Jennifer Ginsberg: Mary Kennedy, the wife of Robert F. Kennedy and mother of four children between the ages of 8 and 15, has been charged with driving while under the influence, according to the police in Bedford, N.Y.
Apparently the cops saw her car jump a curb outside a school, where she reportedly was picking up people at a carnival.
Lieutenant Jeff Dickan of the Bedford P.D. stated that Mrs. Kennedy had failed a number of sobriety tests done in the field. Her blood alcohol level was 0.11 when she was arrested Saturday night, with the legal limit under DUI law being 0.08. It is unknown whether any of her children were in the car when the incident occurred.
Last week, a domestic-violence report was filed at the Kennedy home. Lt. Dickan, however, said that that visit (which was unrelated to the DUI incident) had been due to a fight between the Kennedy children. I can speculate that Mary Kennedy was under extreme stress after the police visit, and that her home life was chaotic -- which may have contributed to the reckless behavior that led to Saturday's DUI.
Thankfully, no one was injured in the drunk-driving incident -- which is a miracle, given the fact that it presumably occurred around a lot of children. It is frightening to think about how many people drive drunk every day and never get caught. It's truly just a matter of millimeters and seconds that differentiates this incident from horrific tragedies that leave behind innocent victims -- those maimed and killed at the hands of drivers who are under the influence of alcohol and other drugs.
Those who are unfamiliar with alcoholism may wonder why a woman would get behind the wheel (to pick up children, no less!) while intoxicated. The answer is simple: denial. Alcoholics and addicts are in pathological denial about the gravity of their problem and are unable to rationally evaluate the consequences of their actions. This defense is the necessary, albeit toxic, ingredient that enables alcoholism to fester.
People may also wonder why Kennedy's husband, friends or other family members didn't intervene before she got behind the wheel. As a therapist who specializes in alcoholism and addiction, I frequently encounter people close to the alcoholic or addict who are unable to acknowledge the gravity of their loved one's disorder. There are many reasons why family members deny an alcoholic's problems, but commonly it is due to a deep sense of shame over the alcoholic's behavior, or an effort to maintain the family's reputation and project the illusion of a "perfect family." The Kennedys have a long history of trying to maintain a perfect image despite serious family dysfunction.
With denial comes enabling; an enabler is a person who subconsciously supports the alcoholic by denying that the drinking problem exists, and helps the alcoholic get out of the scrapes caused by his drinking or using. The enabler makes excuses for the alcoholic, thus allowing the alcoholic to continue her destructive pattern.
My hope is that Mary Kennedy now gets the help she needs, and finds sobriety before she has to hit an even lower bottom -- a bottom with consequences that are far greater than getting a slap on the wrist from the local police department.