The mother of all drunks?


WinebookIt’s been two months since Diane Schuler drove the wrong way on New York’s Taconic State Parkway and the resulting crash killed Schuler and seven others, including her two-year-old daughter and her two young nieces. When the news broke a few days later that Schuler’s autopsy had revealed large amounts of both alcohol and marijuana in her bloodstream, my stomach lurched.

In the days following the news of this toxicology report, Schuler’s husband denied that his wife was an alcoholic, or that she had been troubled.

We may never know the truth, but there’s been plenty of conjecture, and no small amount of outrage regarding the situation.

The many articles and blogs that subsequently commented on the tragedy expressed shock that any mother could do such a thing, and disbelief that close friends and family members wouldn’t have known if Schuler had suffered from alcoholism.

Others, however, have written that it’s actually quite possible that friends and family of alcoholics aren’t aware of the extent of their loved ones’ drinking. Perhaps even more troubling, the friends and family are often in denial, or resist addressing the issue for a variety of reasons.

As a high-functioning alcoholic, I can vouch for the truth of this. Even when my drinking gave me blackouts on a regular basis, had me driving tipsy all too often, got me into a fender bender that I barely remembered, and led me into at least one slightly embarrassing evening per month, few around me knew. If they did, they never mentioned it.

My ex and I discussed the issue a few times during our 13 years together, and I even gave AA a try, but not for long. And though my drinking continued, I guess we collectively denied it was serious enough to merit any real, dramatic change.

I talked a few times with my sister about it, too, but my secrecy and the fact that she lived 1,000+ miles away prevented her from knowing how bad I’d gotten, so she didn’t press the issue.

It was B., my boyfriend of three years now, who finally provided the catalyst for the change that I needed, and I’m beyond grateful for that.

But the other people close to me never approached me about it. Again, as a high-functioning drinker, I believe that I concealed it well. And the few times that I did broach the idea that I might “have a drinking problem,” I was met with dismay and doubt, if not flat-out denial.

I’m not blaming them, mind you, I’m just making the point, based on my own experience, that it is very possible indeed for an alcoholic to to go about her destructive drinking life with little or no notice or interference from those close to her.

Of course, the biggest controversey of this tragic story centers around the idea of a drunk mother with children in her care. How could any mother do this? so many writers have asked. Yet, as some responses to this blog pointed out, it’s not as if giving birth automatically anoints a woman as a responsible, mature, saintly creature void of any mental defects or moral afflictions.

Did I stop being an alcoholic the moment I had my first daughter 12 years ago?

Not at all, though I did abstain during the nine months I carried her, and drank only as much as the doctors and baby books said was allowable while nursing her. I had a second chance with my second daughter, ten years ago. Yet her arrival didn’t stop me from drinking, either. In fact, once I stopped nursing her, it escalated.

Alcohol helped me (or so I thought) be a breadwinner, a wife, a mom and a homemaker. It got me through being laid off, seeing my then-husband suffer a stroke, and witnessing the slow, sad disintegration of our marriage.



My fellow work-outside-the-home moms (and a few stay-at-home moms) joined me all too often in reaching for a cocktail or glass of wine while we commiserated about the trials and tribulations of modern motherhood. It was wholly acceptable to drink during our playdates. And judging from the books, the blogs and the booze-related paraphernalia that’s cropped up over the years, we weren’t the only ones parenting under the influence.

No doubt, there are plenty of mothers who aren’t alcoholics who can enjoy an adult beverage responsibly. For them, the idea of mixing alcohol and parenting isn’t a bad one, and those books and tee-shirts are all in good fun.

But I’m not one of those moms. And I used our society’s permissive attitude toward maternal drinking as yet another rationale and argument against my sobering up. As might be expected, the Schuler incident has led to a backlash against the whole “drinking mom” trend. Maybe some good will come of it.

I won’t list the potentially tragic things I did as an alcoholic mother, but suffice it to say, when I first heard of Diane Schuler’s accident, I felt sorrow and shame and guilt and…relief. “There but for the grace of God…,” I thought.

In a recent AA meeting, I talked about the amends I owed my two young daughters, and how I wasn’t sure how to handle that. Many were quick to remind me that I was enacting “living amends,” by getting and staying sober, and thus being a more responsible and loving mother. I hope I’m also setting a good example for them, so that they can avoid following in their mother’s footsteps — at least the path I stumbled down the first four decades of my life.

10 Responses to “The mother of all drunks?”

  1. This post could have been my story…if I didn’t know better! The worse my drinking got, the better I got at hiding it. It is a very tiresome and exhausting task to ‘stay on top of it’ all the time. I think so much of the denial comes from the sterotypical alcoholic…homeless, jobless, living on a park bench. The thought that I wasn’t THAT bad, caused many poor choices before getting sober. Wonderful post and great links too.!

