She talks, as she must, about taking responsibility and living one day at a time. About acceptance. "What is is," says Kitty Dukakis, quoting a phrase she heard often in treatment. And another: "We are only as sick as our secrets." She speaks quietly and calmly, in striking contrast to the serial of despair she has just issued as her autobiography.

In the preface to the book -- the first preface -- she writes about the humiliation of having to acknowledge her alcoholism. During her husband's 1988 presidential campaign she had described to the nation her recovery from a 26-year addiction to amphetamines. Then, scant months after Mike Dukakis's defeat, she entered Rhode Island's Edgehill Newport Treatment Center to seek further help. "The woman who had gone around the country lecturing on drug dependency, and how she had kicked the habit, now stood before the world confessing she was addicted to alcohol," Dukakis writes. But she resolved not to care. "I only cared about getting sober. And, beyond that, getting back to my loved ones. When I left Edgehill Newport, I was on the way to sobriety."

This preface, written in August 1989, offers a sense of closure that lasts for exactly the time it takes to shift the eye from the left- to the right-hand page.

"February 1990," begins the next page. "Six months ago, when the preceding preface was written, I truly believed I knew where I had been and where I was going ... Rereading {it}, I am struck by both my utter confidence and what proved to be my relative ignorance."

In the intervening time, the wife of Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis had been hospitalized for drinking rubbing alcohol on the anniversary eve of her husband's defeat; had seen the insides of two more treatment facilities; had moved on to "episodes" of swallowing nail polish remover, mouthwash, after-shave and a relative's prescription painkillers.

This preface acknowledges what the first one did not: that Dukakis was taking the antidepressant Prozac when she left the Newport treatment center. Between August and February, she had learned that she would have to grapple with her underlying depression if she was to stay sober. Yet this preface, too, ends on a note of optimism. "I know, firsthand, there is hope," she wrote. "I'm beginning to feel good about myself. I certainly feel good about this book. I'm eager to share my story."

But that was written before the book's last chapters, before she donned a disguise -- kerchief and dark glasses, a huge mole drawn on one cheek with an eyebrow pencil -- and left her house in Brookline to buy a bottle of vodka, which she hid in the laundry basket at the bottom of her daughter's closet; before she checked every substance in the house that might include alcohol; before she finished the vanilla extract and, finally, turned to her hair spray, pulling off the atomizer top to gulp from the container; before she checked into the Alabama rehab program where she was diagnosed as manic-depressive and introduced to the steadying relief of lithium therapy. These last chapters, too, throw new light on the past: Her depressions dated back to the early '80s, when she kicked her amphetamine habit; she had been taking antidepressant medication on and off for eight years.

Layer after layer, and then another and still one more: Kitty Dukakis and her writer-collaborator, Jane Scovell, simply laid down the striations of her denial, each disowning the last in the strange geology of addiction. Together the layers lend a mocking rightness to the title of the book, "Now You Know." Because maybe you do and maybe you don't, and that is the nature of her sickness.

It makes the book somewhat incoherent, the sense that Kitty's doom at every turn outpaced her own efforts to explain it. This same quality -- the faithful inclusion of each blind alley and false hope -- may make it the truest possible journal of addiction and self-betrayal, not to mention the truest hint at the kind of brute courage it takes to slog on and on against the lying enemy within.

But it leaves a question:

How are we to believe in this beautiful woman, clad in pearls and brightly patterned silk, just four months out of her last rehab program, who sits poised (and posed) in the pretty Brookline living room to talk about having at last ascended from Hell?The Kittys Behind the Mask It is easy enough to like her, as it was to like all the other Kitty Dukakises:

Kitty Dukakis the flamer -- quixotic, high-strung, once-divorced, a welcome relief from the hidebound image of the political wife. The press, largely a younger generation raised on expectations of sexual equality, ate up the stories about how she kept an office in the Massachusetts statehouse and dogged her husband about such issues as the homeless.

Kitty Dukakis the lover -- vibrant testimonial to the proposition that Mike Dukakis had a heart. She was a great asset to the image of a man in danger of caricature: Mechanical Mike, whose favorite reading, it was said, was "Swedish Land Use Planning" and who once gave Kitty a waffle iron for her birthday. That he could be so evidently dotty about this volcanic, spendthrift woman -- that she could love him! -- surely meant there was passion under his control.

Kitty Dukakis the recovering speed freak -- a warm, vulnerable reminder of the weaknesses we could all overcome, generous enough to share her pain with a whole country.

