What a difference a decade makes.
Hang out with the Tankels’ in their Malvern living room and you’d never know this observant Quaker family was nearly destroyed by drugs.
Teasing and cracking jokes, they clearly love being together. Like the “normal” Main Line family they weren’t – for six harrowing years.
Truly, if walls could talk, the Tankels’ would scream: of stolen money and pilfered pills, of school expulsions and shouting matches, of multiple car crashes and surprise drug tests, of Visine and baggies, of trust faithfully extended and repeatedly betrayed. All of it fallout from Eric Tankel’s addiction to pot, to pain pills, and ultimately, to heroin.
Six of his close friends died from their addictions.
But Eric, thankfully, is very much with us. At 31, he’s clean, happy and whole, a practicing psychotherapist who plans to raise a family in a home he bought just a stone’s throw from his parents.
Living proof that heroin – that most dreaded of drugs – can have a happy ending.
Still, the story of how the Tankels made it out alive – and thriving – almost beggars belief.
Because how could a deadbeat, drug-addicted teen – a kid so deceitful and reckless that his mother called living with him “like living with Taliban,” a high-school dropout who couch-surfed, sold drugs, used heroin every day for a year – how could someone like that end up with a 3.8 college GPA and earn a master’s degree from Penn, of all places?
The answer is too long, too nuanced to recount here.
But Eric and his no-nonsense mom, Liz, hope you’ll want to hear it.
They’re shopping for publishers for the dual memoir they wrote about their improbable journey, HEROin. (The title refers to the “hero” or “heroine” in all of us, they say.)
And on Oct. 17 – one day after Eric’s 11-year sober anniversary – they’ll read key excerpts and take questions at the Uptown Theater in West Chester.
Eric’s chapters are fascinating. Funny, raw, even raunchy at times, they’re a rare window into the obsessive, duplicitous mind of an addict and the hopeful, resolute soul of a person in recovery.
Liz’s account reveals a take-charge mom, fierce and resourceful, desperate to save her son.
Peppered throughout are references to Main Line towns and places. Most school names have been changed but are easy to guess: a certain preschool at a Berwyn church, a Friends school for kids with learning differences in Paoli. Only St. Monica’s is named because it’s no longer open.
Liz calls HEROin “a roadmap” for families dealing with addiction. “I wrote the book I wish I had access to. I would have given anything to have read that book. Reading Eric’s part was so eye-opening for me.”
Eric calls HEROin “a platform for a larger dialogue about the opioid crisis that’s impacting people of every socioeconomic standing. At the end of the day, it’s going to impact somebody you know.”
We asked the Tankels to share some of their hard-earned wisdom with parents:
* Don’t keep pills in your home. “They’re like having a loaded gun in your house.” If you absolutely must have them, “keep them under lock and key.” Liz hid a box full of pain meds – prescribed for an excruciating chronic kidney disease – among the shoeboxes in her closet. She almost never took them. But Eric sure did – he took, gave away or sold every single pill.
* Practice tough love. Don’t make it easy for the addict to keep using. If he is an adult and refuses to go to treatment, kick him out. Cut off funds. Because he was “terrorizing” the family, the Tankels’ locks were changed and Eric was exiled. “Almost all the addicts we know died in the parents’ house, the grandmother’s house or in a car the parents paid for,” Liz says. “We don’t know any kids who died in a crack house in Philly.” Don’t assume you’re protecting your child by keeping him home.
* Set an example. “You wouldn’t think to smoke in front of a child with a lung condition so why would you continue to drink or smoke pot after work when you have a child in addiction?” says Eric’s dad, Ken. “Drinking around Eric would have been an insult to the all the work he was doing in recovery.”
* Know that recovery takes time. Eric went to inpatient detox, a wilderness recovery program in Montana, a sober living home and a college with a “recovery” dorm. He attends 12-step meetings to this day.
* Find the right therapist. “Eric snowed lots of therapists,” Liz and Ken say, convincing them that his “unreasonable” parents were the problem, not him. If the therapist doesn’t grasp your situation, move on.
* Present a united front. Eric sought to divide and conquer Liz and Ken with lies, but they never disagreed in front of him. He couldn’t play them off one another.
