By: Holly Bonner, MPA, MSW, CASAC
Director of Education & Outreach, IlluminArt Productions
All winter long, IlluminArt Productions has been writing our new play, “Prescription for Addiction,” about the current heroin epidemic on Staten Island. Our talented Teaching Artists and Wagner High School Write-A-Play students have collaborated with community agencies like Staten Island Partnerships for Community Wellness Tackling Youth Substance Abuse Initiative (TYSA) in preparation for our show’s premier on May 3rd, 2016. The show begins at 7pm at the Jewish Community Center (JCC) and is “free” to the general public.
Flip through the pages of the Staten Island Advance or turn on the nightly news and you will hear the harrowing stories of families being torn apart by loved ones who’ve become entangled in the web of addiction. It doesn’t matter how much money you have, what neighborhood you live in, or where you go to school – heroin is everywhere.
This cheaper, faster high, has quickly become an all too accessible alternative to prescription painkillers and marijuana. Gone are the days when heroin was “only” an injectable form of poison. Today’s drug users snort and even smoke this dangerous substance.
As a psychotherapist and licensed Credentialed Alcohol Substance Abuse Counselor (CASAC); I spent the first half of my career working in the drug treatment field. Even as a trained professional, I can honestly say what is happening on Staten Island frightens me.
If you think your family is immune to the problem; you’re fooling yourself.
If you think drugs won’t affect someone in your immediate circle; you’re living in a bubble that will inevitably be popped.
If you think you don’t need to have a conversation about drugs with your kids; you’re not doing your job as a parent.
My passion for this cause and ultimately the work I have contributed towards writing “Prescription for Addiction” goes far beyond my role as IlluminArt’s Director of Education & Outreach. I empathize with these stories because heroin impacted my own family many years ago.
I remember that afternoon like it was yesterday. It was the day after Christmas and my sisters and I were playing with all the new toys we had gotten from Santa. We sat in our bedroom together, happily enjoying our childhood innocence as we came up with different scenarios for our newest Barbie dolls. My mom had been out of sorts that entire day. She seemed off, distant.
Things became even stranger when my father showed up around lunchtime. My dad never came home for lunch. Covered in grease from the auto shop where he worked; he whizzed past our bedroom door. I was only 8 years old and I jumped up to see him. He put his hand up to stop me and asked, “Where’s mommy?” I shrugged my shoulders.
That’s when I heard my mother scream - the loudest, most horrible, painful sound you could ever imagine. My sisters and I looked at each other. The sound of her cries had frozen us; we couldn’t move. Why was mommy so upset?
Moments passed that seemed like hours and I could hear my father telling my mother to calm down. Her sobs continued to echo through our tiny apartment. Finally, my father emerged from our kitchen and stood in our bedroom doorway. “Everything is okay. Mommy is okay. Uncle John went to heaven last night. He’s with the angels. Everything will be fine.”
As a little girl, I had always been secretly afraid of my Uncle John. He was loud and over bearing. He drank too much and smelled funny. When he would visit my grandparents, who lived below us; I would do everything I could to avoid him. I knew something was wrong with him, but as an 8-year-old kid, I wasn’t mentally equipped to figure out just what that was.
The last memory I have of my uncle he was standing in my backyard talking to my grandfather. He had asked if he could have a “couple of bucks” and reluctantly, my grandpa went into his pocket. It was then John pushed him against the side of our house, snatching his wallet before bolting out of our backyard. Grandpa did nothing. He simply stood up, walked over to the backyard gate and locked it before going back inside. Five minutes later, I could hear my grandmother crying.
When Nancy Reagan started her “Just Say No” campaign encouraging school aged children to combat peer pressure against drug use; my mom finally told me the truth about my deceased uncle. John had been a hardcore drug user. His drug of choice was heroin. He had been found dead in a YMCA in Jersey City, New Jersey the day after Christmas. It was an overdose. He was 29 years old.
Every holiday throughout my childhood, our family would make the arduous trek to the cemetery to visit my Uncle John. I would watch my grandparents as they stood at his grave. My grandmother would fuss over whatever flowers she had brought him. My mother would clean off the head stone. Years passed, but the pain never went away.
Watching my family endure the passing of my uncle left a deep imprint on my life. The man who I had disliked so much in childhood took on the role of subconscious advisor for me. Those memories of the heartache he caused my family prompted me to resist the temptation to experiment with drugs throughout my youth. His senseless death was "my" reminder to “just say no” because I had lived through the alternative as a little girl.
It’s funny how life can come full circle. Almost 30 years have passed since Uncle John’s death. I’ve far surpassed his short lifetime and built a career on helping people who have fallen victim to addiction.
A few years ago, heroin, the drug that killed John, was thought to be an extinct high on the drug scene. As Staten Islanders and the rest of the world are learning, heroin never really went away.
It’s been here all along, lurking.
It’s back with a vengeance in an attempt to take hold of this generation.
“Prescription for Addiction” will help educate our borough about every facet of this drug. Peer pressure, drug abuse, family dynamics, and the role of predatory drug dealers are just some of the themes IlluminArt tackles throughout the play.
This show is the culmination of months of writing, research and integration with community resources and leaders. It’s a gateway to a bigger conversation between parents, children, educators and schools.
Our sincere hope is that you leave this performance having a deeper understanding about heroin, how to recognize the signs associated with drug abuse, and how to get help for a loved one before it’s too late.
Come see the premiere of “Prescription for Addiction” on Tuesday, May 3rd, at 7pm at the JCC., 1466 Manor Road. Help IlluminArt Productions spread the word about our informative, theatrical take on the heroin epidemic.
Do it for yourself.
Do it for your children.
Do it for someone you love like my Uncle John.
Pictured: Holly Bonner's Uncle John. His picture hangs in her home, a gentle reminder of how his addiction impacted her life.