Monday, November 28, 2022

The Power of Forgiveness: How Are You Today, Stan Walker?

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In our story series ‘How Are You Today?’, we have a meandering, mental-health focused chat with some of our most well-known New Zealanders. Check out previous chats with people like Hayley HoltRoseanne Liang and Prime M inister Jacinda Ardern. Today, we chat to Stan Walker.

Impossible: My Story, written by Stan Walker, is one of the most incredible books I’ve ever read. It’s brave and beautifully written – a story about forgiveness and a journey to redemption. But it’s also an incredibly difficult read. It’s raw, it’s intense, it’s brutally honest and completely heartbreaking, but it’s such an important book to read.

In it, Stan speaks candidly for the first time about abuse and addiction, hardship and excess, cancer and discrimination.

We gave Stan a call to discuss the book, fame, forgiveness and the next chapter in his life in which he hopes to start a family of his own who will not carry the scars of intergenerational violence and abuse.

Warning: this story contains discussion about family violence and sexual abuse.

How are you today, Stan Walker?
I’m really good!! Feeling a little bit tired, but I’m feeling good. I’ve got my book coming out, so I couldn’t feel any better about that.

How has 2020 been treating you? How did you go over lockdown?
It’s been incredible to be honest! The first two-and-a-half weeks of lockdown I was having a bit of a meltdown, a bit of a freak-out, but then I just came to terms with what was happening and the fact we had no choice about it… and I ended up loving it. I loved being still and taking a break – it made me realise that I need to do that a lot more.

And congratulations on your book. It is truly an incredible read. Early on in it, one of the things that jumped out at me was when you talked about the moment fame found you – that you’d been Stan Walker your whole life, but now you were ‘Stan Walker’ and how much that was to process. What is your relationship with fame like now?
Umm… weary? [Laughs] Skeptical? It’s something that I’ve gotten used to, but it’s something I’ll never get used to. Y’know, just the fact that everything I do and everything that I am is now kind of up for grabs for anyone to say anything about me.

It’s definitely a weird thing. I love my job, I love singing, I love performing, I love acting and that I have these outlets to be creative, but just everything else that comes along with it – it’s always going to be a weird thing. And it’s overwhelming at times too, to be honest. It’s tiring. It’s a lot of sacrifice of myself, of my personal life, but yeah, it’s something I’m used to but will never be used to, if that makes sense.

It makes perfect sense. I thought about it a lot towards the end of the book too when you discuss your cancer diagnosis and the health journey you went on. During that time there was so much speculation, so much gossip about you – why you were losing weight, what was going on – all while you were going through this intensely private trauma. Can fame feel incredibly intrusive at a time like that?
Yeah, it really does. I guess I’m used to having things said about me, or speculation, assumptions or gossip – I’m used to that. And 99% of the time I just concentrate on the fact that these people don’t know me, they don’t pay my bills, they’re not helping me in my everyday life. But at the same time, I’m still human. I still feel it sometimes, in that one percent.

But early on, before everything blew up with Australian Idol I made a choice not to buy into all the hype. I made a choice not to buy into what people say about me – because they’re gonna say what they’re gonna say. Regardless of how well I paint the picture, there will always be criticism, there will always be love, there will always be hate. But I’ve kind of come to terms with that and am able to be all good with it now.

Now, while I thought your book was beautifully written and incredible and I’m so very glad I read it, man, I found it tough going in parts. The way you describe how intertwined things can be – love, violence, joy, misery – it was a real eye-opener. And the detailed descriptions of the violence and sexual abuse you endured broke my heart. How did you take care of yourself while you were writing this, because it must have been challenging reliving some of those moments?
Honestly, I’m such a different person! I go through things a lot more differently to what people may think. Some of the toughest things in the book were actually the easiest things to talk about. And that’s only because I’ve become so far removed from most of the stuff – particularly the stuff from my childhood – and because of how far I’ve come in general.

But no, doing the book was like doing therapy! I was like a kid going back to school and reading stuff that I didn’t know and that I’d forgotten. It was incredible, the whole process.