Kitty Dukakis the budding career woman, who commanded her own staff and plane to wage an independent campaign on her husband's behalf. This one, truth to tell, waged a better campaign than the candidate, and reveled in the recognition it brought her.

But all those other Kittys were, we now know, a series of formidable fronts. "I was like a piece of camouflage," she writes, "without any understanding of who was behind the mask. The need to hold on to that cover was, perhaps, the real story of Kitty Dukakis."

It was the familiar story of the self-doubting political wife who, for all her flair, ultimately depended for her identity on his success. Having invested her self-confidence there, she reached the ultimate peak when he became the Democratic Party's presidential nominee. By the same token, she hit bottom when his campaign ended in a spectacular, humiliating defeat -- victim of ruthless Republican campaign tactics, to be sure, but also of his own iron unwillingness to stoop to the theater of democracy.

"I don't know anyone who runs for the presidency, whose spouse runs for the presidency, who isn't devastated" at losing, she says, in that pleasant, smoky voice lightly tinged with the sound of Boston. "But that didn't cause my alcoholism ... A person or a place or an event is not ever responsible."

She speaks with such reason, and impressive gravity. She has still her dark beauty, the brown eyes that face you with disciplined directness, the nearly flawless skin. She is practiced, smoothly dropping your name into her sentences. She still presents an outward ease and telegraphs an inner tension; she is an impressive public figure perfectly turned out to explain why she has always felt hollow.

It seems a colorful but basically unexceptional childhood, growing up with one sister in Brookline: Her father was a violinist and associate conductor with the Boston Pops, her mother a homemaker from New York. Kitty dropped out of Penn State her sophomore year to marry a college beau, had a baby, got divorced after three years -- a sad but not wildly unusual progression for a bright woman of the late 1950s. She came along just a few years too early to have the women's movement's help at hearing the internal claims of ambition.

In 1961 -- at 24 -- she began dating Michael Dukakis, and married him two years later. All the years that followed brought her some of the satisfactions of the political limelight, and the scattered satisfactions of pursuing piecemeal her own interests, teaching dance and later working as a travel agent -- but never the solid reward of feeling that she knew her own identity. Partly, she was undermined by her diet pill addiction: "Everything I accomplished during that quarter of a century plus I attributed to the chemicals ruling my body," she writes. "I actually felt that without them, none of {my} achievements would have been possible."

But deeper still, she felt worthless. "I'm talking self-worth and self-esteem, and I had remarkably little," she writes. "Like all of us, my feelings about myself come directly out of my childhood, and, a long time ago, I was judged and found wanting by one of the most important people in my life, my mother, Jane Goldberg Dickson."

The book makes a persuasive case that the late Jane Dickson -- critical, perfectionistic, self-conscious about her own illegitimate birth -- infected her elder daughter with a haunting sense of inadequacy. But Kitty now seems dismayed that early reviews of "Now You Know" emphasized the portrait she painted of her mother's coldness. In the interview, she raises the subject herself, to disown it: "The one thing I need to set straight is that I don't blame her," Kitty says. "I loved her very much. ... When members of the press chose to write that I blamed her, it really upset me."

She talks far more fluidly about what she now believes is the best explanation for her misery: the manic-depression that was diagnosed last spring, at a program called Self Discovery Inc., in Roanoke, Ala. The pattern started when she kicked amphetamines in 1982, yielding a seasonal cycle -- depression starting in the fall and lasting through winter, followed by a manic high in the spring.

Her condition went undiagnosed for eight years, Kitty says, because -- in a pattern fairly typical of manic-depressives -- she hid the "up" side of the equation from her doctors, not wanting to give up the good times; she was honest only about being depressed.

"On the one hand, it was a relief to say, yes, I'm a manic-depressive. On the other hand, I remember at the time saying to myself, 'I don't want another disease. I've got enough.' ... {But} I'm a manic-depressive. I can't do anything about that except treat it. With the lithium I'm taking.

"The thing lithium is supposed to do is to balance you. If you were to ask me if I'm balanced, I don't know. I feel more even today than I have in a long time. I don't know what's going to happen tomorrow, I just don't."

Listening to her, viewing her purposeful composure, it is easy to hope for her that tomorrow is better than yesterday. Whatever masks she has worn, it is impossible to doubt that she has had an excruciating time.

Today, to make matters worse, she is nursing a toothache -- necessarily, without the help of any painkillers. It is the result of weeks of failed root canal work, and on the next day she is scheduled to have two teeth pulled. As this interview (her second of the day) proceeds, it is evident that she is in real and trying pain.

