By: Janet Mason

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The central message in Bonnie Kaye’s, M.Ed., memoir (Jennifer Needle in Her Arm: Healing from the Hell of My Daughter’s Drug Addiction (CCB Publishing: British Columbia) to parents of drug addicted children is: It’s not your fault.”

This is a conclusion that the author came to after a painful process of dealing with her adolescent daughter’s drug addiction and her death when she was a young adult. Kaye chronicles her decision to write the book — one that came from discovering that losing a child to drug addiction had a stigma unlike losing a child to a another disease or accident. She found herself grappling with guilt thinking of things she could have done differently. As she writes:

“When you lose a child to drugs, it’s not like losing a child to a car accident or drive by shooting. The grief is the same but the aftermath is different. People are not viewed by society as bad parents because their children were victims of crime or accidents. But parents of addicts are different. People do view them differently. People look at them differently. People look at us and think — and sometimes even verbalize — ‘Didn’t you have any control over your child? What kind of parent were you?’ And if you think I’m overreacting, well, I’m not. Do you know how I know that? I know because up until the time that my daughter became a drug addict, I thought the same thing. Ouch. It hurts to say the truth, but I’d rather say the words that others are fearful of thinking in order to face their terrible feelings of guilt. There is great comfort in that old cliché, “the truth will set you free,” because facing my own personal demons in life have set me free from irrational feelings of guilt that we all go through.”

There’s a lot of wisdom in this thin volume. Kaye tells us her story — including information about her brother who died early on from drug addiction and about her daughter, Jennifer, who finally stopped lying to her mother, and told her that she was addicted to heroin and that the “recovery from heroin is one in a hundred.”

Jennifer was a bright girl and young woman — before she had become addicted to drugs she had shown signs of being against drugs (having witnessed her uncle’s demise when she was a child) and of having great promise of achieving her goal of becoming a lawyer. Kaye was a proud parent. And when her daughter began struggling with drug addiction, she was an involved parent, doing everything in her power to help her daughter. This included periods of “tough love” which Kaye writes were harder or her than they were on Jennifer.

This book is compelling. I found myself devouring it in one sitting. It is a necessary read for many. I found myself reflecting on my own misspent youth — something I have always had a fair amount of regret about, although less as I have grown older. I was born in an earlier period than Jennifer and was an adolescent in the seventies when drug use among teenagers (at least in my peer group) was rampant. I always thought of this as a time when drugs were not as addictive and lethal as they would come to be. At that time in my life, I had yet to come out. But it’s possible, that, like many other LGBT teens, I was pushing my feelings down with drugs and alcohol. (Bonnie’s daughter, Jennifer, identified as a lesbian, but her circumstances were different — by the time that she had come out gay rights have already made a fair amount of progress, plus she had a supportive mother despite an unsupportive relationship with her closeted gay father, her mother’s ex-husband.) More than a few of my adolescent peers (who were definitely not gay) did not make it.

The book also reminded me of a friend whose stepson, now in his thirties, who has a history of drug addiction and has been in and out of jail and rehab programs numerous times. Years ago, this friend asked me how I had come through that period of my life. As I recall, my answer was an intricate one. But looking back, I realize that it was the luck of the draw.

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