Addressing addiction

‘Dear Jack’ is a love letter of pain and healing.

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Barbara Conroy shares her deeply personal, heart-wrenching journey through her son Jack’s heroin addiction, his death from an overdose at age 21, and how she’s slowly beginning to heal in her book, “Dear Jack: A Love Letter.”

The title itself clues us into a major format of the work, letters to Jack, although the book includes expressive artwork as well.

“Writing the book was incredibly painful. I wrote journals to my kids for many years, chronicling what was happening in their lives and in the life of our family. The letters became a way to communicate with my son Jack during his difficult teenage years, and then after his death, I continued to write,” Conroy said. “I didn’t know what else to do. I have cried over its pages for three years.”

For Conroy, the journal pages support the story. Here is an entry from Jack’s active years:

Feb. 5, 2013

Dear Jack,

I am picking up the bloody pieces of our family as once again, your toxic behavior has left us destroyed. I have reread the countless letters that start the same way, Dear Jack. The desperate pleas to help you to get your life under control. The desperate pleas to follow the rules of our home, the desperate pleas to stop the drug use, the desperate pleas to respect yourself and your family and home, all falling on deaf ears. And there are the countless letters, Dear Jack, that outlined formulas for success and healthy living.

In an entry after his death, when Conroy was grieving she wrote:

Sept. 2, 2016

Dear Jack,

It is September 2nd, your birthday. I am alone, on my sofa, on Martha’s Vineyard, editing our book. This is my gift to you, Jack. I have not moved from this spot for the last nine hours, determined to complete the manuscript for you, for us, and hopefully for others, on your 23rd birthday. At first, I thought that eight months of writing does not make for a very good book, but the fact is, I have been writing for 23 years.

Toward the end of the book Conroy writes a great deal about all the different ways she has gone about her spiritual healing. While we know grieving can be a long process, Conroy says of having written the book, “By emptying my head and heart onto the pages over the past few years and closing the book for the last time, I was able to free up a little capacity to discover new information. When Jack and I were in the throes of chaos, I didn’t have the wherewithal to research what addiction was. I followed the advice from the experts; it didn’t work for Jack. I needed to expand my search for the treatment best suited for him. I only now realize that addiction is an escape from suffering. Jack was in pain, and now that I can’t help him, I have to help others. We need to change the narrative surrounding addiction and recovery and approach the afflicted with love and compassion.”

Conroy hopes the book will inform readers of the magnitude of the problem of addiction. “I would venture to say most everyone has had exposure to addiction, that is how rampant the disease is,” Conroy said. “It is all of our responsibility to understand the disease and its consequences. Getting informed is our best strategy to end the stigma of addiction. The book is about grief and healing that we all experience. There are tools and resources in this book that I believe anyone will find helpful.”

Conroy will speak at the Chilmark library on Wednesday, August 29, at 5 pm. All the proceeds from “Dear Jack: A Love Letter” go to the Jackson Scott Conroy Foundation, which helps teens and young adults with addiction and offers valuable insight and resources to families living with someone struggling with addiction or navigating through difficult times and recovering from unimaginable loss. The Dear Jack Foundation can be found at dearjack.love.

“Dear Jack: A Love Letter” by Barbara Conroy, Klipspringer Press. Available at Bunch of Grapes in Vineyard Haven, or online.