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Dianne Schuler: When Denial Costs Lives

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Denial is a dangerous thing, it can leave families shattered and broken, make perfectly good lives sail off track and in the case of Dianne Schuler, it can be the direct cause of eight deaths.

In the case of Dianne Schuler the denial is apparently over. A New York Times article today reported that Dianne Schuler's sister in law, Joan Schuler, told investigators that Dianne was, in fact, a very heavy user of both alcohol and marijuana. The truth that Daniel Schuler, Dianne's husband, has tried so hard to hide from the world and probably from himself is coming out.

"Joan Schuler said that the deceased smoked marijuana virtually every single day of her life," said Irving Anolik, a lawyer for the family of Michael Bastardi and his son Guy, both of whom died when Diane Schuler ran into their car. The statement first reported by The New York Post was provided by the Westchester County district attorney's office. "She [Dianne] thought that that was much better than every other medicine," continued Joan Schuler, "she considered it a type of medicine to keep her calm. Anolik also said that Joan Schuler told the police that her sister-in-law drank heavily on a regular basis, "she was a hard drinker."

You may ask yourself how a woman who clearly was an addict went so undetected. Denial as they say in AA, "is not a river in Egypt". It is a living, breathing psychological phenomenon that costs lives.

Lost in the Disease
One of the horrors of addiction is that the addict becomes close to incapable of knowing that they have a problem. They are lost in their own disease to such an extent that they cannot see it and when they do have sober moments and glimpse at their impending destruction, the unbearable shame that they feel, leads them straight back to another drink, smoke or snort. Their habit of using drugs, alcohol or compulsive behavior to manage pain takes over and so they do just that, manage the pain of their own impending demise by driving yet another nail into their coffin.

But why would a family member, a husband who is sober and presumably still has judgment try so hard to pretend that everything is fine when in truth, it is probably falling apart at the seams? Is it shame? An inability to face up to the fact that things are not as they should be and fear of feeling publicly humiliated? Or maybe, like so many families that are spinning slowly out of control, the awful truth is just too frightening to admit and asks everyone to make changes that they don't feel ready or willing to make.

Perhaps the rewriting of the truth, the denial and distortion in other words, in Dianne Schuler's family went something like this.

Dianne's denial: "I am just using pot to calm down so I can be a better mom",
"I can quit any time",
"This is really working, it's much better than an anti depressant and easier than therapy" or ...

Daniel's denial:"Maybe Dianne drinks but she still works and evryone at her job thinks she's great."
"My wife is special, not like other addicts, she isn't one of those sloppy drunks you see in bars, she still gets the kids to school and dinner on the table. The kids love her."

The truth is, most addicts are self medicating, managing anxiety or depression with a drug that is 1) easily accessable, 2) under their control and 3) works to calm down and take away pain. At least until it doesn't any more. That is, until it morphs from an agent that takes pain away to an agent that causes it.

The Chinese have a saying that pretty much describes the disease progression in a sentence.
FIrst the man takes the drink, then the drink takes the drink, then the drink takes the man.

What If?
What if Dianne Schuler had been willing or able to pick up the phone, call AA and ask for help or log onto the internet and just show up at a meeting and listen? What if Daniel Schuler had been willing or able to open up to someone and talk about his concern for his wife's increasing uses and abuses of substances and his worry and anxiety at leaving his children in the hands of someone who may well be drunk or stoned? What if anyone, a relative, neighbor or co-worker had been willing or able to confront the awful truth, that Dianne Schuler was someone with a very serious drug problem that could be life threatening, not only to her but to her children and, in this case, to the lives of complete strangers?

Addiction kills. It breaks hearts, tears lives apart and kills people. By the droves. Every day. What if we stopped denying it?

Sis Wenger, President and CEO of the National Association for Children of Alcoholics (www.nacoa.org), says that "people are willing to support children all over the world who are hungry, needing surgery so they can smile again or in need of food, shelter or medicine. But they can't see the one in four children who suffer in silence, fear and confusion right here in our own communities - often the children of addicted parents in their own social circles or extended families. When will caring adults reach out to help support and save these suffering mothers trapped by this devastating disease that is not only killing them and but can also kill their children? This is why we work to help raise awareness about the emotional and spiritual hunger endured by helpless children trapped in families where addiction has taken over. It doesn't have to be that way. We know what to do; we need the will to do it."

Hopefully, as the conversation about addiction moves forward and is better informed, these children's voices too, will be heard.

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