Tracey Helton Mitchell exposes her blemishes, and that is an understatement. She doesn't make heroin addiction or selling her body at all romantic, and yet her story is both gritty and compelling. There is no room for dress-up in this combination memoir and helpful guide to anyone who has ever been or known someone in the acute darkness of an addition. In addition there is a story here, filled with awareness both of limitation and appreciation that can serve for all of us.
There are some particulars I'd like to mention. Firstly Tracey is no worshipper of 12 step programs as the only solution. She felt marginalized and degraded by the abusive attitudes of some men at some meetings. But also and very important in my mind, she writes of being pushed into a state of forgiveness when she was attempting to deal with her PTSD. This to me means the important message that there is a time for all the emotions, and for forgiveness and self-responsibility. However in the midst of addressing traumas of the past or present, to be pushed to skip over rage and hurt, and even blame, can be very damaging to the core of a person. She "cringe(s) at the 'one size fits all approach'", as do I, and it is refreshing to hear her be a critical consumer without damning the whole of any program. (Discussion on page 220)
Mitchell does not idealize any quick fix, even that of getting off drugs as she realize that they may be medicating and masking deep levels of depression. She not only visits her own drug use and a lot of its patterns, many not pretty or kind for that matter, with a lack of preaching, but also the lessons of how hard it can be to stop. She brings a new humanity to drug abusers, not only the ones who quit, but the ones we pass on the street who still might benefit from listening, and at least to be treated and thought of with dignity.
We live in a time when addictions of one kind or another are rampant; they often form a reliable approach to living with uncertainty since they do have the promise of a high, with the lows often predictable if also unpleasant. So to me Tracey's statement about "the big fix" is pertinent to the rest of us, outside of whether hard drugs are the addiction of choice or compulsion. She writes, on page 206, "In the end, I found that, for me, there was no big fix. There was no food, no drug, no relationship, no program alone that could fix the things I didn't like about myself. My life was transformed incrementally when I dedicated myself to pursuing something beyond instant gratification." She is humble, owning that she too has patches of darkness, when things feel bad. I appreciate this book and its author also for this: there is no looking down from any pedestal.
Mitchell provides rare insight into the art and practice of using insight and sensitivity and knowledge to offer help that is not only in the form of advice. As a psychotherapist and one who tends to be somewhat adept at interventions in families that require some measure of immediacy and aggressiveness, I have become aware in my work in particular, that some situations and people will take, if at all, the slower road. They will sometimes go in directions not foreseen by us, or be different in their timing from what we might wish. To give and offer while practicing detaching from the outcome seems also to be an act of love, if easier said than done.
I felt touched at what seemed to me the best of resolution Tracey could have with her parents. And then, when she writes of allowing herself to tell her parents she loves them, she adds something that seemed just as important for the rest of us. She writes, "Sometimes I end texts with "I love you", even to people I don't know all that well who are struggling. Because we all need a little more love in the world." (p. 185)
I liked this wording and meaning particularly though at the moment didn't think I would conceive of my writing what I'm terming a love letter to its author. But why not? It is true there isn't enough love in the world. It is also true that much of what is involved with our thinking about love is very conditional and often judgmental. Too often what we call "love" not about the lightness this woman can offer, as someone who has known many aspects of her own dark sides.
Carl Jung spoke of taking back our projections, not blaming the outside for what is inside us, so that we can get to know the different shades of our own insides, and so we wouldn't have to be addicted to hate and war. He also spoke of embracing our imperfections so we could in fact love, as he mentioned that only people who are imperfect can feel need, and as such be able to need and to care, without being robotically self-sufficient. Tracey Mitchell does this, and sees her life as a work in progress. In her book we see the travels of someone who seems to need her own honesty on her own road of insisting on becoming free from addiction, and coping with love and relationships. She is frank, and she is not afraid of strong language, something I also find refreshing and true, not artificially beautifying any of what is, even though the story of her having children and a real life are so very beautiful.
And so here is the love letter, the thanks for sharing, and the note that many would get something deep from visiting these streets and pages.