Dr. Laura Schlessinger, Ignorance called. It wants its Shame back.

May 30, 2013

My mom had taken the kids to her house in our minivan, so I had her car. It’s fun to drive. It has a fancy radio that brings in all kinds of stations. You know, it’s serious. Or Sirius.

I love to scan through the stations and usually I land on public radio. I love NPR. This time though, as I was scanning I landed on a talk radio show and heard a woman talking about how she’d gotten married and then four years later, her husband started drinking too much. She said he totally changed and she honestly hadn’t seen signs of alcoholism before she married him. Then I realized I was listening to Dr. Laura, which I don’t normally do. Like most people, I’m not a fan of listening to the self-righteous belittle and shame others under the guise of helping.

Because I’m an alcoholic in recovery, I didn’t turn the channel when I heard Dr. Laura start to chime in. But my stomach dropped in response to her reaction.

She interrupted the woman, Don’t use that word! 

The woman had called alcoholism a disease.

It’s not a disease, Dr. Laura retorted. Then she went on with an ignorant rant about alcoholism being a choice, comparing it to cancer and diabetes. She used the line about a person with cancer not being able to quit having cancer. As if that’s proof that alcoholism is not a disease. As if every disease, in all of its multi-faceted  and complex pain, is the same.

From her blog: “The concept of disease includes the obliteration of choice-making ability.”

Well no, actually. We have choice whether we have a disease or not. If we’re going to compare alcoholism to cancer, for example (which I think is ludicrous) then we can talk about the person with cancer having a CHOICE to seek treatment or not, just as the person with alcoholism has the choice to seek help, or not. You see, calling this disease a disease is not the problem. I have yet to meet a fellow alcoholic who says, “Oh well. I can’t help it. I have a disease, so I’ll just keep drinking.”  What I have seen and heard (and experienced for myself) over and over is a person who can finally forgive themselves and therefore move forward in recovery, rather than blaming themselves and staying stuck.

(By the way, I would love to hear a debate between Dr. Laura and the wise, educated and experienced Hazelden staff.)

You would think by now someone with a Dr. in front of her name would be more informed. Instead she is using her platform to perpetuate the stigma around alcoholism, keeping people shamed and stuck in their addiction. Unfortunately, too many vulnerable people listen to her show for this to be okay.


There is most certainly a choice. I would not be sober without a night over three years ago in which I made a terrifying choice. But, my disease began within me long before the day I met the opportunity that grace provided me to quit. Just as my alcoholism was not of my creating, my quitting was not of my creating. Alcoholism begins with a disease and can end with a choice about that disease.

It’s that simple. Keep it simple, Dr. Laura.


If you struggle with alcoholism, I want you to know that there are genes that you share with me. It runs in families, in much the same way that studies have shown that diabetes and certain kinds of cancer run in families. I guess this makes us family and I’m honored to be here with you. I wish we shared something more like genes for a high metabolism or nice legs, but instead we share something that gives us the gift of an opportunity for growth in ways not possible within any other gene pool. Sobriety is magical, friends. And we couldn’t have it without our disease coming first.

It’s a painful gift.


The other day I was at my grandma’s house and she gave me a painting that was given to she and my grandpa many years ago. It was from some friends that got sober with my grandpa. What a magnificent gift. I will cherish it.

My grandpa had to make the choice to quit drinking. If he had not, we would have lost him long before we did, like my grandma’s dad, who died very young after years of binge drinking himself to death.

My dad grew up in a home where his parents had quit drinking when he was very young. They did not teach him that drinking is a way of life. Then I grew up in a home where my dad quit drinking when I was very young. Drinking was not a way of life. There was no choice made to drink on a daily basis. I did not witness any drinking at all in my family.

Then I started drinking and couldn’t stop.

I was the good Christian girl who led a squeaky clean life until I started drinking and then spiraled quickly out of control. I thought I was just weak. I thought that I was bad. I was so ashamed that I could not see my own behavior. I shut it off and numbed out and ran and ran and ran. I believed people like Dr. Laura and gave up.

