Mining the Headlines

Dishing about the legal and psychological implications of the day's news

Women Alcoholics: Masters of Deception

Women, like Diane Schuler, are good at hiding addiction.

No matter how much Daniel Schuler denies on "Larry King Live" that his wife was drunk on that fateful day in July, there was that damnable busted bottle of Absolut vodka in the crushed metal of Diane Schuler's minivan. Had that 1.7 liters snuck up and beckoned her on that weekend morning, whispering drink me, then sip some more in the car as you listen to the radio? Drink 10 shots worth and nothing will bother you on the ride home with all those kids in the car. If you need a little something more, toke on some pot at the rest stop. Aah, isn't that better? Of course you're all right to drive. You're in control. You're not an alcoholic in the grips of an addiction. You don't need it; you just want to take the edge off. You're fine now, feeling no pain, no stress.

The inner voice of the alcoholic is a running monologue of excuses, a compendium of denial, a master of deception. I just have to get through this rough patch in my marriage. It's a tough time at work, with all these deadlines approaching. My kids are driving me crazy. Oh, I'll just have a little sip...wouldn't get a fly high.

Women are especially good at keeping up a good front-of appearing to be the perfect mother, perfect wife, perfect worker. Make no waves, attract no undue attention. And heavens, never let anyone see you tipsy! It's so unlady-like, so common, so trashy. A glass of wine at dinner, a toast to the bride and groom, a Manhattan at a cocktail party-that's fine, but it's totally verboten to show intoxication. Who me, too much to drink? No, I just took some medication for my back pain. It must be my hypoglycemia acting up; I just need something to eat.
So have a few before the party, keep a bottle in the laundry basket (and another under the seat of the car), have a "pick me up" in your coffee cup at work before heading home-there are a thousand ways to slip in a quick nip, to down another before anyone sees you.

It's certainly possible that Diane's husband didn't know how much or how often she was drinking. Then again, with his own arrest for DUI, they were probably joined at the hip in mutual denial. His denial is prodigious. He is having Diane's body exhumed to prove that she wasn't drunk at the time of the accident. Good luck with that.

And then there was his refusal to discuss the marijuana (possibly because they had shared that joint?). But if Daniel was ever drunk in front of family or friends, it would have been shrugged off. If his wife had been publicly drunk, there would have been head shaking and finger wagging. Women are judged so much more stringently than men that their guilt and shame keeps the burden of alcoholism hidden as securely as possible. Until it's no longer possible.

I hit bottom when I tried to tell a client about a settlement offer only to have him tell me I'd already shared that information with him the previous evening. I remembered none of it, and that scared me sober. Now clean and sober for over 25 years, I'm thankful for the moment my husband said, "Do you think you could be an alcoholic?"
If you suspect that you or someone in your family has this problem, what can you do? If you're the one hitting the bottle, seek help at AA, where anonymity is guaranteed. The program really does work. If it's a family member or friend, talk to them and express your concern-when they are sober. Offer them the support they will need to acknowledge and then deal with their problem.

Alcoholism may be a disease with a genetic component, but first and foremost it is an addiction. Recovery is dependent on abstaining. It takes courage to come face to face with the reality of the world, with its stress and pain and suffering, without fortification of a drink, a pill, a shopping or gambling spree. But it sure beats killing innocent children.

Deborah King, New York Times best-selling health & wellness author, speaker, and attorney.

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