“I remember when my father died. I was seven years old.”
The opening lines of Dr. Louise Stanger’s memoir of renewal, Falling Up, indicate just the beginning of what has turned into a life of loss and challenge – and of perseverance and accomplishment. Dr. Stanger, a prominent addiction interventionist, has had to overcome more than her fair share of troubles.
Not only did she lose her dad and grandparents to suicide, but her husband died before she turned 45, and her infant son died of SIDS. Other family members and friends died young or suffered from mental illness and/or addiction. In some ways, she’s been in recovery her whole life and has been in an understanding position when it comes to her work of the last three decades—helping others live with addiction and families to rebound from the damage that comes from addiction.
“This book is dedicated to all you wonderful vulnerable folks out there who have fought like me back to clarity out of the I can fix it bazaar,” says Dr. Stanger, who is a client of Media Connect. “Back to solid ground. We’ve both been there –pulling out all the stops – from standing on your head meditating, to mortgaging your home, to blaming others, to rescuing, to bailing out, to stand-up paddling down the Amazon. All in an effort to help your loved one stop using alcohol or other drugs, stop the horror of depression and mania, stop hemorrhaging all their money away, stop sleeping with folks they do not know, stop binging and purging, stop becoming intimate with law enforcement, with drug cartels, with brothels, stop demolishing a house without a contractor’s license, and stop lying about where they went or who they were with and what they were doing.”
There are certainly many inspiring insights and lessons that readers can gather from her motivational message of renewal and transformation that no matter the odds one is confronted with, he or she can not only survive, but thrive.
Here is an interview with Dr. Stanger:
Q: Dr. Stanger, what inspired you to write Falling Up?
A: I had previously written academic articles and blogs and did not want to write a how-to book. So I approached it from the perspective of sharing my story with friends, families, and treatment providers. Throughout the book, I weaved skills and tools that they can use in their own lives as they grow and change. I talk about mental health and substance abuse disorders, sudden death, trauma, teaching, students, family, marriage, widowhood, and ultimately renewal and hope. Through this nonlinear approach, I hope the moments resonate with folks so that they may discover their own story.
Q: Your memoir of renewal shows a woman, turning 70, who has overcome many setbacks. What do you attribute your inner strength to?
A: As a young girl, the sounds of the Baptist church filled my soul and long ago my housekeeper, Annabelle, rocked me in her arms and told me everything will be all right. As a young adult, I was greatly influenced by the words of Martin Luther King Jr., who shouted we shall overcome. I had the good fortune of meeting folks along the way who believed in me and helped me triumph through many tragedies. I think it is that early resilience, both learned and acquired through my experiences, which helped me along. It was also my father, Sidney, who I remember used to whisper an endearing phrase in my ear or tickle me that told me all would be okay.
Q: Your dad killed himself when you were just eight. Your grandparents died in a double-suicide. You lost your husband before you turned forty-five. Your three-month-old son died of SIDS. How do you cope with such losses – individually and in totality?
A: The death of my son reminded me of my father. I share a poem called “Little Boy Blue” in the book, which kept playing in my head when he died. Then, when my son died, that same poem came back. Somehow that poem was a coping mechanism. Coupled with grieving, my family, and sharing my story, I came to see my dad and son’s lives as gifts rather than unshakable catastrophes. I didn’t let go of them or their memories, just the unexplained part of why. Through that process, I also learned the value of seeking professional help and gaining the courage to have another child after the loss of my son. In sum, I learned to embrace life on its own terms and be grateful for it.
Q: Are all addictions equal – in terms of the grip they have over the individual, whether it be alcohol, painkillers, illegal drugs, gambling, shopping, sex, etc?
A: Substance abuse and process disorders are equal opportunity killers. They take their tolls in different ways, but all can cause irreparable damage. For example, the person who struggles with spending all their money shopping or on nefarious pleasures may well engage in other mind-altering substances to dull their pain. All addictions come at a cost (monetary or otherwise). Those costs can be their physical, emotional, or spiritual well-being as well as the costs of the loved ones who are affected by their addictions.
Q: You are a third-generation widow and one of your daughters became a fourth-generation widow. What advice do you have for women who lost their significant other early in life?
A: I had the privilege of interviewing hundreds of women who lost their significant other for my doctoral dissertation. My advice is that grief is normal, non-pathological, comes in waves and in unexpected ways. Sometimes the best antidote is one widow to another. There are also chat rooms, groups, counselors, and friends who will take your late night calls. I hear professionals sometimes say to avoid big changes, but that is totally an oxymoron. Life is change and with the passing of a significant other, one must embrace change. Finally, there are no right or wrong actions in coping with loss. For some, giving away clothes helps them move on, while I’ve met others who make a patchwork quilt of their loved one’s clothes as a living memory. The key is to allow yourself to feel the grief and pain and let go of expectations about how you think you are supposed to live and react to the loss of a significant other. Everyone walks his or her own path in grief.
Q: What are some of the hardest decisions parents, spouses, and children need to make when it comes to interacting with an addict in the family?
A: Parents and loved ones have to decide how to love the person who is experiencing a substance abuse disorder. This means that they have to let go and let them experience the consequences of their behavior, which means no more monetary bailouts, cars, gas money, high priced lawyers to bail them out of jail, etc. No more calling into work, covering up, making excuses, taking the children and caring for them. Parents, spouses, brothers, sisters etc. have to let go of control and lean into the discomfort of allowing their loved one to experience the consequences of their actions. It’s a hard decision, but ultimately it comes from love and is necessary in order for their loved one to recover.
Q: Your parents told you that you couldn’t run from your problems, but they didn’t heed their own advice. How does one find a role model when their parents or those around them fall short?
A: What I’ve observed in my life is that sometimes when you are not looking, the right folks appear to help you. For me, it was surely my nanny Annabelle who stepped in to fill the position of a role model. And after my father died, the camp counselors/owners, Leon and Rose, at a summer camp my mother sent me to, provided stability for me. Later in graduate school, Glenn Haworth appeared along with other friends. So I think the key is to be open to learning and to be curious about life. You never know who will show up to fill a space in your life, and they come in all sorts of forms. Be ready to welcome what they have to teach you.
For more information, please consult: www. www.allaboutinterventions.com