Until I didn’t.

The night I quit drinking, I felt the presence of God in our bedroom. There was no shame or loud stomping demands. There was peace and a gentle nudge of my heart that felt like a drum in the best possible way. I was so scared to quit but I suddenly knew that I would not be alone, finally. And the first thing Ryan said to me when I spoke my full truth was, “It’s not your fault.”

The voice of God through my husband. Unconditional love. Grace. Mercy.

“It’s going to be okay. We’re going to be okay. I’ll help you.”

The voice of God through my husband.

This is what we need, friends. The Dr. Lauras of the world can be ignored and silenced. They are not a reflection of truth. Her way is not tough love that works. It is ignorance. It’s so sad that vulnerable people listen.


I have a disease. And much like the person who ate themselves into the diabetes that their genes had waiting for them, I have only found the strength to change this with help. We all need help to make the right choices in all of our diseases. We need to realize that choices don’t make diseases go away. We can’t do away with our genes. But we CAN make the choice to get help and then work on our disease for always.

We need the humble support of others and we need to change the station when we realize we’re listening to self-righteous and arrogant misinformation.

Dr. Laura, I’ll forgive you. You have a disease. The disease of Self. I hope you find your way to making the choice to stop spreading it.



Amy May 30, 2013 at 9:58 am

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Mrs. B. Roth May 30, 2013 at 10:55 am

I just wanted to stop by and say I really appreciated your post. I used to be a very regular listener of Dr. Laura and own several of her books. The older I get, though, the more I find her lack of compassion disturbing. Sure, a lot of people make stupid choices and need a kick in the butt, however, like you say, there are often compounding factors involved. My father essentially drank himself to death at 44. My children never met their grandfather and that hurts my heart.

I do believe it is empowering to understand that one has a disease or addiction (or propensity toward behavior) and certain choices will activate the genetic pre-disposition. Knowing what you are up against and fighting against the natural inclination for a better life takes a lot of courage.

I wish you the very best of luck and hope, for your children and grandchildren, that you are successful.

Great Post. :)

Laura June May 30, 2013 at 11:24 am

With alcoholism being as widespread as it is I am still in shock at how uninformed the general population is. My husband is a recovering alcoholic and it never ceases to amaze me that people (older than us) consistently ask “So, are you still not drinking?” “Um, yeah? It almost ruined our lives, I think I’ll leave it be. But thanks for asking!”

The shame keeps people from talking about it and especially from educating their kids. My boys have it in their genes and are being raised hearing about it, being familiar with it, asking questions about it. We will do our best to lay the facts out for them but in the end the choices will be theirs. I pray that they will never have to go through the pain we went through to get to where we are today. But if they do we will be there for them, detaching with love, and rooting for them in their journey to find serenity.
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Cheairs May 30, 2013 at 12:02 pm

Asl alawys your words a gift….I thank you!
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Alexandra May 30, 2013 at 12:35 pm



Substitute “depression” “family history suicide” and I’m there, word for word.

Not so easy as people paint, it’s a daily fight and prayer and on your knees, divinely finding the strength for the next second, minute, hour.
Alexandra recently posted..Frank Sinatra’s Garbage and a winner!

Stephanie Hanes May 30, 2013 at 1:37 pm

My thoughts exactly. As I read your words, Heather, I couldn’t help thinking they are the same words I have said about depression. It is not a choice – it is a disease. And I will fight for truth for as long as I live, because the shame of being depressed and thinking it was my fault kept me from getting the help I needed for over a year. But, like you said, we can choose to not let these diseases destroy us, to seek the help/treatment we need, and fight for a cure and a better life every day. You are brave, Heather – brave for sharing these words and brave for continuing to make the choice to not be defined by or let the disease of alcoholism destroy you. So many people need to read your words today, so thank you.
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Sunday Stilwell May 30, 2013 at 12:50 pm

Thank you so much for writing this, Heather. I needed to read this today. More than you could ever know.

