Jackie Zanfagna’s struggles became evident before her 10th birthday. Some called her a “difficult teen” but her mother, Anne Marie, and her father, Jim, knew that Jackie was struggling with a medical condition and desperately needed treatment. Her parents sought help from countless doctors to no avail. Jackie had bipolar tendencies. When she was at her best, she was a bright, engaged girl who loved animals, fashion, and cared fiercely for her niece and nephew. When she was at her worst, her self-esteem plummeted and she was prone to fits of rage. Her parents were left to patch the walls where her fist had bust the plaster.
Jackie’s suffering went undiagnosed. Anne Marie, who suffered from rheumatoid arthritis, began noticing that her pain medication was missing and eventually valuables started disappearing too. When the Zanfagna’s realized that they couldn’t trust their daughter or her friends, they changed their locks, installed an alarm system, and got a guard dog.
Jackie survived one overdose but was so deeply ashamed that she pushed away the people who cared about her the most. Somehow, in the midst of what seemed a plummeting spiral, Jackie found some solid ground at the age of 25.
After years of thwarted endeavors such as cosmetology school, community college and a modeling agency, Jackie landed a good job at Staples. She had a new car, a new boyfriend and her relationship with her family was suddenly on the mend. It seemed like the nightmare of the previous years might have finally lifted.
When Jackie died of a heroin overdose on Oct. 18, 2014, her family was devastated.
Angels of Addictions was conceived by Anne Marie Farley Zanfagna a year after the death of her youngest daughter. At the time of Jackie’s death, her parents decided to be open about her cause of death in hopes of raising awareness about heroin addiction.
Anne Marie is an artist who works with oil paints, but when Jackie died, she found that she could not paint. When she finally began to work again a year later, she painted a vibrant, joyful portrait of Jackie that took her months to complete. The time she spent working on the painting felt like time spent with her daughter. When the portrait was finished, Anne Marie brought it to the heroin addiction support group that she and her husband attend in Plaistow, NH. Everyone at the meeting loved the piece and she offered to paint a portrait for another family who also lost their daughter to heroin.
Soon after the initial reveal, painting these portraits became Anne Marie’s new mission in life: “I want to put a face to the number.” Her portraits embody the real, healthy, vibrant person who was lost to addiction—not the person as they were in the throes of their disease. Her paintings are a true testament to the power of art therapy; she pours her heart and soul into every single portrait.
Angels of Addictions is an organization that works to raise awareness about the epidemic proportions of heroin addiction in America. Ultimately, Anne Marie plans to create a traveling exhibition of portraits of people who have been lost to the disease. She hopes to show the exhibit at the State House in New Hampshire and across the nation.
Originally published at 129-A-Day.org.