And I’m sure it’s going to do so much good – both in terms of helping people understand abuse, as well as being a lifeline to survivors of sexual abuse. Was that one of the reasons for writing the book?
100%. Absolutely 100%. Because I can’t think of anything worse than kids, or people – because there’s actually no age when it comes to that stuff, there’s still people who are grandparents who are processing that – suffering. But if I can be someone who has a lesson or can bring some hope, or even just give other people permission that they can take back what has been taken from them – that they can take back that power and not let it be shame on their life or lives anymore – that would be amazing.

One thing I found incredible was how much hope and redemption is woven into this book. The fact that you, your dad and brothers can even laugh now about the violence back then, is remarkable to me. To you, how important is forgiveness?
I think it’s become one of my most powerful things. For me, it’s a complex thing but it’s a simple thing. You see people walking around, unable to forgive and carrying that with them everywhere they go – it’s written all over their face, it’s this ugly disease that keeps them alive.

It’s so powerful when you’re able to forgive yourself, and forgive other people, because you feel free. It’s the ultimate freedom, to be able to be yourself and live your life and find out your purpose of living. It’s a powerful thing, but a lot of people find they just can’t, so I hope that maybe this book might help them to be able to do that – to go on a journey to forgiveness.

What was your parents’ reaction to this book? You’d obviously already told them when you were a teenager that you’d been sexually abused, but this book must have been an eye-opener for them.
Yip. My mum and dad, they’ve learned so much about me and why I am like I am, and why I do what I do. There’s a lot they didn’t know, especially emotionally, or just how I deal with things and how I remember things – they’re my family, but they’ll never know what it’s like to actually be me, and this has given them a bit of an insight to what it’s like.

I don’t know if you’re like me, but sometimes it’s easier to write down how you’re feeling, rather than sitting people down to have that conversation.
Yeah, exactly! It’s so much easier. My dad actually rang me up after he read the book and he goes, “Wow, son. I finally get it. I get it son, you’re the man.” And I thought, “Ah, thank god!” [Laughs]

What do you hope comes out of you writing this incredibly brave book?
I hope that it will be a tool for learning and an insight into so many different things and situations that everyday people are going through. I want it to be a tool to help people. Hopefully they will be inspired to tell their stories and be free of whatever they’re gone through and they will find forgiveness for themselves and for the people who have hurt them.

But ultimately, I hope that we can have more real, open conversations about certain things so that we can actually deal with them, rather than just having a week of awareness for each year. Y’know, let’s call a spade a spade. Let’s lift up the carpet, with all the things we’ve swept under it, and let’s deal with it! Let’s get uncomfortable, so we can really get through it and deal with it so we don’t have to carry that on to our kids who might pass it on to the next generation.

That is so incredibly admirable that you’re putting yourself in that position, leading the charge on this and telling your own very personal story to create change. You should be so proud.
Thank you. Thanks so much.

And now, you have new music coming up – can you tell us about your new studio album?
Yip, I have two albums coming out actually, I’m doing a live album to accompany the book, also I’ve got a studio album that I’ve been working on the last three years that’s basically everything I’ve gone through in that time – everything from relationships, to love, to break-ups, to coming through cancer, to everything I’m passionate about, climate change… there are so many different things and I’m excited to share that with everyone soon. For me those songs were what I was feeling at that time. I feel like I’m pregnant with all these songs that need to burst out now so I can carry on and continue to make more music!

Stan with his “forever love” Lou Tyson.

Ha, I love it. And, another congratulations – I see you have a big milestone birthday coming up this month! How are you feeling about turning 30?
[Laughs] My gosh! It buzzes me out. How am I here already? [Laughs] I’m excited though. Where my life is at the moment, and how far I’ve come, I feel like I’m ready for the next season or chapter of my life. And it’s different, because I feel different. I am different, so I’m excited to take what I’ve learned and move forward and start building on a new life, creating a family and everything like that. I feel a little more grown up than before I guess [Laughs].

And, to finish up, Stan, if you could go back in time and visit yourself as a little kid, what would you say to yourself?
Just that everything is going to be alright. That being an alien is actually a good thing, and that you are ultimately loved. Just be the best version of you and keep doing what you’re doing because, ultimately, you’re gonna get there, and you’re gonna change people’s lives.

Impossible: My Story (HarperCollins RRP$39.99) comes out on October 14.

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