Even as that sympathetic thought bubbles up, it finally brings words to another:

Why on earth is she sitting here, talking to the world?

Denial and Defeat There are so many other questions. Her hectic narrative hints at so much pain, provides so much drama, that the questions chase each other:

But why did you -- ?

But why didn't Michael -- ?

One can ask these questions all day, and the alcoholic family will never become any more susceptible to the assault of logic. Michael Dukakis acted just as many -- perhaps most -- spouses do. In his public statements and in the private behavior recorded in the book, he has been a textbook example of how family members deny and avoid dealing with the presence of alcoholism.

"Until shortly after election day on November 8, Kitty never had a problem with alcohol," he told the press when she entered Edgehill Newport. "A combination of physical exhaustion, the stress of the campaign effort and post-election letdown all combined to create a situation in which, on a limited number of occasions while at home, she has used alcohol in excessive quantities."

In fact, during the campaign she had controlled her drinking carefully, having only one or occasionally two vodkas a night in public. (Later, in her room, there were sometimes more.)

"Nobody knew -- I mean, I was soooo careful that people just didn't see. Michael certainly didn't during the campaign. It took him about a month, maybe six weeks after the campaign was over, to recognize that I had a problem. So that's not terribly long."

But she writes that twice during the primaries -- when it was suddenly clear that the nomination was within Mike Dukakis's grasp -- she went on a panicked bender. Both times he came home to find her "completely zonked," and the second time was concerned enough to call her brother-in-law, a recovering alcoholic who warned that Kitty had a serious drinking problem she needed to address. Why didn't Michael, at that point, press her to deal with it? "You know, I've not asked him," she replies. "I don't know the answer to that. It would have been easy for him to go through a denial period. Two incidents an alcoholic maybe doesn't make; that's possibly what he was thinking. He hasn't said anything, and it's just one of those things I -- one day maybe we'll sit down and go through that, I haven't found it necessary."

By the time she went into treatment, she had steadily worked her way through the vast liquor supply the governor and his wife kept for official entertainment -- first the vodka, then the gin, and finally, though she didn't like the taste, the scotch, bourbon and brandy. "I drank straight, too," she writes, "no water, no ice."

She would wait for Michael to leave in the morning, pour herself a three- or four-ounce drink, go up to her room, pull the shades, unplug the phone and wait to pass out. "Two and a half hours later," she writes, "I would wake up and repeat the process. I did it all day long. If I had an evening engagement, I'd stop drinking around 2:30 in the afternoon."

Even after Michael came home one night to find her lying in her own vomit, he and her family did all the things that families do: watched her like a hawk, in hopes of shaming her into sobriety. Reasoned and argued with her. Cleaned up the mess. Told themselves it was temporary.

It was all typical "enabling" behavior. Yet it is hard not to use Kitty's book, to use her calamitous problems, as we have always used her: as a lens through which to view the man who was almost president.

The nadir of Dukakis's campaign arrived in his infamously dispassionate answer to the blunt debate question of CNN's Bernard Shaw: Would he favor the death penalty if Kitty were raped and murdered? It was an assaultive and a brilliant question, growing from a common perception that Mike Dukakis's most passionate feelings literally lived in Kitty Dukakis.

When she went into treatment after the defeat, there was wide speculation that she had been crippled by an effort to take on the grief for both herself and her husband. Several local psychologists earned threats of discipline from the Massachusetts Board of Registration of Psychologists for offering to the Boston Globe some common-sensical observations about the ways long-married couples often strike unspoken agreements that one of them will shoulder the burden of feeling for the pair.

Kitty seems destined to press so many hot buttons, to live out so many of the dark household secrets that weigh down the American psyche: not just alcoholism, and diet pills, and divorce, and mental illness, but the family pain that stems from generations-old chaos, and the legacy of parental misery. Watching her air these ills for a nation, it is easy to believe she took on more than her burden in a marriage.

But she rejects such analyses completely. "It's just nonsense. It's just not true. Michael is very emotional. He doesn't show it, but it's there. And the kids know it, and I do. He's a very feeling, caring person.

"Nobody's responsible for anybody else's alcoholism," she emphasizes. "It is." She holds up thumb and index figure in a zero sign to illustrate her next sentence: "And Michael's not being able to express himself emotionally had this much to do with my being an alcoholic."

This ownership of her responsibility is, of course, the hard-won wisdom of her treatment, and the key to her recovery. It is what she must live on.

