How can fiction be used to portray the very real problems of drug abuse?
Hundreds of college students have learned about substance abuse and recovery through the works of Lisle resident Dr. Robert Bollendorf. The retired professor of human services at is an accomplished writer whose published works have been used to teach students studying counseling.
“People have said that reading these books has changed their lives and their relationships with their family members. It’s been really exciting,” he said.
Bollendorf said that his interest in writing was first sparked in 1985 when he had an idea for a story.
“I’d never even written a magazine article before. So I put the idea in the back of my mind and didn’t think anything of it again for a while,” he said.
A short time later while listening to a motivational speaker at an addictions conference, Bollendorf said that he again felt inspired to write. Because of his expertise and interest in substance abuse and recovery, he chose that as his main topic. Bollendorf started Sober Spring, a book about the fictional Brandt family and their struggle with addiction.
“I wrote a couple of chapters and then gave up. But then my brother-in-law, who had been struggling with addictions for years, ended up dying of related issues. We had thought he was in recovery. It got me going again on my book,” Bollendorf said.
The book, he said, shares information about interventions.
Bollendorf followed with a second book, Flight of the Loon. This sequel focused on the Brandt family as they dealt with relapse and recovery issues and eating disorders.
For his third novel, Bollendorf chose to incorporate Native American issues, which he said had always interested him.
“We own a cabin right next to the Menominee Reservation in Wisconsin," he said. "In the third book, Autumn Snow, a son of the Brandt family gets involved with cocaine. While driving home after getting into recovery, he has a car accident while driving through the reservation. A Native American police officer name Lucy Teller was the first to come upon the accident and felt like it was more than just an accident to her. That changed the genre of what I wrote...it had some suspense in it.
Autumn Snow dealt with cocaine addiction and peer intervention. Book four, Witch of Winter, is about a kidnapping on the reservation with Lucy Teller again working on the case, and the Brandt family assisting with the investigation.
“It talked a lot about heroin addiction and failure to thrive syndrome in babies,” Bollendorf said.
Book five, Summer Heat, addresses gambling addiction. Bollendorf’s latest book which he completed a month ago is called Challenger, and focuses on post traumatic stress disorder.
“A lot of times, people with addictions have a family background including abuse. That sometimes seems to lead to post traumatic stress disorder. Also with PTSD, people sometimes use alcohol and drugs as a way to self-treat; not successfully, but still it’s often an attempt,” he said.
Donna Gluck, president of DG Counseling in Downers Grove, collaborated on the final four books with Bollendorf.
In addition to counseling courses at COD, the books have been used at Aurora University, , and Northern Illinois University, Bollendorf said.
“Students really seem to enjoy them and it’s a nice change from reading text books. I know I didn’t like texts books when I was in school. I thought using novels, would be a novel approach,” he quipped.
“This is particularly true for counseling students because they get a better feel for real life. How to deal with things in real life. Rather than presenting them with answers to things, it makes them think and consider what they could do in similar situations; how they would deal with it. It gives them ideas, but not in an A-B-C cookbook kind of approach to learning.”
Bollendorf’s writing has received some notoriety outside of bookshelves as well. In 2006, Sober Spring was produced as a play in Naperville by Theatre of Purpose. The proceeds were donated to a recovery group in Naperville Shortly after its publication, Bollendorf added, the rights to a movie based on Flight of the Loon were secured by someone working for Disney.
Bollendorf said that the books have broad and far-reaching appeal. Family and friends who are not students and do not have anything to do with substance abuse or addiction have enjoyed reading them.
“Personally, I’m biased, but they’re good books that anyone can enjoy. Many people have told me the same thing,” he said. The books are 135-180 pages.
“They’re quick and easy reads that people can enjoy, even if they don’t typically read a lot,” he said.
“I can’t tell you how many people have told me that they’ve picked a book up just to read a chapter or two, and ended up finishing the book in one sitting.”
Ironically, Bollendorf never aspired to be a published author.
“Teaching at a community college there wasn’t the publish-or-perish situation. I was never required to write. I just found it enjoyable. Now it’s become a passion.”