Long hidden due to shame and stigma, the issue of women who drink to dangerous levels is finally brought to light in a documentary film that goes into great detail about who these women are and why they started on the path of self-destructive drinking. Lipstick & Liquor, which debuted at the Reel Recovery Film Festival in New York, is the product of Emmy Award-winning filmmaker Lori Butterfield and shows the veiled world of suburban women who’ve taken to drink. Butterfield says she began the project after reading about Diane Schuler, who made headlines in 2009 after she killed eight people and herself by driving the wrong way on the Taconic Parkway in Westchester County, New York. Toxicology reports showed that the suburban wife and mother was both drunk and stoned. Yet her family remained clueless to her problems with substance abuse. How could such a secret stay hidden so long? That’s what compelled filmmaker Butterfield to dive into the topic. Butterfield spent two years researching the film, and she and the experts in the film, bring to light disturbing facts about women who drink:
- DUI arrests are up 30 percent from 10 years ago, at the same time that DUI arrests for men are down.
- Binge drinking among women is also increasing at alarming rates.
- Excessive alcohol abuse is the third leading cause of preventable death among women between the ages of 35 and 55.
- Alcohol is a contributing factor in one-third of suicides, one-fourth of accidental deaths, and one-half of traffic deaths.
- The consequences of adult women who drink are dramatic – including the role that alcohol plays in thousands of bankruptcies and divorces.
- Women who have a problem with alcohol tend to be more harshly judged by society, with the result that women are 12 times more resistant to getting treatment than men.
- Alcoholism among women is less likely to be recognized by a doctor and is unlikely to be accurately diagnosed until it has reached advanced stages.
“Many women become ‘kitchen drinkers’ and hide the fact that alcohol is taking over their lives,” says Butterfield, noting that many women turn to alcohol to help them juggle work, family and financial demands and the intense pressures they create. Coping strategies don’t seem to work, but alcohol makes things less burdensome – for a while. “What starts out as a drink to take the edge off after work, or when the kids go to bed, leads to drinking even more, which can progress over time to alcohol abuse,” says Butterfield.
Julie Kroll’s Story
The film begins with the tragic and gripping account of Julie Kroll, a 39-year-old suburban mother from Woodbridge, Virginia. Kroll went missing in December 2009 after she stumbled away from a car crash, leaving her eight-year-old daughter behind in the car. An open container of alcohol was later discovered in the car by police investigating the incident. Right from the outset, the police of Woodbridge treated the case as a criminal issue, not one of an endangered missing person. Shortly after the story broke, Kroll was vilified as an unfit mother in online media, who called her irresponsible and neglectful. Julie Kroll had relapsed several times over the years and was, according to her husband, ashamed about the stigma attached to being an alcoholic. It was something that she had a lot of difficulty with. What compelled Kroll to leave her daughter alone in the car in the dead of winter and disappear into the night? No one who knew her could believe she’d willingly do such a thing. This haunting uncertainty and the tragic consequences of Julie Kroll’s alcoholism provide the main thread for the movie.
One of four women profiled in Lipstick & Liquor, Emily admits to always feeling like she didn’t fit in as a teenager. “I couldn’t find my place, I felt awkward and uncomfortable, so drinking got me through it.” The troubles with liquor began while she was a teenager, but that wasn’t the end of it, although she did reduce her intake when she had kids. “Luckily, the Mom in me curbed it.” When her marriage fell apart, Emily started drinking again heavily, consuming up to 18 beers a day. She lost her license after two DUIs and found herself dependent on others for everything – to go to the store for milk or groceries, to take the kids anywhere. “I remember drinking at the bar and I remember getting into the car, but all those traffic violations [excessive speeding, running a stop signs, running a red light], I didn’t remember any of it,” Emily says of the incident where the police pulled her over with guns drawn in a “horrifying” situation. Beginning a journey of recovery was a struggle for Emily, who now has three years of sobriety. She says she got through it and gained strength by writing a journal. Today, she writes a blog, emilyism.com, and reaches out to other women who are coming to grips with their drinking. She even offers them a “virtual support” hug. “If they [women] have that tendency toward alcoholism in them, it’s going to be activated by the women should be able to carry it all, they should be able to keep it together,” Emily continues. “If there was one message I would get out, it would be, you’re not alone, there’s no reason to feel ashamed about being an alcoholic, there’s nothing you can do about it, besides get recovery.”
