A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Constance Alexander: Author Janice Morgan’s new memoir reveals addiction, recovery are a family affair


Something is out of kilter on the cover of Janice Morgan’s memoir, “Suspended Sentence.” The landscape is a-tilt. A human figure with outstretched arms balances on a thin beam. One misstep and the person will fall. The sky above is partially obscured by tree branches, but there is enough light to keep moving forward.

The image presents an apt metaphor for the book, and the copy on the cover makes it clear that recovery is a family affair.

“When my son is arrested for possession of a stolen firearm and drug charges,” it says, “I start to realize that he isn’t the only one who has recovery work to do.”

In the beginning of her memoir, Ms. Morgan recalls a summer afternoon in 1999. Then, as a newly divorced single parent of a pre-teen son, she reflects on three candid photos of Dylan (as she calls him in the book), imagining his transformation as he grows into the teen years.

Studying the pictures in the present, she wonders what she missed at the time. She marvels at how she assumed they would make it through the teen years together, experiencing the usual “ball games, trips, vacations, diplomas, proms, plans.”

“…Neither of us knew how, exactly, the terrain would change ahead of us,” she remarks at the end of that first chapter. And like so many parents, she wonders what she might have done differently.

At first, Janice admits she didn’t believe Dylan’s case was that serious, in spite of behavioral issues and a diagnosis from a psychiatrist. Her question was one that many parents consoled themselves with: “Stumbling around as a young adult was just part of growing up, wasn’t it?”

“Suspended Sentence” flows easily between past and present, weaving Janice’s own personal and professional challenges into clear-eyed accounts of Dylan’s increasingly alarming difficulties. For every two steps forward, there is one step back. Dylan pinballs between recovering and then reverting to the old addictions. There are drug charges, a stolen firearm, promises made and broken.

Though divorced and living hundreds of miles apart, the parents do their best to be patient, supportive, and fair to themselves and their son.

Chapter headings tell their own vivid stories. Readers go from “Drug Court” to “Off Track,” to “A New Start With Dad,” and end with “Looking Out There Together.”

Help comes in many forms, including a local chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. NAMI became a lifeline. The support group could be counted on to listen, help, and encourage participants to talk honestly about the guilt they felt as a loved one struggled with mental illness and its accompanying dangers and threats.

One of the most instructive aspects of NAMI meetings was learning about the experiences of other families. Some of the tales were daunting — of loved ones going off their meds, of being in and out of psychiatric facilities, living in group homes, being homeless. The possibilities were bleak, even when caring families were doing their best to keep track of their loved ones.

Hearing one parent’s story of her adult child with mental illness, Janice wondered: “What other form of illness in America would condemn someone to wander around in hopeless circles like an inhabitant of Dante’s Inferno?”

Hearing testimonies at NAMI meetings, she declares, “You wondered which one was crazier: the delusional person with a serious brain disorder, or the mental health care system in our country.”

One of the powerful aspects of Janice Morgan’s story is the emphasis on asking for help. At the end of “Suspended Sentence,” the author provides a list of useful resources, ranging from Scott Peck’s “The Road Less Traveled” to clinical studies of the evolving bipolar spectrum, and Rami Shapiro’s “Recovery, the Sacred Art: The 12 Steps as Spiritual Practice.”

There are also links to sites such as the Depression Bipolar Support Alliance and the National Center for Mental Health and Juvenile Justice.

The author describes herself as “a (former) college teacher in rural Kentucky.” Based on her family’s experiences, “she now advocates for better mental health awareness, substance abuse recovery, and criminal justice reform.”

“Suspended Sentence” is published by She Writes Press and is available on Amazon. For more information, visit janicemorganauthor.com.

• • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •

Constance Alexander is a columnist, award-winning poet and playwright, and President of INTEXCommunications in Murray. She can be reached at calexander9@murraystate.edu. Or visit www.constancealexander.com.


Related Posts

Leave a Comment