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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
CentralCaliGrrrl September 28, 2009, 4:31 PM

The autopsy DID NOT find a tooth abscess or any other physical problem that would explain this sort of behavior.
All they found was alcohol and marijuana!

john September 30, 2009, 1:53 PM

so by this logic she would have gotten off on an insanity plea?

sara November 10, 2009, 11:06 AM

I appreciate you presenting a thoughtful and carefully constructed alternate point of view on this subject. As a mom it is a very difficult story to watch unfold. It hurts to even think about it. Good job with this essay.

Sick of Addiction Killing Our Family January 4, 2010, 7:26 PM

My 28 year old sister is an alcoholic/addict and is suspected of having Borderline Personality Disorder. In the last year her behaviour has become progressively worse with: calling off a big wedding, lying and saying fiance cheated on her & punched her in the eye, using cosmetics to make a fake black eye, photographing it and sending to everyone via email; keeping all shower/wedding gifts; telling ex-fiance she was capable of murder; hooking up with a heroin addict that she left the ex-fiance for; doctor shopping for Xanax; getting several VERY large tattoos on her arms; two physical altercations with heroin addict boyfriend with police being called; 2nd DWI in April 2009 (first DWI March 2006); shooting an illegally modified shotgun and knocking her front teeth out; had three seizures from Xanax withdrawl July 2009; getting pregnant in hopes that our family would accept her heroin addict boyfriend; spending $2k to fly to Las Vegas with heroin addict boyfriend to get married; moving heroin addict husband into my parents home (where my 10 year old neice also lives whom my parents have raised since birth) because heroin addict husband was kicked out of his parents home for shooting up heroin. His parents are raising his two children from a previous marriage. Oh and my sister has been receiving child support for 8 years and has never given my parents a dime. My parents are CLASSIC ENABLERS, they don’t come any worse. My other sister and I have gone so far as to spend $2k to hire an interventionist for my parents, yet it didn’t work. As of December 15, 2009 my sister is wearing a SCRAM ankle device and taking weekly drug testing due to her 2nd DWI and so my parents think “all is well.” They don’t want to see there are ways of passing sophisticated urine testing and SCRAM devices. They don’t want tosee that once her baby is born in April, she will go back to using, that is, if she isn’t currently using. I saw her at Thanksgiving and at 5 months she was thin and the whites of her eyes were very yellow.

She will end up killing herself or someone on the roadway, but you can’t convince my parents of that. It can’t happen to their daughter because she always tells them the truth, at least she’s brainwashed and manipulated them to believe her lies. They choose to not believe their three other responsible children and make excuses, lie for and deny the addict has a problem. Her addiction and behaviour has torn our family to pieces.

fuzzy wuzzy March 1, 2010, 9:26 AM

This is so false it makes me laugh. She commited murder/sucide and used vodka that day to numb her pain. She was mentally disturbed and vindictive person who proved her point to her husband and brother that day. To generalize using her as an example is the worst sort of rationalization i can imagine.

Diane Schuler pretended her mother was dead for 27 years, refusing to talk to her since she left the family when she was 9 years old. I her case the media went on a 6 month diatribe about secret alcholic mothers. Get a clue, this woman was not even an alcholic, she was mentally disturbed and used alcohol that particular day to numb her pain as she commited murder/suicide.

She is (was) the worst kind of mother, a selfish one.

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