NORTH SALEM, N.Y.--Essayist Thomas de Quincey famously invented the modern addiction memoir in 1821 with his “Confessions of an English Opium-Eater.”
In the centuries that followed, Tolstoy, Poe, Cheever and other notables mined that vein to the point of sub-genre-ification. Now, Brewster author Linda Dahl has brought addiction lit (too close to) home, just in time for the latest suburban opioid crisis.
In her new novel, the starkly realistic, “The Bad Dream Notebook,” Dahl X-rays the relationship between recovering addict mother, Erica, and her teen daughter, Mona, who is struggling with the same demons.
In 2015 Dahl released “Loving Our Addicted Daughters Back to Life: A Guidebook for Parents.” That book provided gender-specific tools designed to help parents recognize substance abuse in their daughters, and manage their own feelings of fear and guilt. Her new work addresses a similar theme, but this time through fiction.
Both books are based on Dahl’s own experiences.
“What I really wanted to do was dramatize the mistakes that I made, that parents tend to make, so people reading it wouldn’t have to learn by the seat of their pants,” she explained. “So often, parents are so full of blame, they blame themselves. Other parents will say, ‘Oh, that will never happen to my child,’ or ‘That only happens if the parents don’t raise them right.’
“It can happen and does happen to anybody if they are in a position where they unwittingly become addicted.”
In addition to infusing both works with hard-won wisdom from hers and her daughter’s own struggles, Dahl draws upon her experiences volunteering with many local area recovery advocacy groups, including the Communities That Care coalition and Friends of Recovery. All of these groups are slowly making the voice of recovery louder than the voice of addiction in their communities.
“I think that it is happening,” Dahl agreed. “I know that in Somers there is Partners in Prevention that has been working for quite some time to that end. There is Drug Crisis in Our Backyard, in Westchester and Putnam, and certainly a lot of people in 12-step programs. That said, when you get down to the nitty-gritty, we still find there is a lot of misinformation. Most parents don’t really know what it is that might trip their kid into taking drugs.”
The mother-daughter bond explored in and at the core of both books is an immense source of strength for all women, but Dahl warns that this same emotional strength can work against recovery.
“We want to protect the child, that is the instinct of a parent. But in so doing, you can unwittingly help keep the disease alive, and there is a lot of instances of that in the book.
“So what is really crucial is to learn how you can help a child in addiction, and that means learning where you are helping the disease versus learning where you are helping the child move toward the possibility of recovery.”
For painter, Erica, and budding graphic novelist, Mona, art wrestles with addiction to be their focal point. But in “The Bad Dream Notebook,” the “addicted artist syndrome” is less about trope and more about hope.
“They are symbols, in a way. For anyone who will face their fears by going through them, there is a strong possibility of gaining resilience and a new connection, and this leads to a wonderful kind of creativity,” the author said.
Dahl quotes a startling statistic from the Centers for Disease control and Prevention: From 2000 to 2016, more than 65,000 people aged 10 to 25 died from unintentional drug overdoses in the United States. That’s more people than die from guns or traffic accidents. These are deaths that Dahl feels very few organizations and educators are doing enough to prevent, even though they can.
“To me it’s not teaching kids, ‘Drugs are bad, don’t do them,’ because that doesn’t work and it has never worked,” she explains. “It’s about helping them learn some skills to cope with their stress. That’s the main reason that kids will say they try drugs: Stress. And I know that that covers a lot of ground, but it’s a very stressful time in their lives, and parents don’t know that.”
Fortunately for Mona, her mother is eventually able to figure all that out, reversing the character’s downward arc and the novel’s tone. With Erica’s bitterly self-conscious help, Mona learns to—spoiler alert!— finally channel her stress and re-claim the rest of her life.
“So... happy ending? Yeah! I wanted to show that recovery is possible, and here is one way you can get there!”
“The Bad Dream Notebook” by Linda Dahl was published Aug. 1, by She Writes Press. There will be a book launch party at The Studio Around the Corner at 67 Main St. in Brewster at 3 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 10. The author promises refreshments and special guests. All are welcome.