Damaged from the Git-Go!

By Gary Stromberg 08/05/20

I found a way to put my disease in remission, subject to my maintenance of the solution I found in my 12-step recovery program.

Image: 
Baby with mad expression on face
Maternal-infant bonding, I’ve learned, influences the child's psychological and physical development. ID 33792979 © Eugenesergeev | Dreamstime.com

“Have you seen the Stromberg baby?” were the first words my father heard when the nurse attending my mother hustled out of the maternity ward delivery room. She was talking to a co-worker who was wandering down the crowded hallway.

Rightfully alarmed, my father darted out of the expecting parent’s waiting room and confronted the agitated nurse.

“What’s wrong with my baby?” he nervously blurted out. Realizing how her high-pitched statement must have scared him, the nurse took my father’s arm and eased him back into the lounge.

“You have a son,” she informed him, “and he was born with his eyes wide open! The biggest eyes I’ve ever seen on a newborn.” My dad was overjoyed; a son is what he had been hoping for, although he told my mother that he really didn’t care what sex it was as long as the baby was healthy. The nurse had more information she needed to share with my father.

“The reason your son’s eyes were so large and wide open was he came out with the umbilical cord wrapped around his neck and he was turning blue. He was likely in some kind of distress.” Shaken by this news, my dad wanted to know if the baby was okay.

“Yes," the nurse assured him. "The doctor was able to untangle the cord and the baby had begun breathing normally,” but there was another problem my father needed to be made aware of; my mother had developed a case of impetigo, a very contagious skin infection and she needed to be put into isolation until the condition cleared up, usually in a week or so.

This meant that I would have no contact with my mother during the first crucial week of my life. Maternal-infant bonding, I’ve learned, influences the child's psychological and physical development. I would likely be affected by these seemingly minor events for the rest of my life. I was damaged from the git-go!

Possibly out of guilt from the circumstances of my birth and her debilitating skin disease, my mother became overly protective of me. I was the Baby Jesus in her eyes, which is strange because we are Jewish. As a young child, the two most significant things she tried to instill in me was the belief that I was destined for greatness, and that her medicine chest contained pills and potions that could cure whatever ailed me. Other than that, I lived a pretty normal life until my late teens when I fell in love with drugs and alcohol. 

My early adult years were spent in the entertainment business where consumption of drugs and alcohol seemed the norm. I had a great deal of success and a few failures, but during all times, I drank and used with increasing disregard to the consequences that began to befall me.

After I hit my bottom, scrounged around there for a while, and eventually got my life back on track in my 12-step recovery program, I was introduced to a strange psychotherapist who said he could help me understand why I behaved in ways that were extremely self-destructive. He specialized in why people became alcoholics and drug addicts, and assured me he had a “method” that cured alcoholics.

He seemed like an interesting enough guy, albeit a little out there, until he told me that all addicts and alcoholics were predisposed for addiction at birth! That many alcoholics were “blue babies,” like me, who were born with the umbilical cord wrapped around their necks, hence depriving them of life-giving oxygen. He further went on to explain that these people spend their lives, in effect, gasping for air or anything that makes them feel safe and alive.

As if that wasn’t enough of a whacko theory, he then outlined the treatment he devised for treating alcoholics. Now, here’s where it gets surreal… After explaining his beyond far-fetched theory, and with permission, he hypnotizes his patients, walks around behind them and puts them in a rear choke hold, just like you see in an MMA bout. He continues this assault until the patient passes out, at which time the good doctor talks his subject through what he calls “the rebirthing process,” during which he relieves them of the trauma they experienced traveling down the birth canal and replacing that traumatic journey a euphoric new experience of birth. Koo Koo right?

So what is the point of this crazy story?

Well, in the course of my 37 plus years of recovery I’ve heard many explanations of why people become alcoholics. Childhood abuse, low self-esteem, abandonment, poverty, heredity, and any number of explanations and excuses. For me, the simple truth is I don’t know why I became an alcoholic, but I did. Fortunately, I found a way to put my disease in remission, subject to my maintenance of the solution I found in my 12-step recovery program. As a guy named Louie from New Joisy once said to me after our AA meeting, “Alcoholics Anonymous woiks, and it woiks good!”

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Gary has been clean and sober for over 37 years. He co-founded GIBSON & STROMBERG, a large and influential music public relations firm of the sixties and seventies. His company represented such luminaries as The Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, Muhammad Ali, Barbra Streisand, Boyz II Men, Neil Diamond, Ray Charles, The Doors, Earth, Wind & Fire, Elton John, Three Dog Night, and Crosby, Stills, & Nash.

He also spent time in the film business where he co-produced the motion picture Car Wash (Universal Studios) and co-wrote and produced The Fish that Saved Pittsburgh (Lorimar/United Artists). He's also co-written three books, The Harder They Fall (Hazelden) and Feeding the Fame (Hazelden) and a third book for McGraw-Hill Publishing, entitled Second Chances. He is writing his fourth book, She's Come Undone for HCI Publishing, which is anticipated to come out in spring 2021.

He currently runs The BLACKBIRD Group, a small public relations firm in Marina del Rey, California. Gary is also active in service work:

  • Past President of the Board of Directors of Positive Directions, the Center for Prevention and Recovery, in Westport, CT
  • Member, Board of Directors, The Stepping Stones Foundation, the last home of Bill and Lois Wilson, founders of Alcoholics Anonymous and Alanon, respectively.
  • Member, Board of Dirctors, Faces and Voices in Recovery, Washington DC based national advocacy organization
  • Stromberg has also served as a mentor for over twelve years, currently with LA Teamworks, an after school mentoring program in Los Angeles, CA.

Gary has two children, a son David, a successful personal manager in the music business and a daughter Emily, who works for Universal Studios.