I am proud to share this gene with you. Proud because sobriety really is magical and it is people like you who help me see it more clearly.
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Kristen May 30, 2013 at 1:24 pm

I would be angrier if I weren’t so amused Dr. Laura is still around.

Yes to all of this. Of course we still have a choice to seek treatment and get better and recover. Many of us do.

Thank you for this post.
Kristen recently posted..Tools in my inbox

Kim May 30, 2013 at 7:41 pm

Yes, yes, yes. I have seen this disease in my family and in close friends. that is exactly what it is, a disease. It hurts me to see people call it something else – willpower schmillpower.

Beautiful words from a beautiful woman.

Btw, NPR in Austin is 90.5. You’re welcome ;)
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Rachel May 30, 2013 at 9:20 pm

Standing up and applauding

Absolutely wonderful <3

K.M. O'Sullivan May 30, 2013 at 9:23 pm

This is a wonderful piece. Honest and clear. It should be shared because so many just don’t get it.
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Suebob May 30, 2013 at 9:26 pm

Shame has led me into some bad places and kept me stuck there, but love brought me out.
Suebob recently posted..We are all Boston. We are all Oklahoma.

Katie May 30, 2013 at 9:31 pm

Dr Laura scares me. Thank you for writing this.

Ann May 30, 2013 at 9:38 pm

I love you. And that last line especially.
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Kerstin May 30, 2013 at 10:16 pm

It’s amazing that people like Dr. Laura sill have a talk show. It’s probably because many people get a kick out of shaming other people to have control over them.
It’s so wrong on so many levels to be this ignorant and downright mean.
Heather, I’m so glad that you are taking a stand and speaking your mind. Your words are what many people need to read, your compassion is what keeps many people going.
Thank you for that.
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suburbancorrespondent May 30, 2013 at 10:36 pm

Thanks for speaking up. “Disease” and “choice” don’t have to be mutually exclusive. We can say someone has a disease without absolving them of their responsibility to do something about it.
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Elena May 30, 2013 at 11:15 pm

As a cancer survivor-and friend to several that have struggled and fought to beat various types of addictions–I could not agree more. There are choices and there are choices. I did not understand the disease component until it was very close to me- and I will be honest, at first– I did not think it was a disease. I was one of the ignorant ones who really did believe that through control, the addiction could be beaten. But I was wrong- incredibly wrong. Thank you for sharing your insights and story with such strength and honesty.
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Laura May 31, 2013 at 12:07 am

This is so very well written, Heather, as is just about everything you write. I’m shocked Dr. Laura still has a show, a following, or a job. The last time I accidentally (and trust me, it was an accident) landed on her radio show several years ago, she said some of the stupidest, most ignorant things about adoption that I’d heard a “professional” (very loose use of the term) say. I got so angry my husband had to lean over and change the station.

Fortunately, there are people like you correcting judgmental mistruths and spreading truth.
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Don May 31, 2013 at 10:59 am

“Like most people, I’m not a fan of listening to the self-righteous belittle and shame others under the guise of helping.”
You nailed it. I wonder why I had (please notice the past tense) the desire to listen to her and other talk shows like them. Whether the “shock jock” is Howard Stern or Dr. Laura or Rush Limbaugh or whoever is “hot” now, I hear that same thing in all of them, self-righteousness that puts people down, always other people.
I still listen to John Stewart, among others, because there is (I think) a place for satire to put holes in the pompous…but maybe that is itself self-justifying rationalization. Any thoughts?
To you Heather, thank you for your honesty in sharing this. I believe that you have helped explode one of the other myths of alcoholism by doing this: you are not a homeless person drinking out of a paper bag on the side of the road. Maybe that fact will help someone else see the truth before they lose it all and end up on the street. Oh! And another thing; you have pointed out that “wisdom” is not part of Ph. D. Some of my wisest friends do have that to tag on to their signatures, but many do not. Thank you for sharing your wisdom again today.

