NEWINGTON – New York Times Bestselling Author Judy Mandel has released a new book.
The Newington resident’s second memoir, White Flag, delves into her relationship with her niece Cheryl, who died of drug addiction in 2017.
“This is my personal story, but I think unfortunately, it’s also a lot of people’s stories now,” Mandel said in an interview with the Herald.
Her first book, entitled, The Replacement Child, tells the tale of how a 1952 plane crash in New Jersey had profound lasting impacts on her family. White Flag delves into the trans-generational effects of this same event.
Mandel’s 7-year-old sister was killed in the crash and her 2-year-old sister Linda received third-degree burns on over 80% of her body. Mandel was born shortly after the crash took place.
Before Linda passed away she asked her sister to watch over her two daughters, including Cheryl. Trying to live up to that promise when Cheryl was deep in the throngs of opiate addiction caused immense guilt for Mandel, which led to the composition of White Flag.
“It was the most emotional thing I’ve ever written,” she said. “Even more so than ‘Replacement Child.’ The grief was still on top of me.”
A former reporter, Mandel began an investigation into addiction, brain chemistry, trans-generational trauma and epigenetics.
“I started the book trying to answer some questions for myself,” she said. “Why my niece used drugs, why she couldn’t stop, and coming to terms with what I could and couldn’t do to help her.”
Her discoveries included the fact that incarceration provides few avenues for recovery, effective rehabilitation is scarce and substance abuse disorder can never be cured if the addict isn’t willing to raise their own white flag.
“The theme of surrender comes in multiple forms,” Mandel said. “People with substance use disorder need to have that for themselves in order to recover.”
Cheryl’s struggles were deep-rooted and she succumbed to her disease at age 42.
“What I really hope people will get from this book is that an addict is still the same person that you love. Remember who they are. Treat them as a human being. Give them the things they need to stay alive and let them know you’re there when they’re ready to find the help they need.”
In the most basic sense, that might be food and shelter, clean needles, medical care, a non-judgmental ear to listen.
Addicts with these supports are more likely to go into recovery and be successful, according to Mandel.
“It’s not a tried and true prescription because there is none,” she said. “I know my niece wanted to stop. She tried so many times in so many different ways. You want to put your foot on the brakes but the brakes don’t work.”
In the end Mandel had to do some surrendering of her own.
“The last part of that white flag metaphor is for myself,” she said. “In the end I needed to surrender to the fact that I couldn’t save her.”
White Flag will be available online and in stores Oct. 1.
A portion of the book proceeds will go to Magnolia New Beginnings, which supports families whose loved ones have substance use disorders.
Mandel will be at Bank Square Books in Mystic Oct. 16 at 1 p.m., the West Hartford Public Library Nov. 29 at 6:30 p.m. and the Lucy Robbins Welles Library in Newington Dec. 14 at 6:30 p.m.
Erica Drzewiecki can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.