* Live your life. “Don’t let the whole house revolve around the sick person. We promised each other that Eric would not dominate our lives,” Liz says. “We still went to parties; we still had friends over. We still took care of Ethan [their younger son] and went to his activities.”
* If there are siblings, don’t filter their feelings. When Ethan, eight years younger than Eric, called his big brother a “beast” and said, ‘I hate him,’ his parents responded: “Yup, us too. What he’s doing is horrible; you have every right to feel that way. It’s our responsibility to try to help him and we’re sorry that that affects you.”
* Set a high bar. “Real recovery isn’t just about abstaining, living a life of denial,” Eric says. “It’s about being the most effective, purposeful human being you can be.”
These days, Eric’s purpose comes from counseling substance abusers and their families. More than half the patients he sees at the Therapeutic Alliance in Malvern are battling addictions. “I always tell them that the number one predictor of success in recovery is a supportive family.”
Liz, too, has found a second calling, speaking out about addiction.
In 11 years, she figures she’s talked to one family a week. “That’s 11 years X 52 = 572, A LOT of people,” she says.
Mother and son spread the same hopeful message: Demand the addict follow the rules of the house, cut him off financially, but don’t ever give up on him. Find a way to get him into treatment and long-term recovery asap because it works. Above all, believe that life – rich and purposeful – can happen after heroin.
Eric and Liz Tankel will talk about their memoir, HEROin, at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 17, as part of the Uptown Speaker Series at the Knauer Performing Arts Center in West Chester. Tickets are $15 in advance; $20 at the door.
Main Line MOMS Demand Action
“Thoughts and prayers” don’t cut it. In the wake of the Las Vegas massacre, common-sense gun law advocates are fired up.
And rightly so, we think.
Among those leading the local charge is Marybeth Christiansen of Malvern. Marybeth is PA’s legislative lead for the national, nonpartisan group, MOMS Demand Action.
Modelled after Mothers Against Drunk Driving, MOMS pushes pols to tighten gun laws and raise awareness about gun violence.
Just one day before the Vegas murders – when many of us were just rolling over – Marybeth and her MOMS were out bright and early, installing a field of t-shirts in a Media churchyard, one for each of 150 victims lost to gun violence in Delco in the last five years.
The pale blue shirt below remembers Cayman Naib, the 13-year-old Shipley student from Newtown Square who took his own life with his family’s gun in 2015.
Topping MOMS’ agenda this fall: coaxing Harrisburg to pass a law that would force convicted domestic abusers to give up their guns within 24 hours – instead of the current law’s leisurely two months. The truth is: cruelty begins at home; many domestic abusers have gone on to commit mass shootings. Take away their guns asap? Sounds like common sense to us.
To join the MOMS or learn more, text ACT to 644-33.
Elementary schools: overloaded in Lower Merion, lopsided in T/E
You’ve heard of mega churches, but how does a mega school grab you?
Not so well, say some Lower Merion parents.
With its stellar reputation and multi-family housing boom, Lower Merion’s schools are jam packed, with plenty more kiddos in the pipeline.
Among the proposed solutions: adding on to existing schools.
But parents at one school, Wynnewood’s Penn Wynne Elementary, want none of it.
They’ve been circulating a petition opposing a $9.5 million plan to add up to six new classrooms and second gym.
The school’s already plenty big, the parents say. Penn Wynne has 750 students and is on track for another 50 by 2020. Yowza. (Point of reference: T/E elementary schools enroll 400 – 600.)
“Warehousing our children in large, impersonal mega-schools is not the answer,” the petition reads. “Small schools improve teaching conditions and academic performance, preserve play space, and reduce traffic congestion.”
The parents think the millions would be better spent buying property to build a new school. And yes, the district’s been looking into doing exactly that.
Meanwhile, some parents in T/E are facing the dreaded – but clearly necessary – “r” word: redistricting
Why? Because it’s feast or famine at three T/E elementary schools, with too many kids at Devon (600) and too few at Beaumont (385) and Hillside (415).
A committee of T/E parents and administrators has been tasked with redrawing boundaries to balance enrollment and will present its plan to the school board in early 2018.
Assuming the board gives it the green light, the new attendance map will take effect in August of next year.