Yet in her veiled, staccato answers to questions about Michael, it is hard to know whether she is protecting him from our scrutiny or from her own.

What did he think of the book?

"He liked it. He was very positive."

Wasn't it hard for him, reading all that?

"He didn't say it was. He didn't express that. There were some things in there that -- I'm trying to think of what they were -- that he didn't know about. I can't remember."

What did she mean when she wrote, of the campaign, "I was there to do things my husband found difficult"?

"I'm trying to think what specific example -- " she turns to Paul Costello, her longtime trusted press adviser, who is sitting in on the interview, and asks him: "Can you think of any? I'm blanking."

She is pressed on this with a bit of context: That quote comes right before the observation that "My passionate nature was needed to set off his more 'placid' one."

She responds: "Paul, can't you help me out?" She laughs. "I'm in deep trouble." She turns back to her questioner. "If we do" think of something by way of reply, she says, "we'll get back to you. Maybe we'll go to Michael and ask him."

Invitation to a Dance? As she talks, Mike Dukakis is miles away in downtown Boston, serving out the waning months of his governorship. Once the Massachusetts Miracle, his administration is now roundly despised by Bay State voters. If he ever wants to run for office again, it will require some other sort of miracle -- at the least a long transformation in public perceptions. So come the end of the year, the Dukakises will be faced with an uncertain future.

"That's going to be an adjustment," she says. "He has said that he'll announce in November what we're going to be doing, because he wants to wait until the election is over. So." As she continues, her voice slows and drops to a barely audible mumble. "But we're in the process of some neat plans, and -- I'm excited about them."

What she has, for now, is The Book, contracted for in January 1989 -- when she was starting to hit bottom but before she knew how many demons she would have to wrestle in cold type. Never mind that she has acknowledged a past pattern of plunging into furious activity -- the presidential campaign, a speaking tour that ended just before her first "slip" in November '89 -- to distract herself from feeling. Now she believes she is strong enough to gaze unchanged into the warping mirror of a nationwide conversation with Barbara Walters, a public catharsis on Oprah Winfrey, an awakening on "Good Morning America." She has planned what she calls a "gentle" book tour -- major media in Washington, New York and Los Angeles, just a day and a half in each city.

She has been out of her last rehab program for only four months, less time than elapsed between Preface One and Preface Two.

And she says an astonishing thing: "I won't talk about my recovery, because I've been told that it's just not healthy to do that. I won't do anything to jeopardize my sobriety."

This is not, ordinarily, a surprising statement from an addict in the early stages of recovery. But ... how exactly does the book jibe with this resolve?

"Mmmnn," she says, and gives a knowing laugh. A pause. "Yeah. It was hard making a decision. And I had to make a decision. I had signed a contract, gotten an advance."

The publisher paid a reported price of $175,000. What price will Kitty Dukakis pay? Does she really tell herself that money or obligation is the reason why, despite her ever-widening reckoning with her own fragility, she decided to go ahead with it? According to Ann Grimes's book "Running Mates," she gave more or less the same answer to audiences who questioned her decision to embark on a speaking tour after her initial treatment. Does she seek now, as she appeared to seek then, one more replication of the campaign high, the attention, the distraction?

Suddenly, to sit at one end of the tasteful floral couch, talking to the woman beautifully arranged at the opposite end, is to feel the hopeless frustration described by the families of alcoholics. Every conversation with an alcoholic in denial, it is said, poses a choice: It can be met as a challenge or as an invitation, but never as a simple conversation. If you do not meet the challenge by insisting on the ugly truth -- by disrupting the conversation, exposing the lie -- then you have accepted an invitation to dance the dance, colluding with the sick person to pretend there is no problem here.

Under the complicated protocol of the celebrity interview, it seems impossible to disrupt or challenge too harshly Kitty Dukakis's confident explanations of why she has once again sought her reflection in the national press. But it is impossible, too, to escape the conviction that we have all -- Oprah and Barbara, and probably Michael, and certainly you and I -- been invited to dance.

"Most people in early recovery do not do what I'm doing," Mrs. Dukakis acknowledges. "And I am very conscious of being in early recovery. At the same time, I had signed this agreement, and what I have said to myself and to others close to me is that if I have -- and I'm doing what I need to, one day at a time; I think that's really important -- but if I have any sense that I'm in any kind of trouble, or heading toward any kind of trouble, I will stop immediately.

"I'm much more attuned to where I am in my feelings today than I have been."

Now you know.