Deborah May 31, 2013 at 11:43 am

Your perspective is from that of the alcoholic. Try asking the kids and spouses of alcoholics and you will get a much different perspective. I have no time for the lies and excuses. Picking up the bottle and taking a drink is a choice. The alcoholic in my life DOES use the excuse that they have an addiction and a disease and it’s not “their fault”. Does that comfort me or my children? No. It pisses me off. Does that excuse pay for the DUI or reassure my children when their dad takes off and can’t be reached and they don’t know if he is dead or alive or if he’s hurt someone? Does it comfort the child who goes outside to go to school and there is their dad passed out in the car because he drove drunk and slept outside all night. No it doesn’t. I’m not a great fan of Dr Laura either, but I will tell you I have no time for whiny excuses. Suck it up. People with Diabetes know that certain foods can kill them. They have a choice to eat them or not, but they are risking only their own lives. Alcoholics who pick up the bottle and drink and drive risk other peoples lives as well. There is no excuse.

Ado May 31, 2013 at 11:47 am

So glad Alison told me about your blog. What a great post. I totally relate, and loved that you wrote this. Dr. Laura is a B-word. She only says crud like that to get ratings. Shame on HER. The AMA categorized alcoholism as a disease, and that is what it is. At least alcoholics have the choice to get into recovery and get better; bitchy judgers like Dr. Laura are uncurable. (-:

Elaine A. May 31, 2013 at 3:26 pm

Way to stand up for what you believe and KNOW.

Dr. Laura gives me that yucky feeling inside. She just has JUDGMENTAL written all over her. And I just don’t have time for that, you know?
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Sarah June 3, 2013 at 6:45 pm

speaking of learning about what a disease is…diabetes isn’t a disease either. It is a medical condition, depending upon the type (which sadly was left out by both you and Dr. Laura) it is not a choice or something that is treated and has an end.
I am sorry you had to hear that appalling radio show and the uneducated portion about alcoholism. Bravo to you for standing up and speaking about the truth you know.
The truth I know is that type 1 diabetes isn’t caused by “the person who ate themselves into the diabetes that their genes had waiting for them,” my 19 month old son had nothing but breast milk and organic made baby food…yet here he is hooked to an insulin pump for the rest of his life. No choice, no cure. Same with the elderly woman who exercised and cooked healthy her whole life but now at 72 has type 2 diabetes just because her pancreas has reached it’s life limit. No fault, just is.
Sometimes there isn’t anybody, any one gene, any one lifestyle to blame. It just is. But what we do with that diagnosis (whether an addiction, chronic medical condition, etc) is up to us.
I love your blog and am just trying to do my part to educate and not allow over simplified societal ideas about “diseases” persist. Nothing is as simple as we once believe until we walk in those shoes.
Thank you for sharing, I hope you don’t mind me sharing, too.
Sarah recently posted..A Little Vacay to "Da-Nile"

Heather June 3, 2013 at 9:40 pm

Hi Sarah,

I appreciate your input, of course!

I want you to know, though, that what you quoted from my post was me giving an example, not a definition. I too realize that a person can have diabetes and not have eaten themselves into it. Like I said, just an example. I’m sorry it came across the wrong way.

My Grandfather had diabetes, so I understand the ongoing struggle, the condition that it is. I do understand that it is different than other conditions and diseases. You’re right, every condition and every person is unique, complicated and complex.

I’ve always appreciated your comments and I appreciate this one too. I’m sorry I offended you, because I know that living with diabetes in your family is really hard. I can’t imagine what it’s like to go through what you do with your sweet boy.