Once a top Canadian fashion model, Hayley felt powerless and vulnerable away from the cameras and spotlight as a result of a rocky marriage. Following her divorce, she moved with her two young children to Los Angeles – and then more trouble ensued. There was a violent home invasion that propelled Hayley into a downward spiral, where she felt the need to have a stiff Vodka as soon as she got up in the morning just so she could face the day. Now, with the support of friends, Hayley has been sober for two years. She created a line of “Sober is Sexy” t-shirts in order to counter the prevailing belief that sobriety is somehow boring, depressing and isolating. “It’s hard for women to admit their alcoholism,” Hayley says, “because it takes so much to admit you’re a failure.”
Growing up in Texas with an alcoholic father was just the beginning of Jody’s story. She readily admits that she comes from a long line of alcoholics, maybe part of her Irish heritage. Her father, once a raging alcoholic who brought chaos and drama to Jody’s home life, is now one of her closest friends. He’s been sober since Jody was 16 years old. But Jody? She started drinking early and often, posing for Playboy when she was a student at Texas Tech. Able to drink most guys under the table, Jody says she now wishes she had spent more time with her studies than drinking. As it was, by the time Jody was 27, she was completely controlled by her alcoholism, even though it didn’t begin to dull the pain any longer. After her sister’s sudden, violent death, Jody couldn’t keep her own demons at bay – so she began to confront them. Today, she has more than 23 years of sobriety. Helping other women has become a main part of her life.
Mary, like so many of her generation, spent much of her youth experimenting with alcohol and drugs. It got so bad that by her twenties, her addictions took complete control of Mary’s life. She sought treatment and lived sober for 10 years, having a family and living the suburban life. Then, a car accident turned her world upside down, leaving her with an injury for which she was prescribed painkillers. It was a quick route to relapse for Mary, who began abusing the drugs and drinking again. After a divorce and even more of a downward spiral, Mary was arrested and sentenced to jail. Coming back from the pit of hell with the help of family, friends, and the community, Mary is once again sober and living a happy and productive life. “Alcoholism is a beast,” Mary says. “It affects everyone; mothers, fathers, neighbors, children and employees.” She’d be mowing the lawn and have a beer in the garage, doing laundry and have wine stashed. It became necessary to hide her drinking because everyone knew that she had been in the program and she had said she was an alcoholic and an addict. “Looking at the lessons that I had learned, I couldn’t put anything ahead of my recovery,” Mary says. “It’s the most important thing. Without it, I don’t have a family, I don’t have the job, I don’t have my dignity. Above all, with my relapse, it was my dignity that I lost.” Her advice to women who drink is to reach out, call someone, ask for help and get the help they need. “The help is there, but you have to ask for it,” Mary says.
Message to Women Everywhere
Alcoholism among women is on the rise and no one is immune from its effects. Perhaps it stems from greater pressures at work and at home, as well as from trying to be the perfect wife and mother and striving for perfection in everything. Whatever the cause, when women begin to drink as a means of coping, the behavior can escalate to the point of near-disastrous consequences. Filmmaker Butterfield wanted to tell this story to get across the message that the stigma of alcoholism doesn’t have to prevent women from seeking help to overcome problems with alcohol and drugs. The struggle to stay sober, while an ongoing effort, can be successful and lead to happy and productive lives. The film includes commentary from experts in the field of addiction, medical researchers, and authors, including Dr. Anita Gadhia-Smith, a psychotherapist and author, Dr. Deidra Roach, Medical Project Officer in the Division of Treatment and Recovery at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), Dr. Bernadette Solounias, senior vice president of treatment services and medical director at Father Martin’s Ashley, and Hanna Rosin, a contributing editor at Atlantic magazine. Screenings of Lipstick & Liquor will take place in Los Angeles, California, Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and Vancouver, British Columbia, in October and November. A premier is set for early 2013 in Washington, D.C.