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A Narrative of Triumph and a Message of Hope
Written by Ernie Quatrani, Correspondent

            Stacia Hang is a survivor, and she is on a mission to help children overcome the same type of helpless situations that could have doomed her as she grew into adulthood.

            Hang spoke to Project Live UP's monthly meeting last Monday and frankly told the story of growing up with parents who suffered from substance misuse that eventually cost both of them their lives. Hang related a story of survival and triumph.

            "My message is: there's hope."

            Now an elementary school counselor, parent of two and a community volunteer, the Upper Perk resident told the large crowd that her resiliency was fostered by caring adults at school and in her community who helped her survive being a child of substance abusers.

            Hang cited a quote from author Andrew Solomon as the guiding principle of her life: "Fold the worst events of your life into a narrative of triumph."

            "I guess you could say this is my narrative of triumph," Hang said.

            When Hang was a very young child, the stress of everyday life for her economically-challenged parents wore on them and they sought relief in substances. Her mother began to drink heavily and her father turned to marijuana.

            "I recall driving around with him in his big, blue, beat-up pickup truck, and he would smoke pot and tell me to never, ever try drugs."

            Later, he started on heroin, and the family lost a rental home paid for by Stacia's grandparents. She was entering first grade at the time.

            As is the case in many families dealing with addiction, Hang's grandparents struggled with finding the line where support for two helpless grandchildren crossed into enabling.

            Eventually, the grandparents helped out again and Hang's parents and her older sister settled in Coatesville.

            "It's really hard to put into words the fear that a child has when her father is brutally abusing her mother or when a young girl is feeling scared in the car after mom has knowingly had way too much to drink."

            Conditions continued to worsen: substance abuse accelerated, fights escalated, attention to the needs of the children was sporadic, neighbors sometimes called the police. There were overdoses and rehabs and criminal charges.

            "Sometimes we'd be instructed to get clothes; we were leaving. On those nights, we'd drive around with mom and look for a place to stay, or we'd just sleep in the car."

            There were also good moments, Hang related. And she felt her parents tried, but the pain overshadowed the happiness.

            Hang lived under those conditions for four years. "As a child, it was just a lot of chaos and fear."

            Eventually, the parents lost another rental home and the parents split up with the mom taking the girls.

            "Dad found work less and less and heroin more and more," Hang said. "In February of 1988, my dad overdosed on heroin. I was eleven."

            The spiral continued downward for Hang, her mother, and her sister. Eventually, the mother decided to flee the area after learning police were onto some thefts she and her boyfriend had committed.

            "I remember having to help her dump bags and bags of purses, jewelry boxes, wallets in dumpsters around the apartment complex. It was the fall of my tenth-grade year."

            For Stacia, a move to Florida was "the bottom for me." She suffered through physical abuse, watched her mother do heroin every day and was failing in school.

            Stacia had decided to run away, but her "miracle" happened. Her best friend at the time, Cam, whom she later married, helped rescue Stacia from her situation.

            Her paternal grandparents welcomed her back into their Coatesville home where she stayed as she finished high school.

            Her mother died of cirrhosis of the liver.

            How did Hang survive to become the person she is today?

            "I became more and more intrigued by the power of the human spirit," Hang said. "Was I okay?"

            In college, Hang studied counseling and therapy. She discovered that she had Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Generalized Anxiety Disorder.

            "Reflecting on school experiences helped me to see that there was always an adult: a teacher, a club supervisor, a friend's parent who was taking an interest in my life.

            "At school, life was predictable. Life made sense. I was rewarded for good behavior and corrected with care."

            After the death of her father, Hang was apprehensive about returning to school but realized that school was her "respite". She made the most of her experience by participating in co-curricular activities.

            "I could go on and on about the people who, I feel, were placed in my life at just the right time. Without these positive influences, I'm certain things would have been different for me."

            Hang emphasized that any adult can be a positive influence on a struggling child just by being kind and giving them the benefit of the doubt. She also said that while her story is not one she would have chosen, she is not ashamed of her past. Her experiences taught her the power of gratitude and perseverance and resiliency.

            "We must shed light on those dark places," she said.

            The epidemic of substance abuse affects not only the substance user but his or her loved ones. It can be devastating.

            Hang, however, is optimistic. "I truly believe that we can turn it around by intervening early with our kids and with those children with whom we interact regularly.

            "I can definitely say I'm here today because of caring people like all of you," she told the Project Live audience.





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