Sarah June 3, 2013 at 11:41 pm

definitely not offended, just feel the need to help clear up confusion (if there was one)…I know you know about alcoholism and can speak honestly about it, I don’t and appreciate your sharing your experience and sobriety. I know diabetes and the hoops we constantly have to jump through due to uneducated people and society in general. I am consistently saddened by how many people want to just point fingers and say “well you did this, it’s your own fault” when that part no longer matters – bad genes, environmental causes, home life, temperament…whatever it may be, at the point of finding you have something you can’t go back and erase the cause. To me, it is the next part that matters – once you realize you have cancer, diabetes (all types), mental illness, addiction…what next? That is the step that matters. I applaud anybody able to admit their needs for growth, treatment, and if depending on what it is possible a cure AND be willing to not only get help but share their story. So again, BRAVO, your sharing means the world to many people! It has to me as I have been able to dialog with friends going through similar situations that otherwise I wouldn’t be able to…you inspire me. Thank you.
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Leslie June 3, 2013 at 11:52 pm

Thank you Heather. It’s so disturbing to see people with platforms such as Dr. Laura’s spew such ignorance into the world. Your story about your husband’s support and hearing God through his voice made me cry.

I’m so glad you can set the record straight about the disease of alcoholism. Your hope and strength are helping more people than you even realize.

Allysgrandma June 4, 2013 at 9:04 am

She lost me years ago on a call….a 50 year old woman found herself pregnant for the first time, healthy child. Her husband thought it was a miracle and was thrilled. The woman less so. I thought Dr. Laura would rip her a new one for considering adoption, but she agreed. I was horrified. What about her husband who had always wanted a child. 50 too old to raise a child? Look at all the grandparents raising grandchildren because their kids were not able to (drugs, etc). Worst call ever. Talk about killing a marriage.
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Jo June 5, 2013 at 2:26 pm

What a really thought-provoking, interesting post – made so because of the respectful, eloquent way you address this most personal topic. Thank you for outlining the ways that Dr Laura’s views are problematic and not just getting offended and ranting (which would have been very understandable, but not very educational for those of us who need to hear it).
Thank you!
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dr laura schlessinger June 8, 2013 at 10:32 am

To all you “defensive” folks….drinking at all is a choice. Alcohol is not a necessity of life. If your will or your body does not handle alcohol properly, be responsible and mature and don’t drink.

I can’t use these words for someone with a true disease, the course of which they have no control.

Calling it a disease is an attempt to limit personal responsibility.

Heather June 21, 2013 at 2:46 pm

I didn’t realize this comment was here until today.

Your approach overall with fellow human beings isn’t something I agree with, but I don’t have the energy to get into that. I’m sure you hear it/read it all the time.

I also will not argue with you, since my only experiences hearing you have left me wondering why no one else gets an opportunity to speak. There’s no listening involved on your end. That’s not a judgment, you just make it very clear. In my humble opinion, listening is one of the most important parts of life. I’m sorry you’re missing it. It’s amazing how it can open your mind to the possibility that you may be wrong every once and a great while (or even often). Without open minds, our hearts surely cannot be open to the world around us.

I will continue to call alcoholism a disease and I will continue to share my experience, strength and hope with others so that they may come to find their own strength and hope, rather than doling out shame, stigma, ignorance and a lack of support with a wagging finger and a scold. Those of us in long-term recovery clearly have more knowledge and experience with this.

You and I, we don’t just see this differently. We see the world and people differently, and for that I’m grateful.

There but for the grace of God go I….because I cannot stick to this CHOICE alone.

Kristen Howerton June 21, 2013 at 6:25 pm


alita June 9, 2013 at 7:47 pm

I read this post previously but had to come back to it so I could swallow the words carefully instead of just a gulp. These words, these TRUTHS that you have written here need to be said. They need to be heard and then they need to be echoed.

Thanks- as always- for sharing your thoughts.
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Sarah June 10, 2013 at 12:08 pm

Fantastic post. My husband is in recovery and I get so frustrated when people view addiction as a choice. It’s so much more than that and it took four days at a Hazelden-run family program for me to understand that. You said it so perfectly, best of luck in your recovery.

rebecca @ altared spaces June 19, 2013 at 10:51 am

As you know alcohol has impacted me very personally. And we’ve lost one over here in our camp.

I’m so glad you could hear God singing in the voice of your husband. Love is the same when we feel it. It feels like love not shame, or hate or vitriol.

