A few years ago, while we were in the grip of a bitter winter chill, a story spooled out of Northern Virginia about a 39-year-old Woodbridge mother who had gone missing and was eventually found dead.
It was a sad tale, but one that many digested with disgust. The mother, Julie Ann Kroll, had been drinking while driving her 8-year-old daughter. After a minor car accident, she left her daughter and an open liquor container behind and fled into a cruelly cold night alone and disoriented.
When the news of her drunken driving was reported, many dismissed her as an alcoholic and unfit mother. The police classified her as a criminal who fled the scene of a crime. When they thought Kroll was still alive, they were ready to charge her with felony child neglect, driving on a revoked operator’s license and driving with an open alcoholic container.
One reader, however, immediately saw another side to Kroll’s story.
Lori Butterfield, a D.C.-based video producer and filmmaker, happened to have just been working on a campaign for the Ad Council on drinking and driving and had learned that drunk driving arrests had recently shot up for women. When she read about Kroll, she said, she immediately wondered how it fit into a larger context.
Being a filmmaker, Butterfield began researching Kroll’s background. The path led her to create “Lipstick & Liquor,” a documentary that premiered last week at a New York film festival. It’s set to be shown at a handful of other film festivals and come to D.C. early next year.
In it, Butterfield laces a sympathetic version of Kroll’s story through accounts of other recovering alcoholics and experts who talk about why mothers, in particular, are susceptible to uncontrolled drinking.
“I think because alcohol is so socially acceptable and readily available, it’s an easy option for women who are feeling stress or going through a difficult time, to reach for a drink to cope or to relieve boredom. At first, alcohol is seen as an option to help them relax and ease their burdens because it works, but for some women, drinking leads to alcohol abuse or worse, and the impact can be devastating. Alcoholism is a progressive disease,” she wrote to me in an e-mail exchange we had this week.
It’s difficult for those of us without the addiction to understand behavior like Kroll’s. Butterfield’s film goes far into trying to explain that the decision to drink is not a conscious one for alcoholics, that alcoholism is not a symptom of weak maternal love.
“Before Lipstick & Liquor, I can truthfully admit, I was someone who had a tendency to silently judge women who couldn’t control their drinking, especially mothers. ‘How could they endanger their children? Why can’t they stop drinking? Don’t they know better?’
“I’m a mother and I drink responsibly, so it was hard for me to understand. But through the making of ‘Lipstick,’ after meeting women in recovery and talking to experts, I now have a much better understanding of alcoholism and what is at stake for those who struggle with the disease,” she said.
“Judgment and condemnation are not the answer. Women need understanding and support so they can get sober and find recovery. The stigma is what causes many mothers to feel shame, to hide the true extent of their drinking, and to refuse seeking treatment…
“We need to change the conversation with our families, our friends, and our doctors. We need to understand that alcohol dependence is a disease that if left untreated, it can kill you. My hope is that this documentary will inspire this new conversation and help women find support and treatment.”
Why do you think there’s been a spike in drinking and driving among women? Do you think parenting plays a role?