BTW, T/E teachers are still without a new contract. They’re on the job, of course, working under terms of a contract that expired in June. An independent “fact finder” has been called in and will present a framework for a new contract by early November. Both sides will then have ten days to say yay or nay. Until then, teachers aren’t allowed to call a strike. They did, however, picket outside last week’s school board meeting.
Bistro build-outs in Wayne and Ardmore
Wayne’s itty-bitty Cornerstone is about to get a whole lot bigger.
The artisanal market/BYOB is expanding into the space next door and will open a bistro and full bar in early 2018.
Same cheese plates, charcuterie boards, oysters, and tasty dishes but with a chance to order craft cocktails and wine in a real dining room. (Not that we didn’t love those stools around the open kitchen; there just aren’t enough of them.)
With major renovations underway, Cornerstone closed Oct. 1. Owners Christine and Nick Kondra and team are hanging out in their beloved Nantucket until the dust clears.
They’ll re-open Cornerstone Oct. 27 but say the bistro won’t be finished until at least January.
The story’s about the same for Delice et Chocolat, now poised to bring a bigger piece of Paris to Ardmore
A solid hit since its June debut, the French bakery on Station Rd. is taking over the old Radio Shack on Lancaster Ave.
The new space, Delice et Chocolat Bistro, will focus on lunch – crepes, paninis, salads, gelato, grab ‘n go items, and sandwiches. The current storefront will continue as a sweet shop and café. Both will keep daytime hours only.
Wine garden blooming in KOP
Here’s one we didn’t see coming: a pop-up wine garden outside the King of Prussia Mall.
This week, Turpin Landscaping and Chadds Ford Winery starting turning dead space between Macy’s and Neiman’s into a cool-weather hangout.
Look for cushy seats, fire pits, seasonal wine pours, warm mugs of mulled wine and a craft beer or two.
Details are still TBD but the winery’s spokesgal tells us the garden should open in the next few weeks.
Kirkland’s in, Kiwi’s out at Gateway
Kirkland’s is coming to Wayne’s Gateway Shopping Center – the home décor store, no relation to the Costco brand.
The company is now hiring and will open in primo space between Trader Joe’s and T. J. Maxx in early November.
Expect the same sort of mid-priced lamps, rugs, mirrors and kitchen accents you’d see at Home Goods or T. J. Maxx. Not a mom-and-pop shop by any stretch, Kirkland’s has 350 stores in 35 states, including one in Exton.
In other Gateway news, Kiwi served its final fro-yo last week. Which means there are now six vacancies at the usually bustling strip center. Hmmm.
This and that…
A SAVVY shoutout to Merion Mercy ‘95 alum and Penn Valley native Kristen Iskandrian on the debut of Motherest, her first novel.
And what a smashing debut it’s been. The New York Times loved Motherest and the Center for Fiction put it on its long list for the First Novel Prize.
We couldn’t put it down either. If you’re in a book club, there’s plenty to unpack here: compelling characters, lovely prose and an original storyline.
Kristen Iskandrian will sign copies of Motherest at the Barnes and Noble on Swedesford Road in Berwyn on Saturday, Oct. 14 at 1 p.m.
After failing inspection, Blackrock Road Bridge over Mill Creek in Bryn Mawr will be closed for repairs for at least six weeks beginning Monday.
South Valley Road in Paoli will be hopping this weekend – with a music and fine art twofer. On Saturday, the Paoli Blues Fest & Street Fair will break in its new home: Paoli Presbyterian Church at 225 S. Valley. Six bands, a beer garden, a KidZone, vendors and more. No entry fee; just bring a non-perishable for the church’s food closet.
And just down the road – at 220 S. Valley – you can take in the 45th annual Daylesford Abbey Art Show.
Getting to both should be a snap this year. Free shuttles will zip you to the Fest’s Main Stage (or, if you ask nicely, to the Abbey) from seven nearby parking lots.
The Blues Fest runs 11:15 to 6 p.m. Saturday only. The art show begins with a preview party Friday night and will be open Saturday, 10 to 5, and Sunday, noon to 5.
Art of a different feather will be showcased just seven miles away, also this weekend. Thirty-three distinguished dealers of furniture, folk art, jewelry, decorative and fine arts are setting up shop at the 12th Annual Main Line Antiques Show at Cabrini U.