  2. wonderfully written post….

  3. 3 Mary W

    Don’t beat yourself up for drinking while parenting. You aren’t drinking now and the living amends that you are giving your daughters today is worth every mistake you made.

    As for me, my son never saw me drink. I never drove drunk
    with him in the car. Why? Who knows. He was 3 when I first got sober and 5 when I finally got this program. But his father was also a drunk, who never got to the rooms. He did all of those things and I really was upset all the time when he did it.

    And we have enablers. Our spouse/partner, children, co-workers, friends can see that we have a problem, but minimize it. People forget that alcohol is a killer, in more ways than one. Until something like this comes out.
    I heard about it in a meeting. But I understood that this disease has always been the pink elephant in the middle of the living room. I grew up in that kind of denial about my own father. My mother minimized his drinking, but also tried to control it.

    Anyhow, thanks for the timely post. I am now and always will be an alcoholic. I just don’t drink today.

  4. Very well said my friend. The photograph alone brought tears to my eyes. What a brilliant juxtaposition.

  5. 5 K.

    So… as your thousand-mile-away sister, I need to say this to you:

    First, that I sort-of, kind-of knew that you were drinking way too much, and that it was affecting your life on a daily basis. My phone would ring at 1 a.m. and I knew it would be you, sad and drunk. We would then have a conversation that I realized you would never remember, but we’d have it anyway because I was simply grateful that you were home, alive, safe, and talking to me.

    Next, that you dropped plenty of hints that you needed my help with your drinking. The dark-of-night phone calls, the confession to me that you were drinking a bottle of wine a night to get to sleep, the weekends you’d tell me about where alcohol flowed and 40-somethings with toddlers partied like it was 1979.

    It was so, so hard to figure out what to do to help you. You were a spinning coin, ready to fall in either direction; I was afraid that our sisterly bonds would be strained even more or broken if I pushed too hard. You told me over and over not to judge, not to be so judgmental. So I held my breath, crossed my fingers and always answered the phone after midnight.

    Finally – no, C., you are not The Perfect Mother. But – and I speak here as an expert – you’re doing a damn sight better than previous generations. You are facing up to your problems, working your program, and coming up on your first anniversary as a sober mom. Your kids will be fine, because you aren’t denying a damn thing and you are being absolutely honest with yourself every day.

  6. Yo C…

    I so connect.

    In no particular order….

    I too thought it fun to participate in the humourous notions of drinking to handle parental, marital, and career stresses. Yet, the jokes were just a veneer-thin cover of my deep love of the feelings of being buzzed. I called it the “comfortably numb” mode…. or the “free at last” mode.

    I remember saying in my inner-voice…. man, it is scary how much I love this stuff. Yet appeared to drink like everyone else. I doubt they had the underlying love for drink like I did.

    I too remember those feelings of deep remorse and regret in realizing what I had done in being a drunk parent. Including behind the wheel of an automobile. I remember thinking I was the only one who ever did anything so foolish. I also remember confessing this to another recovering alcololic parent and the thousands of pounds that lifted from my shoulders when he shared that he had done the same and worse.

    Then in my first year in AA hearing alcoholic after alcoholic share that they had done the same and worse. They too drove drunk and mis-managed relationships with kids and other family members.

    There but by the grace….

    And I agree that neither maternity (nor paternity) fast-forwards us to a state of wisdom and responsibility. I remember the words of Lawrence Fishburn in “Boyz in the Hood” when he was speaking wisdom to his young son…. “Any fool with a dick can make a child…. it takes a real man to be a father”….. or something like that.

    There is no IQ requirement to pass a pregnancy test…. for men or women.

    We make mistakes. Unfortunately, we alcoholic parents end up putting our kids in harms way of our alcholism too often.

    Which is all the more reason to be grateful for our recovery.



  7. 7 Sharon

    I LOVE this post AND all of the replies. THANK YOU “K.” for letting us know what one perspective on the other end of drunk dialing might be.

    I had a psychologist tell me just this week… “You didn’t have a problem. It was a SYMPTOM of your stressful life.” I asked him, “Do you have alcoholism in your family?” He said, “No.” I knew he didn’t “get” this disease… that chase for the buzz.

    My drinking was ALWAYS alone and in hiding.

    Peace 🙂

  8. 8 Sharon


  9. 9 C

    You’re right. It’s coming up in less than two weeks. Wow…

  10. 10 Liz

    You are setting a wonderful example for your daugthers. I love that. Great post.

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