The Challenges of Being Wonder Woman

By Madeleine Deliee 07/12/17

Even Wonder Woman couldn't conquer alcoholism with a Lasso of Truth. "The most important thing I learned is that I didn’t have to do it alone."

Lynda Carter as Wonder Woman
"It’s the idea of Wonder Woman that is real, because she does live in us." via ABC Television/Wikimedia

Many of us had (or have) a Wonder Woman lunchbox, or t-shirt, or Underoos, or recently saw the movie starring Gal Godot. Actor and musician Lynda Carter has long been the Wonder Woman of public imagination, the comic itself an icon of female power for more than 70 years. The “original” Amazon princess in hot pants, Carter has had to redefine herself beyond that notoriety, as a performer, a wife and mother, and as a recovering alcoholic with nearly 20 years’ sobriety. And it might look easy, as she said in her recent appearance at the Library of Congress, but it all takes a lot of work.

At the Library’s recent celebration of its comics-related collection, Carter spoke with the current Librarian of Congress, Dr. Carla Hayden about her experience as Wonder Woman, but also about her own struggles; she was quick to point out that her life has not always been glamorous and effortless. “People look at my life and they say, ‘Oh, she’s had it all’,” she said. “It’s not the truth. It’s not where any of us are. I’ve dealt with some really rough times in my childhood, in my teen years, in my early adult life… It wasn’t easy. But there were a lot harder times than that, where you think everything is down, down, down on you. And the world is crashing in on your soul. And I think the most important thing I learned is that I didn’t have to do it alone. I thought I did. My family broke up early in my life and I just kind of—I was out there and… I didn’t go asking for help or for advice.” Accepting support from others has been a key lesson in her life, she said, and one that she has used continually, both for herself and for her children.

Carter talked with People magazine in 2008 about how her husband and her children were a driving force in her acknowledgment of her addiction and her decision to go into rehab. She said that her husband asked her to do it for them. In a 2002 interview with Larry King, she said that it had been a gradually-building problem because, while she didn’t tend to drink a lot, “[she] would hear things from the people that love [her] that, you know, [she] was acting strange.” While it was a difficult decision, she felt that it was a necessary one. Even so, she saw overcoming her challenges as an opportunity to become stronger. “Getting through it is part of it,” she said. “That’s part of it, is step one foot in front of the other. Stepping through it helps to train your brain on how to do the next step… And I figured, if this doesn’t work, then this will, and if this doesn’t, then this will… and ask for help when you need it. I learned that lesson.”

The recovery process was one that she initially dismissed. In her interview with King, she said, “I was really ignorant. I actually thought when people said they had, that it was a disease, that it was just a copout. Oh, yes, right, it's a disease. I was the worst.” It took rehab for her to understand her own dependence and the reality of recovery. “I thought that, you know, be in a room with a bunch of drunk people. Ugh! I can't do that,” she said. “And the truth is, it is the cheapest therapy that you could ever get… You're in a group of people that are from all walks of life, you know. Some guy that's got, you know, construction stuff on and dust still on, to a person that's the CEO of a company. And it's a common -- it's a common abyss that you shared.”

The idea of strength that Wonder Woman represents, Carter said, is active and vital; it’s important for all of us. “It’s the idea of Wonder Woman that is real, because she does live in us. It is the idea of that piece of us when maybe no one believes in us, or we’ve been bullied, or someone thinks we’re not tall enough, or pretty enough, or good enough, or smart enough… Or we have obstacles to overcome.” Carter’s own history of addiction and her surprise at discovering that she was an alcoholic brought this home for her. “It’s a shameful thing to admit,” she said. “I can do anything, how could something like that get me? ‘Cause I didn’t even drink until my mid-20s. You know, it was just a genetic component to my body. As soon as I started drinking to get rid of feeling, boom… and you feel so, so ashamed. I don’t talk about that much but I’m not afraid to talk about it either. You know, that’s part of being a grown-up.”

“It’s also part of being Wonder Woman,” Hayden said, amidst applause. “Because what you’ve just said is that everybody has that spirit, and you have inspired so many people for so long.” Carter smiled and agreed that Wonder Woman does have that power for many: to remind us of internal strength and the ability to be steadfast in the face of adversity. But the audience’s enthusiasm suggested that, for those of us without superpowers or a godly parent, there’s something comforting in knowing that everyone faces challenges and everyone can stumble when confronting them. Even Wonder Woman has had to overcome obstacles that couldn’t be conquered with a Lasso of Truth, and as her alter-ego reminded us, sometimes we all have to ask for help.

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