Adding star power this year: design guru Eddie Ross, who will teach special ticketholders how to “shop the show” and sign copies of his book, Modern Mix. A whiz at decorating and entertaining on a budget, Ross has appeared on HGTV and Bravo’s Top Design and HGTV. His cool rooms and tables have graced the pages of House Beautiful, Vanity Fair, InStyle, and Martha Stewart Living, among others.
The antiques show is a huge fundraiser for Surrey, the Devon-based nonprofit that keeps area seniors independent, active and engaged. The show is open Saturday, 10 to 7, and Sunday, 10 to 5, with a preview party Friday night.
A late-breaking Surrey shoutout: Kudos to the Surrey Center for Healthy Living in Devon, just named the 2017 Senior Center of the Year by the PA. Association of Senior Centers. The Center was singled out for its effective wellness programs, its innovative enrichment offerings, its robust meal program and its commitment to transporting seniors in the community.
Food for thought coming your way Oct. 24
The evidence is overwhelming: Food matters.
What we eat (and drink!) affects everything: how much our skin wrinkles, what happens to our hair, whether we get degenerative diseases like arthritis and Alzheimer’s and whether genes for nasty stuff like cancer, heart disease and diabetes get turned on or off.
Turns out our DNA is not our destiny – our plates are powerful!
But with so much conflicting nutrition info out there, it’s easy to get confused.
That’s why Team SAVVY will host its first SAVVY Gathering “What to Eat NOW! Filling your plate to look and feel fabulous.”
Hope you’ll join us Oct. 24 at Body X in Bryn Mawr for cold-pressed cocktails, health bites, and eye-opening conversation.
Here’s our all-star lineup (bring your questions!):
Eat Pretty author Jolene Hart will dish about eating for beauty: what to eat and what to avoid.
Functional nutritionist Rachel Hershberger will talks about foods that make you feel better, stay fit and fight inflammation.
Hillary Lewis, owner of Lumi Juice, will share her healthy cocktail, state-of-the-art juicing and supplement secrets.
Also joining the party:
Phytoga instructor Christine Sturgis, who turned her kitchen into a cancer-fighting “pharmacy.” And Body X owner/organic chef Frances Vavloukis, wbo’s handcrafting our food and will share her recipes!
Another plus, your ticket will support Greener Partners, a local nonprofit that helps families in need access farm-fresh food. Good stuff, right?
“What to Eat NOW! Filling your plate to look and feel fabulous” is set for Tues. Oct. 24, 6:30 p.m. at Body X in Bryn Mawr. First Dibs tickets are $45 until Oct. 10. SPACE IS LIMITED. Click here to snag your seat!
Liz Mercogliano, Esq. says
I too spoke with Liz. I am happy to hear their story.
I also realize in some cases no tough love or no pills in the home will save some lives. Each case is individual and complicated. There are multilayered diagnosis and resources. There is no one magic pill.
There is no blame, fault or guilt.
I am glad to hear how they found hope and sobriety.
I don’t believe it is a matter of tough love or finding the right therapist. It is a lifetime medical disease which can return, relapse and recycle.
And if you have money for the best lawyers it helps a lot!
Addiction is like diabetes and heart disease.
You will always be an addict. It is one day at a time.
Thanks for sharing. Great article.
Next,change the laws and allow everyone to detox and recover in individual safe ways.
Mary Ruegg says
Happy to read this uplifting story of a family that came through their sons addiction in such a positive way. It doesn’t always work out that way as you previous post stated-but a story of hope and success can often be so helpful to those in the throws of despair. So great that they are sharing their story and thank you for sharing it too.
Monica Anderson says
I am so proud of the Tankel family. I have watched them struggle through this hellish nightmare and it has not been easy for any of them. Eric certainly did the hardest work and continues to be an amazing young man but if not for the love and support of his family and community this could have had a much different, and much more common, outcome. Liz is doing such a super job by going public with a story that needs to be told…
Caroline O'Halloran says
Couldn’t agree more, Monica. The Tankels are a remarkable bunch – resilient and so brave to share their journey.
MQ Dwyer says
The idea of a duel memoir is genius. I’m looking forward to reading it. All other good news. I can live without Kiwi. Are we thinking the rents are too high? Trader Joe’s can carry beer and wine now, shouldn’t they be looking to expand or held back by the state store?