Thank you for your strength. Through your “weakness.” It is a shining example of Grace.

Stacy June 21, 2013 at 6:05 pm

Thanks for posting this. I don’t listen to Dr. Laura….apparently that’s a good thing! I do, however, have a family member I’ve struggled to approach, or support, whichever way you look at it. Unfortunately I have been so frustrated with the situation, it was easier to be mad, and view it as an “approach” or “intervention”. Thank you for insight, and a new perspective. I’ve never once said “It’s not your fault”, or even thought it. It has always been easier to blame. To push. To do what I thought was supportive. Sounds and feels much more destructive now that I’ve read this. My new perspective gives me new hope. Thank you. So many times, thank you.

Andrea June 21, 2013 at 6:09 pm

What an incredibly real, raw and supportive post.

And your response to Dr. Laura? Perfection. Spot on.

I’m so shocked at the way she functions that I can’t even imagine listening to her or reading anything she’s written. I’m sorry you stumbled across her ignorant ramblings, but kind of glad you did, too. Obviously her Google Alerts work well! She found you. You were heard. And I hope she sees your follow-up response, because it was so eloquently put. Thank you for sharing this part of you with all of us.
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Amy Wilson Flannery June 21, 2013 at 8:11 pm

I don’t think that was really Dr. Laura up there. She’s not web-savvy enough to be on here responding. But I hope she does read it, because i love what you said.
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Suebob June 22, 2013 at 9:35 am

I’m all about what works. While it is clear that shame doesn’t work, the disease model has transformed the way people think about and deal with addiction.

In other news, I’m still alcohol-free after 2 1/2 months. Thanks for the inspiration.
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Mytwicebakedpotato August 5, 2013 at 3:34 pm

Just came across this and SO glad that I did!
Your ability to share your thoughts and experiences without sounding defensive is amazing…especially with some of the comments.

I love the fact that you are stretching the discussion to those that might not understand otherwise ;)
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Gene August 19, 2013 at 6:33 pm

Hmmmm…So we…who have an addiction to alcohol..,have a disease?..,I thought my diagnosis of bladder cancer is a disease. I thought addictions..,like smoking..meth..,over eating..,drinking alcohol…,cause diseases like lung cancer.,kidney disease..,diabetes..,heart disease and liver disease. how ignorant of me..,to think that “alcolholism” is not a disease!! I just figured that since it was “Lobbied” in 1956 by the AMA..,(FOR 3rd PARTY PAYMENT!!)..and that silly phrase”Responsibility for our actions”…,that it is not a disease. Dr. Laura calls it what it is people!..A straight line addiction! I have seen people go in and out of treatment centers..ten..even fifteen times. The so called 60-75% staying sober numbers after treatment are a joke and a taxpayer ripoff! Thankyou Dr. Laura!

Heather August 22, 2013 at 9:03 am

Hello Gene. Your input is as important as anyone’s input. Your tone and sarcasm are probably not necessary. We can have an adult conversation about addiction and especially alcoholism in this space.

It’s interesting that there are (scientifically proven) 20-something genes unique only to alcoholics. You can call it whatever you want, but many of us are predisposed to alcoholism. That doesn’t take away personal responsibility, no. I happen to be a woman who CHOSE to get well, to stay sober. I’m in long-term recovery. I’m grateful I had a support system that made that possible. I’m also still paying a very large bill for treatment. I’m also always going to be praying for my kids, who I may have passed on one of these genes to and who I hope have the love and support they need to make good decisions to stay healthy. Not everyone has that. I have a sincere sympathy for those people, who have grown up in a family system or societal system that sets them up not for success, but for failure.

If all I thought about was tax payer money I’m sure I’d be annoyed as well. But I often can’t help but to see people as people, all of us just as flawed as they next guy. We can’t see that when pride gets in the way.


Obamamomma November 18, 2013 at 5:08 pm

It is amazing anyone listens to NPR.

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