend who grew up with an alcoholic mom tells me over and over he is powerless and it is a sickness. I still can’t get my head around this either but do understand what this Dr. is saying and it is true. In a sober mind she would have died for her kids like my husband and in a alcoholic state they all died. I am living this life but don’t deny that he is an alcoholic. I am going to have to leave my 19 year marriage to protect my children.This is all so unfair to myself, my children, and my husband. This is running through his blood just like cancer runs through a sick body. I blame his parents. I have also used this to show my children how vulnerable they will be to the sickness. It is also running through their blood just waiting for them to become addicted.My kids want me to stay at whatever cost. I will be the bad guy in their eyes. I have cried my eyes out and wish I had known more about this addiction and would have never aloud myself to fall in love with and alcoholic. This has been an on going fight with periods of sobriety and periods of alcoholism. I have left a few times and always come back on false hope. He can and has stopped for as much as a year at a time but it is always temporary. When he started again it wasn’t bad at first but got there. Those of you who know nothing about it or have never lived it should really NOT pass judgement. I do see how she could have been a loving mom who was powerless to her addiction. My husband loves his kids but has made bad choices after drinking. I am fortunate I got my kids back alive. I would never ever put any child in my car after drinking but I am not an alcoholic. While I admitt I am angry and say some mean things to my husband about this I really do know that if he could help it he would make better choices. While under the influence just as your driving is imparied so is their judgement. It doesn’t make it right and he could get help so why doesn’t he??? I don’t have the answers. Wish I could fix it all and spare my kids the pain this ugly addiction will bring them.

Anonymous September 25, 2009, 11:53 AM

Okay , I’m from floral park, and I have witnessed what all of this has done. But there are a few things I want to clear up.
1. Diane Schuler was the aunt of the children she had in the car, they were not strangers.
2. It WAS her decision yes, but if her family was fully aware of her alcoholism, which they were not, her brother wouldn’t let his sister take HIS CHILDREN upstate.

Robin September 28, 2009, 10:46 AM

Ms. Ginsburg, you make me ill.

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