Pubdate: Sun, 22 Feb 2015
Source: Baltimore Sun (MD)
Copyright: 2015 The Baltimore Sun Company
Author: Ann Kaiser Stearns
Note: Ann Kaiser Stearns is a professor of psychology at the 
Community College of Baltimore County and the author of "Living 
Through Personal Crisis."


The Episcopal Church is investigating whether Bishop Heather 
Elizabeth Cook "misrepresented" her struggles with alcohol to the 
church. She is charged with texting while drunk driving and killing 
Thomas Palermo, a husband, father and friend in midlife who was 
peddling in his own bicycle lane when he was struck, a good man who 
will be missed and mourned for years to come.

There's no need for an investigation: Given her documented issues 
with alcohol, it's almost certain she lied just to survive; that is 
what alcoholics and addicts do. Though Ms. Cook hasn't publicly 
admitted to being either, her attorney has said she's in treatment 
for alcohol use and she's attended Alcoholics Anonymous in the past, 
the judge in her first DUI case said she had a "problem," and her 
church leaders have talked about her "disease of alcoholism." She may 
well have lied for many years about the horrible grip alcohol had on 
her life, as many people do - not because they are bad people but 
because they are trying to save their lives from totally unraveling 
and protect their access to the substance for which their brain rages 
in its cravings.

Lying is part of the disease of alcoholism and other substance abuse 
disorders. People whose brain chemistry has been hijacked and altered 
by substances are great deniers of reality: They often lie to 
everyone - their loved ones, their employers, their God and most of 
all to themselves. "I don't have a problem.

I've got this under control now. You don't have to worry about me."

Many of us, at one time or another, have thought: "There but for the 
Grace of God go I." We do not live in a world with level playing 
fields. Fate plays a role in everyone's life. We don't choose the 
country of our birth, our parents or the genes that we carry for some 
of our personality traits and various illnesses, including 
alcoholism. Such predispositions can turn on as a result of toxins in 
the environment from the womb forward, exposure to harsh life 
experiences (including poverty, trauma, abuse) or the stupid 
decisions we make and chances we take when young or too easily influenced.

I know from my career that most alcoholics and addicts are no 
different from the rest of us, except for some of the fateful events, 
bad choices and the risk factors listed above.

Other biological, family and societal factors also can lead a person 
to be "owned" by the substances that dramatically alter brain 
chemistry and are therefore exceedingly difficult to wage war 
against. "Will power" has nothing to do with this.

Compassion and a helping hand are what we should offer those who are 
victimized by the destructive deeds of substance abusers.

Compassion, not shame, also needs to be extended to the perpetrators 
while still holding them accountable for their actions.

More knowledge of the warning signs and complexities of alcoholism 
and addictions is desperately needed, along with more treatment 
centers and helping professionals who specialize in substance abuse 
and an evidence-based approach to replace the "one-size-fits-all" - 
and mostly unsuccessful - war on drugs.

The "truth" will rarely be admitted to unless the alcoholic or addict 
gets sober or clean and stays there, remains in treatment for 
substance abuse (and the major depression that frequently accompanies 
it) and gets ongoing support from a group like Alcoholics Anonymous 
or Narcotics Anonymous.

Bishop Cook may have been treated too deferentially when she was 
first caught driving intoxicated in 2010. The most effective 
deterrent to drunk driving has been shown in studies to be a criminal 
justice system that does not tolerate it. What is required is forced 
treatment for the first offense and the sure knowledge that one is 
going to jail for any second DUI or DWI. Problem-solving courts, like 
drug courts, that combine the strong arm of justice (frequent drug 
tests and appearances before the judge) with a compassionate 
treatment system - both of which tether offenders to strict rules of 
behavior - are effective, whereas "talk therapy" for alcoholism is 
not. In the end, it is the person, the addiction and the consequences 
that matter.

Castigating Bishop Cook for denial is like blaming the terminally ill 
cancer patient who denies having cancer because she can't bear to 
face the truth that she is dying.

An alcoholic's self-deception continues until events make it 
stunningly clear that one's life is out of control, not unlike slowly dying.

Having much too long ago ignored the early warning signs in her own 
life - of the alcoholism that she saw in her priest father - is where 
this tragedy began.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom