The Dry Alcoholic
Later, when Joel Lewis tried to retrace Sue's steps through school, he
fell into the same difficult quagmire most of us had in attempting to
make sense of her life, and the same problem police would later have in
trying to find her, when they claimed each photograph they had of her
looked like a different person. Sue's personality altered in the same
"I knew Susan Walsh as well at William Paterson," Joel wrote in his
unpublished manuscript. "We both worked at the Beacon, the college's
paper. She struck me as one of those energetic jugglers you run into at
school. She had a double major, was the paper's news editor and held
down a part time job."
As Joel tried to capture Sue's face from that period of time, the more
confused his portrait seemed, each a series of snaps shots, each showing
a distinct facet of Sue's face, but not the whole Sue., and no two
aspects fit with Joel's agenda to show her a woman in decline.
On one hand, Joel would find evidence of Sue's early drug and alcohol
use, and yet, when he sought the source of each story, he always came
back to Sue. In his attempt to prove a pattern of behavior that would
eventually (he believed) lead police to find her body in some landfill
in the Meadowlands, Joel pursued stories of sex, drugs and alcohol,
often avoiding or minimizing the outrageous lies Sue told when at
school. Joel believed Sue displayed bipolar behavior at the time she
graduated college, a convenient explanation for the tragic and bizarre
things that followed.
In routing through the ruins of her college career, Joel picked only
that information that fit with his theories, and though trained as a
social worker, Joel seemed ignorant of the patterns of legitimate
alcoholism or bipolar disease. Joel and others seemed to discount Sue's
ability to use alcoholism as a means of manipulation, shaping herself
into an exaggerated example of what she believed an alcoholic must be.
But I recall not seeing Sue in the same way. During that same period, I
was getting a real life lesson on both bi-polar disease and alcoholism
from my uncle, as he continued his attempt to kill himself. But even he
used the disease, drinking originally as a way to get even with his
father, a man he saw as the central tyrant of his life. His drand
alcoholism from my uncle, as he continued his attempt to kill himself.
But even he used the disease, drinking originally as a way to get even
with his father, a man he saw as the central tyrant of his life. His
drinking also came as an escape. He was a shy chil
In most cases, the Alcoholic has a cast of characters that form a grand
drama out of which the real pain and suffering comes, one or more
characters that becomes the heavy-handed figure of justice, demanding
that the poor unfortunate victim of this disease cease drinking. Such
characters become the focus of hate and spite in the true Alcoholic,
while a supporting cast plays other pivotal roles. Numerous members of
my family sought to save my uncle. My aunt Alice took him, cleaned him
up, and tried to change him with love as opposed to threats. My father
provided my uncle with booze, the regular good guy who meant no harm by
his activities. Oone or more characters that becomes the heavy-handed
figure of justice, demanding that the poor unfortunate victim of this
disease cease drinking. Such charact
My uncle was what some call "a wet alcoholic," a man who actually got
inebriated to cause this circus of feelings, a man who manipulated me,
my father, my grandfather, my mother, his brothers, and friends into
certain specific actions that could be predicted, some offering their
shoulders as comfort, some offering booze, some -- as in my
grandfather's case -- offering nothing but stern words, and all, in this
perverted game, signs of love.
Psychologists have labeled these roles in defining this classic
manipulation technique. The main character is, of course, "The
Alcoholic," the center of everybody's attention, the person over whom
every one is concerned. My grandfather played the role of "the
Persecutor," the person who as target best supports the alcoholic's
habit. The role of "The Rescuer" is just as essential in maintaining the
drunk, always relieving the poor soul of any responsibility for curing
his own bad habit. The most obvious target of such manipulations,
however, is "The Patsy" or "Dummy." This is the person who gives money,
housing, food, booze, dope or whatever. Sometimes the Patsy is the same
as the Rescuer, giving such things to the Alcoholic in the mistaken
belief this generosity can help in the fool's salvation. Another
important role is "The Connection," a friendly bartender or as in my
uncle's case, my father, who go out of their way to make sure the
Alcoholic has access to the very substance he should avoid.
Sue most likely had learned this manipulative method from observing her
father, and overlaid it onto a host of drugs she claimed to have taken,
from Black Beauties to booze, even to life-style crisises such as
stalking or go-go dancing. But Sue most likely exaggerated the pattern,
claiming to have indulged in all these evils, when in reality, she only
This lack of substance abuse is sometimes called "Dry Alcoholism,"
because the primary function in most of these cases, isn't to get drunk
anyway, or even to indulge in self-destruction (this often comes later
in the case, when despair begins to emerge, or mental illness). What the
alcoholic wants mostly is attention, and the more clever the alcoholic,
the more elaborate the plotting, establishing a kind of: "stop me before
I really hurt myself" scenario, or "save me before something happens."
While my uncle mastered the techniques of the "Wet Alcoholic," the
overuse of drink eventually created physical problems, making his own
manipulation come true. Many people are actually physically addicted, my
uncle was not, but over time did such damage to his brain through the
use of alcohol -- he coming home drunk in order to excite my
grandfather's wrath -- that eventually, he altered the chemical
composition in his brain. He came down with what are called the DTs, and
in order to cure his shaking, went to doctor after doctor for
medication. He took every pill, and eventually became so unbalanced as
to unhinge himself.
Sue, apparently, has mastered the technique of the Dry Alcoholic.
Although she claimed addiction to Xanax and alcohol, claimed she was
threatened by stalkers and members of the Mafia, the real object of
these diatribes was the cast of characters she had surrounded herself
with, closer friends serving the role as Rescuer and Patsy, like her
father, Floyd, and her exboyfriend, Hardin. People like Ridgeway and
Goldstien played the role of the Connection, keeping her close to the
source of her addiction -- in this case dancing and sex industry.
Sometimes, people changed roles. Her father, who played Patsy for years,
listening to her stories and woes, supplying her with jobs, and money
and support, moved into the role of Persecutor the June before she
disappeared when he confronted her and told her she had to quit dancing,
and then, later into the role of Rescuer, when seeking her.
The real problem with the manipulative alcoholic is that sometimes they
put themselves into danger, testing their friends and family in a game
that might be called "Can you stop me in time." And sometimes, as with
my uncle, the answer is no.
I don't know if in the last days before Sue graduated college, if she
made such pleas, but we could feel the build up, sense something
remarkably dramatic working up inside of her, something far bigger -- I
later concluded -- than merely freaking out in the stairway, and as we
wandered off campus and into our public lives, many of us wondered what
might come next.