The Oprah Winfrey Show – [BEYOND] The Diane Schuler Story

by The Discovering Alcoholic on November 2, 2009

Thank you author and speaker Lisa Frederiksen of Breaking the Cycles for this regular series sharing her decades long experience of dealing with family alcoholism and alcohol abuse. Click here to see the rest of the series.

Breaking the Cycles at The Discovering Alcoholic

I watched the titled Oprah show, yesterday (10/27/09), and was struck on so many, many fronts, but the two I’m going to talk about in this post have nothing to do with the Diane Schuler Story. They relate to the portions of the show that followed that segment.

1. The first segment, “A Mother’s Fatal Decision,” I want to address starts around minute 25. It is the story of a mom, Carmen, who was driving under the influence, with 7 young girls in her car who’d been at a slumber party. Carmen crashed, three of the girls were thrown from the car, some were not wearing seat belts because they were not in seats – they were in the back, trunk-like area. One of the girls died, 2 were seriously injured, and Carmen is charged with vehicular manslaughter. Her blood alcohol content (BAC) was .132. She is still in the hospital on suicide watch.

11 year old Kayla – one of the passengers, and a friend of the girl who was killed – was Oprah’s guest, answering Oprah’s questions about what happened. Here is what Kayla had to say about how Carmen, the mother driving, appeared, i.e., was she ‘drunk?’ (Note, this is as close as I can get, but it may not be the exact quote as I’m typing from a Tevo recording.)

…before the party, Carmen, she looked fine, … she stood up, she seemed normal… then after the party, …I told Brittany that her mom looks like she’s kind of drunk, and Brittany said that her mom, that if her mom was drunk her eyes would be closed a little, you know like closed a bit, and that her eyes weren’t closed so she wasn’t drunk… I believed her because Brittany knows her mom, you know like knows her mom like really, really, really well.

When Oprah asked Kayla what made her think [Brittany’s] mom might be drunk, Kayla answered.

to me it was the way she was talking [Pause]… it’s like hard to explain.

I’d like us to stop here and let this sink in because it drives home the point of the ripple effects of a person’s drinking — not the obvious ones – the crash, the deaths and the injuries, but the less obvious but no less far-reaching ones. These are 11 year-old girls, and they’re tying to figure out whether an adult is too drunk to drive. And, poor Brittany has been trying to keep herself safe with an “I know when she’s drunk” test that measures the extent to which her mom’s eyes are closed. We need to expand alcohol abuse education in schools and in our homes to include the signs a child should look for in an adult that may indicate the adult is impaired and should not be driving; what a child can say to decline a ride; how the child can contact their parent to come pick them up. This is a much different education program than the “why alcohol is bad for you and why you should not partake” message of most substance abuse programs in schools and homes. You see, one in four children in America will be exposed to a family member’s alcohol abuse and/or alcoholism before the age of 18. That not only affects those children but their friends who come into contact with their family members. We need to start TALKING ABOUT ALL of ‘IT’ – openly, fully and often.

2. The next segment [for which I could not find a link] starts around minute 43. It’s an interview with Ellie, a stay-at-home mom, who’d kept her alcohol abuse problem a secret from her husband and her friends. Ellie went through 3 rehab programs and is so COURAGEOUS for going on the Oprah show to tell her story. She shared the “lines in the sand” that she’d draw (never had a drink before 5 or never had a drink in the morning or never driven the car with my children in the car) as a marker that she wasn’t an alcoholic, but then she’d cross that line and hate herself for doing it but draw another line. Her husband, Steve, joined her and described how in hindsight he’d had inklings that something wasn’t quite right, but how, when you’re in it — even after her 3rd rehab, you can’t understand why she can’t just stop because you don’t understand addiction. [From my own experiences, you draw your own “lines in the sand.”]

In my opinion, this segment also drives home the importance of expanding our focus when it comes to alcohol abuse/addiction/policy making decisions and education to include the impacts on the family. It was Steve finally drawing his line of taking the children if Ellie didn’t stop drinking that prompted Ellie to seek treatment. If we TALK ABOUT it — ALL OF IT — openly, honestly and frequently — sooner rather than later — perhaps we can avoid what’s happened to the people in these segments and to the millions of others who are having their own similar experiences in silence, solitude, secrecy and shame.

Related posts: “And They All Fall Down, This ‘Thing’ They Call ‘Denial’,” “Family Addiction – a Tough Nut to Crack,” “SPECT Scans Showing Impacts of Alcohol Abuse on the Brain.”

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