Louise Stanger is a speaker, educator, licensed clinician, social worker, certified daring way facilitator and interventionist who uses an invitational intervention approach to work with complicated mental health, substance abuse, chronic pain and process addiction clients.
Mindy first reached out to me after an incident occurred with her husband Bob and their granddaughter Lucy. She was at her wits end. Mindy was panicky over a series of phone calls, worried she’d never see her granddaughter again. “It’s okay Mindy,” I said in a measured voice. “Tell me what happened. Start from the beginning.”
Mindy explained that her husband Bob was a successful entrepreneur, amassing a sizable fortune. He steered the ship of a large company while she spent her time floating from charitable event to event. She basked in the light of gleaming luxuries – a parade of cocktail parties, fancy black-tie events and what her husband described as “deal-clutching dinner meetings.” To the outside, Mindy recalls, they are the perfect couple: wealthy and successful, envied in every way.
Despite the glamorous facade, deep inside they harbor dark secrets. Mindy said it was Bob’s drinking. “He’d have 2 drinks at lunch and then hit the afternoon golf course where he would consume who knows how many more,” Mindy’s quivering voice told me during one of our many phone calls. “By the time we’d meet for dinner, he was three sheets to the wind.” She began to cry. “He would sometimes nod off in the middle of business dinners and events, unable to keep it together.”
As an interventionist and clinician who specializes in addiction, mental health, substance abuse and chronic pain, high wealth clients like Mindy and her husband Bob require a specific treatment approach. In fact, high wealth clients pose a particular challenge because they are surrounded by a team of paid people whose unspoken job is to cover up unwanted behaviors.
And as we have seen recently in the media with the college bribery scandal, wealth often affords people to do things that otherwise would not be tolerated. Like the Emperor’s New Clothes, it can be difficult to break through. There is an adage amongst behavioral health care providers that addiction does not discriminate. This is true—but for wealthy people experiencing addiction, denial and entitlement put up a good fight.
That’s exactly what Mindy did to cope – turned a blind eye to what was going on and put all her time and energy into shopping. “I looked the other way and found solace in new shoes and outfits,” she said. “I know nothing could ever replace my marriage, but Saks, Barneys,Neiman Marcus and Chanel were the comforting embrace that distracted me from the emptiness. The loneliness.”
Mindy said she became so desperate that she reached out to other leaders in the company for help with Bob’s problem. But she was shocked to find the company was afraid to help Bob because he was known for his volatile temper. Nobody wanted the head of the company to lash out at them about an issue he never recognized as a problem.
“They would even cover up some of his poor behavior!” She exclaimed with a twinge of indignance. “Why do you think they did that?” I asked. “So as not to rock the boat, please creditors, clients and business associates. Nobody speaks up when money is on the line.”
Mindy hit her breaking point when their granddaughter, Lucy, came for a visit. “Bob was drinking, as usual, when he suddenly became irate.” He threw his glass across the room, slumped in his chair and spewed a litany of swear words – all in front of sweet little Lucy. “I couldn’t breathe,” she said, stunned into silence. She described it like she was breathing through a straw – no matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t get enough air.
Then Mindy tried to explain what happened to her daughter, Lucy’s mom, and she blew up on her. She said her daughter threatened to limit grandparent time with Lucy. Devastated, that’s when Mindy called me.
After listening to Mindy’s story, together we talked about the range of emotions experienced in this situation. I explained to Mindy that there is a great deal of shame she was feeling because people in their position of wealth and influence are assumed to have it all together and that their success fix their problems. Of course this was false, and that we needed to approach the problem with a system of treatment that included Bob and Mindy, his company of employees, their adult daughter’s family, including little Lucy.
Though Mindy came to the realization of the problem and was eager for professional help, approaching Bob about his alcoholism took more work. He went through a litany of rationalizations for why his drinking did not need to be addressed. Here are some of the ways wealthy people may rationalize their addiction:
In addition to unpacking Bob’s rationalizations for his drinking problem, Mindy agreed that she had to take a hard look at her own behaviors – both her influence on Bob and her ways of coping. Mindy came to the realization: “I had to look at my spending. I had to look at my behaviors and the impact they had on me and others.” Together we explored the ways in which Mindy was dependent on these material things, the way she interacted with the world and how to fill her empty soul with positive things other than shoes and dresses.
Bob spent 45 days in a residential treatment facility. During this time, as was clinically allowed, he was able to check in with work as I worked with his colleagues and employees to craft a new work environment which supported Bob in sobriety. I also assembled a team of expertly trained behavioral health professionals to help Bob navigate home and company life.
The good news is effective treatment starts where the client is—a multi-modal approach that addresses family dynamics, friends and loved ones, and even consults co-workers and employees across companies and business pursuits. The idea is to remove the narcissism and “yes man” mentality that feeds the wealthy person’s ego.
Furthermore, treatment centers recognize that high wealth clients do not need to have their egos fed. As we may recall, Mrs. Betty Ford was one of the first women to advocate for shared rooms amongst clients — movie stars, executives or shopkeepers — with a vision for equality. Mrs. Ford realized that catering to an already entitled and wounded soul would only exacerbate the problem, rather than serving to help others.
The road to sobriety – as we know – is often full of twists and turns. After some stops and starts, much hard work and focus, Bob maintains his sobriety, Mindy tells me. Little Lucy is four now and her Grandpa makes her laugh.
“Thank you,” Mindy recently told me over the phone. “Without your help in getting us where we needed to go and staying with us through every step, we would not be where we are today.”
To learn more about Louise Stanger and her interventions and other resources, visit her website.